Teen Mental Health Speaker: Jeff YaldenJeff Yalden is highly regarded as one of the top mental health experts in the world primarily focused on education and school communities working with teens, school administration, counselors, teachers, staff, parents and community leaders. He’s a four-time best-selling author including his latest book, TEEN SUICIDE: The WHY Behind Today’s Suicide Epidemic. His Podcast: Mental Health and Motivation continues to attract thousands of new subscribers every month for his direct talk and influence on today’s mental health conversations for teens and adults. You can learn more about Jeff Yalden by visiting his website – www.JeffYalden.com. You can also learn more about Jeff’s Suicide Prevention Online Course for School Communities and Parents, Jeff Yalden University, and follow Jeff on YouTube and Social Media by clicking on the links below: Online Suicide Prevention Course for School Communities Book: Teen Suicide: They WHY Behind America’s Suicide Epidemic Facebook Page School Resources Join Mailing List: Text YALDEN to 66866
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“I am alone,” and “I am a burden.”
And what this means is…
The “I am alone” – which is, as Joiner says, a “thwarted belongingness” – represents a belief on the part of the individual that she or she does not have any meaningful relationships.
“I am a burden” – which is a “perceived burdensomeness” represents a belief on the part of the individual that he or she does not make any notable contributions to the world. They think that they serve as a liability.So, when you have the “I am alone” and the “I am a burden,” – that kind of creates the DESIRE FOR SUICIDE – which becomes the capability for suicide over a period of time, and Joiner here again – the “capability for suicide is acquired largely through repeated exposure to painful or fearsome experiences. This results in habituation and, in turn, a higher tolerance for pain and a sense of fearlessness in the face of death.” Habituation is a fancy term for getting used to something. I became a fan of Dr. Joiner as I got into researching the topic of suicide – but more specifically Teen Suicide. When you get to the “I am alone” part, you are like, WHY? Why do teens feel alone today? Why do teens feel like they are a burden – and that they serve as a liability? And then – why do they just feel so hopeless? In all my work in the trenches with teens and talking to teens, I have come to believe that even the most troubled teens don’t want to die. I think it’s that they can’t find a solution to their problems – that the solution is so far out there that they can’t solve it and move forward. Remember: Today’s teens live in the here and the now. Teens don’t know what they don’t know – and there is no way for them to know what the future can hold. And today’s teenagers – the Generation Z kids born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s – are the first teenagers to not know what’s it like to grow up without a smartphone. Let’s look at this: As much as we say suicide is because of this or suicide is because of that – it’s bullying, it’s cyber-bullying, it’s this, it’s that – suicide is never the result of one thing – but one thing can certainly be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The reality is that 90 percent of teen suicides go back to mental illness – and if you think about today’s teens – two of the biggest challenges that we have are coping skills and problem-solving skills. In my work, I find that that teenagers have a really tough time communicating – sharing their feelings – trusting in the circle of adults in their life – and so – when you ask me, “Hey Jeff – what is the greatest thing that you can give teenagers today,” I don’t even hesitate. I say, “self-esteem.” But where does self-esteem come from? Self-esteem comes from being challenged and overcoming those challenges. I think self-esteem comes from social interaction. It comes from involvement with your friends and family – relationships. Self-esteem comes from being outside – coping through life – problem-solving through your challenges. Self-esteem is something we build every day as a result of being more active. I think three things are really important to a teen’s mental health:
1) SLEEP 2) NUTRITION – Today’s teenagers are consuming over 200 grams more sugar a day than they should be consuming in a 24-hour period – and sugar is directly related to depression. 3) MORE ACTIVITY/MORE SOCIAL ENGAGEMENTThese three things play a significant role in one’s mental health. Some say that Generation Z – the young people born after 1995 – are more likely to experience mental health issues than their Millennial predecessors. Today’s adolescents are at even greater risk of mental health problems – and so you keep asking the questions “Why are today’s teens worse off than the Millennials?” And then, “Why are today’s adolescents in worse shape than Generation Z?” Why… Let’s look at 2012. That is the time when smartphones surged into the lives of our teens – and with that, in 2012 – over 50 percent of our teens had smartphones, so they started to get more invested in social media, YouTube, the Internet, group texting – In 2015 – they say over 73 percent of our teens had