I’m a mental health speaker who specializes in working with teens and school communities. I absolutely love what I do – from the assemblies and meetings to working closely with school counselors and staff, the students and their families. This work has been my passion for most of my adult life.
I can’t tell you that my work is without its share of heartache. I see the pain and trauma experienced by many of our young people – absent parents, broken homes, bullying, self-esteem issues, substance abuse issues in themselves or in their families and a degree of despair that only seems to grow with each passing day. These at-risk kids have poor coping and problem-solving skills. They are afraid and lonely, and don’t know how to speak up or ask for the help they desperately need.
In my book, “Teen Suicide: The WHY Behind Today’s Suicide Epidemic”, I talk about teens and technology, teens and isolation, teens and emotions. I am working in the trenches of the pain and brokenness of today’s youth and committed to their well-being.
As a youth motivational speaker, I often talk about the curve balls life can throw you and the fact that whatever you’ve been through may not be your fault – but it’s always your responsibility to deal with your emotions and the uncertainty of your feelings as you find a way to heal from whatever burdensome or traumatic experience you have been dealt.
Allow me to illuminate this by telling you about an encounter I had recently when I was speaking at another great school in Texas, a state that is very proactive when it comes to the conversation about mental health in their schools.
After my assembly, many students signed up for one-on-one sessions. One of these students was a beautiful young lady – a 16-year-old who appeared very strong, confident and kind. She displayed the signs of a healthy self-esteem.
Because I have worked in education for 28 years, it usually takes me seconds to “read” teens. But sometimes I might assume too quickly, and there are a lot of surprises I have come to experience personally over the last decade. For lots of reasons, many of today’s teens find themselves having to “adult” way too early. Because of this, they are growing up much faster than they should. This is very unfortunate and can be detrimental to their well-being – impacting their ability to cope, reason and act.
For the sake of privacy and because she is a minor, I’ll refer to this young lady as Suzie. Suzie with a “Z.” I like that.
As she was coming down, the school counselor had said to me, “Oh, Suzie is one of my kiddos! You’ll really like her.” I really like all kids, but the smile on the counselor’s face led me to think that Suzie was one of those very special kids and in a good way. I looked forward to meeting her.
She strode in confidently, dressed in school colors, with the school’s name emblazoned on her sweatshirt. I greeted her with a handshake, thanked her for wanting to see me and shut the door so we could talk.
I’m still dumbfounded about the way teens open up to me. It’s the most incredible feeling to work with them in school communities as a teen mental health consultant. I’m 48 years old and I still connect with them. As a matter of fact, I’m having more fun than ever. I’m more present and enjoy the teachable moment even more as I get older.
In the letter she had written and given to the school counselor, Suzie stated that she has some anxiety and pain and that she wanted to talk to me and only me. The upshot was that she needed to deal with those emotions and felt she would be comfortable sharing her story with me.
We exchanged some small talk, which breaks the ice and helps to make young people feel comfortable.
Teens Ask Two Questions
- Can I trust you?
- Do you care about me?
It’s important that these questions get answered before I can expect any young person to feel safe enough to open up and share – and this was certainly the case with Suzie.
After I got to know a little bit about her, Suzie started talking about a family member and what happened over the course of three years, grades 6th through 8th grade in her house, in her bedroom, while her parents were home.
(Her parents know about this, and they have handled it as much as they could have handled it.)
What her parents don’t know is the whole truth – the depth of the abuse and how long it had been going on. This was unbelievably alarming, and I was deeply concerned.
I have a responsibility as a mandated reporter. I also have a responsibility to the school to address and report anything that indicates that a child is in danger. I knew I had to do the right thing and I’d be bringing in the school counselor – but convincing Suzie that this was necessary was another thing I had to figure out.
The person who sexually assaulted Suzie told her that he would kill himself if she ever said anything to anybody. This means he violated her in two ways – mentally and physically. This is traumatic for any person, let alone a teenager who had to live in fear every day and night for three years.
As I listened to the details, my heart was pounding. I was really sad for her and incredibly angry that someone could have done this. I was also struck by how brave she was by sharing this with me – something nobody else completely knew at the time. I am so proud of Suzie for reaching out, knowing that this burden was too great to deal with alone.
I followed protocol and asked her if her parents knew all the details. I completed a risk assessment and asked her all the necessary questions.
She is doing very well now. I wasn’t concerned about her safety or whether she would harm herself or others. There was no self-harm – only guilt and the fact that she was living with this unspeakable nightmare – three years of