access to a smartphone. Today – 2018 – over 90 percent of our kids have access to a smartphone. From 2012-2018 – in those six years, the smartphone became something that was very much more common in the lives of our teens. Not just more common, but more widely-used for longer periods of time. From 2010-2015, surveys said that 35 percent of teens felt alone and a burden. Feeling alone and a burden, going back to Thomas Joiner’s theory from 2005 – well, those are symptoms of suicide – and they are symptoms of suicide today. They even said that suicide surged 23 percent – and teen suicide surged 31 percent – and that’s where we are at. These are alarming numbers causing great concern – and we are asking why. Let’s not just jump to the conclusion that, “Whoa – Jeff is blaming this on smartphones.” Hold on. I just want to continue asking why. Why is this? Moving forward – 2012-2018 – that’s six years. More teens were depressed. Greater anxiety. Trouble communicating. Withdrawal. Social isolation – hopelessness – and seeing suicide as the solution to their problems. Again – why? All signs point to the sudden ascendance of the smartphone. As more and more teens gained access to a smartphone, more and more teens were feeling depressed – and suicide kept increasing in great numbers. It’s important to note here that these same surveys say that from 2010-2015 – the time doing homework barely budged. Why is this important? It’s important because it rules out academic pressure as the cause of teen suicide. So – here’s my theory: Smartphone? If you are on your smartphone four to five hours a day or more, you are 70 percent more likely to have mental health issues. Mental health professionals say that one to two hours a day is the safe zone. Going by these numbers – I think it’s pretty safe to say that time spent online affects a teen’s overall mental health. Right. OK. Now – could it be that instead of time online causing depression – maybe depression causes more time online, one might ask. And so – these studies show that this is unlikely. My theory: Depression might cause people to spend more time online – but why did depression increase so much after 2012? More teens became depressed for an unknown reason, and then started buying smartphones, which doesn’t seem too logical.
WHAT’S MISSINGYou might say that online time doesn’t affect mental health directly – but it still adversely affects mental health in indirect ways – especially if time online interrupts time for other activities. That’s that social engagement – that’s the other activities with friends and family – less smartphones, social media – more time problem-solving, coping, and one-on-one communication. Again – going back to self-esteem – it’s safe to say that a teen spending time online interrupts time for activities where they could be building their self-esteem – (what I just mentioned: coping skills, problem-solving, communication) – life skills that are essential to their growth as a young adult. I hope you are following me here. Teens spend much less time today interacting with friends and family. Without interaction, our moods start to suffer, and depression follows. Going back to Dr. Joiner – “I am alone – I am a burden.” Those two things lead to sadness. They lead to depression – and the “I am alone – I am a burden” – isolation is also a big factor in suicide ideation – better known as suicidal thoughts. Let’s look at the amount of time being alone – the amount of time where you feel you are a burden. That brings the desire for suicide – Dr. Joiner’s theory is making sense – more so today – and the capability for suicide grows out of repeated exposure to painful or fearsome experiences Now – this is starting to make a lot more sense when we look at time online – teens are more likely to be depressed, while making friends and engaging socially and in-person builds their self-esteem. In 2012, this is what started to happen: Online versus in-person social engagement. Online harms mental health. In-person social engagement benefits mental health. Remember: 90 percent of suicides. At the core, at the foundation are mental health issues. I already mentioned that proper sleep and nutrition are a huge benefit to the mental well-being of our young people. They also need to get more involved. This is good for their self-esteem. Is this research definitive enough? Maybe not. Is it too soon to recommend less screen time? The solution seems to be clear: If less screen time can help lessen your child’s chances of falling into depression, then the danger of doing nothing can be high. Think about the possible consequences. If we do nothing, then we’re taking a huge risk. A couple more things before I wrap this up: Going back to Dr. Joiner’s theory: “I am alone” is like, “I don’t have meaningful relationships. “I am a burden.” This is about expectations. Today’s teens have greater stress. They have the expectations that might not be realistic. They have the fear of not knowing who they are or what they want to do. That’s the “I am a burden.” And the desire for suicide – that’s the pain lasting and building up. Also – the Dopamine effect from the social media, the Internet and YouTube – it’s like – “I want more, I want more, I want more…” When you are spending four, five hours a day on your smartphone, the Dopamine effect is more and more and more – versus one-to-two-hours – you have less of the “I want more, I want more.” So what does all of this lead to? Our teens are on 24/7 – 365. This is leading to depression, isolation – a feeling that they are not worthy. They want to be validated with “likes” on social media – and social isolation is arguably the strongest and most reliable predictor of suicidal thoughts. Social isolation leads to loneliness, social withdrawal, living alone with little social support – living in non-intact families. All of this really isn’t helping. I think it comes down to vigilant parenting, less time online, more social and emotional learning – mindfulness practice – meditation – reducing the stigma of mental health, and letting people know that it is OK to ask for help. To wrap this up: Self-esteem: Again, social interaction, sleep, health, exercise, nutrition, activity. Self-esteem: Involvement, communication, coping skills, problem-solving skills. Self-esteem: You’re not afraid to ask for help. Social Isolation: “I am alone. I am a burden.” When our young people are interacting, they are learning. They’ve got friends. They are figuring themselves out – their identities – they are growing – they have trust – companionship – problem-solving and coping skills – laughter and better communication. A couple of things, lastly – Smartphone. Addiction. Isolation. Sadness. Loneliness. Lack of growth, The Dopamine effect. Diminished life skills. It makes sense that Joiner’s “I am alone” / “I am a burden” is a problem. You see where social media is really adding to that. And then the desire for suicide that emerges from suicidal thoughts stemming from repeated exposure to painful or fear-inducing experiences that these kids go through. Again – I don’t think students want to die. I think they live in the here and the now – and so they feel like they can never reach solutions to their problems and move on with their lives. And with the here and the now – everything is just so readily available to them. I mean, you text somebody and you get an immediate response. You pick up your smartphone and someone is automatically there. You go to the bank – and an ATM spits out cash. I think the biggest problems with our youth today are the lack of coping skills and problem-solving skills. If we could focus more on social and emotional learning in our schools, I think we would do an awesome job of getting our kids to spend less time on their smartphones and more time interacting – I think that would make a huge life-changing difference. For more information about Jeff Yalden, go HERE. Find out about Jeff’s new nonprofit, THE JEFF YALDEN FOUNDATION To book Jeff now, call (800) 948-9289
IT’S OK TO ASK FOR HELPWe need to teach our young people coping skills and problem-solving skills. My friends, this is a parenting issue, but I think education needs to change. We need to focus more on social and emotional learning. We need to focus on and really build the self-esteem of our children and prepare them for life’s challenges, obstacles and situations. We need to give them the tools to be successful in life. In the meantime, we need adequate mental health care and counseling. We also need more involved parents. We need to teach our young people that it is OK to ask for help without feeling intimidated or wrong for asking. But here’s what I am seeing all too much: When suicide happens, we’re left reacting. We are emotionally reacting. Parents and community are looking to place blame on the school, the administration, or the teachers. “It’s bullying,” it’s that reason, this happened or that happened. “You’re not doing this…” STOP! Suicide is never the result of one thing. I will say that one thing can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but suicide is never the result of one thing. Also, no administrator is ever given a certificate on how to handle a suicide – whether that suicide is on campus or off campus – whether it happens in the building, outside the building – whether it is an incoming student that is relatively new to the school community or it’s a popular student athlete, adored by everyone. No student loss or suicide is ever the same. They are all different, and how they are handled isn’t really anyone’s business because the school administrator and his or her team has to think about two things – what is in the best interest of the students, and what is in the best interest of the teachers and staff members. Our job as parents is to support their decisions and accept them – especially now. Our job is to rally together and support the school, the teachers, and the administration – not just when we have loss, but every day. Our kids ask two questions, and whether you are a teacher, a coach, a parent or anyone that works with youth – we need to answer these two questions: 1) Can I trust you? 2) Do you care about me? These two questions are the cornerstone of every trusted relationship. Parents – if your if your child needs a trusted adult immediately because they are distraught and emotionally suffering more so than ever before – are you that trusted adult they would go to first? You are either saying “I don’t know,” or “probably not.”
BE THAT TRUSTED ADULTThis is a problem. Parenting today’s young people is a different game than it ever was before. Today, I would never tell a child that I am disappointed in them. The point I am trying to make here is that kids are a parent’s responsibility. Parents need to support the schools, the teachers and the staff – and our teachers and staff need to support our parents. We all need to do what is best to teach, to educate, to inspire and to encourage our youth. We all need to be trusted adults where our kids feel safe, so that they can open up to us without fear of being lectured, judged or even disappointing us. Let me tell you about teen suicide today. There are three reasons why teens choose to end their lives: 1) They feel alone. 2) They feel that they are a burden. 3) They have the desire to end it all. Let me tell you something else: The students that are on the school’s radar get help and they are taken care of. The students that aren’t asking for help are not on the school’s radar. They are the ones we find out about – and as counselors and teachers, we say, “I didn’t know.” How do we help those that aren’t asking for help? We need to do a better job to teach our kids that speaking up and saying something is the right thing to do, because our kids are on the front lines, and they find out first. Our teens want to talk to someone that understands them – someone that understands what they are going through today. They don’t want to be lectured. They want to be listened to and validated that their feelings and emotions are normal. We all need to do a better job, from our government, to our teachers and coaches, and most importantly, our parents. Our teens need to also do a much better job of asking for help when they need help. I can’t emphasize enough, my friends: It’s OK to ask for help.
SUGGESTIONS FOR MOVING FORWARDYoung people: I’d like to invite you to open your heart that you have trusted adults wanting to be there to help you answer life’s toughest questions. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. You matter. Don’t ever think you’re alone. You matter. Don’t ever feel that you are a burden to your family or society. Parents: I need you to know that our youth today are hurting more than you can imagine – and starting earlier to feel emotions than we ever felt our own emotions when we were growing up. It’s almost like society is taking over. Parenting a child has become more difficult, with less parental influence and control. The speed of pain for a child is instant – almost as fast as turning on a light bulb. Bring the family and community priorities back. Remember things like values and morals, kindness and community pride. Love and support our schools and our youth. I challenge you to volunteer, sponsor, and donate. Give from your heart. And whatever rumors might be going around – let’s not participate. Again – suicide is never the result of one thing. Talk to your children honestly. Be careful about sugar-coating the truth, because they know so much more today than we ever did. For all adults, remember this: It takes a village to raise our children. And remember the two questions our children ask every adult in their lives: Can I trust you? Do you care about me? Be approachable so that our children know that they can safely come and talk to you, and that you are not going to judge them for their questions and thoughts. Also know that all our teachers and our school communities are hurting too. Reach out and show your support. A quick message to our teachers, staff and coaches: Thank you. Remember that you make a difference every single day. So many questions yet in many cases there are so few answers – but we are all responsible, and we need to move forward together for our youth and for each other. Think about what is in the best interest of our community. Let’s come together and respect how the school handles this on their end; the decisions need to be made, based on a comfortable balance – a comfortable balance compassionately meeting the needs of our students, their staff, their teachers and the community as a whole – while preserving the ability of the school to fulfill its primary purpose of education. This is a very sad time – a time that affects all of us. It doesn’t have to define our year, though. I’m so, so sorry and I wish I can say more. My friends, suicide and mental health are becoming an economic issue, and we need all of you to speak up. This is the greatest crisis of our time. In the words of a friend of mine: “Choose life. Choose love. Choose you.” I love you, my friends – and I am sorry for your losses. Stay beautiful, Perry Township – and I know you quite well, too. I’m sending prayers and thoughts to all of you. If you are interested in me visiting your school community, please go to www.jeffyalden.com or my nonprofit, www.jeffyaldenfoundation.com
- Breathe through it.
- I want you to know that our struggles – what we go through every single day – shapes us and builds our character. It defines our courage and builds our self-esteem. There is nothing that you can’t go through.
[Tioga, N.D. is a rural community struggling with the recent losses of two young people.]
Let’s be honest. We are all a mess – and that is the common ground where we must come together and pick each other up.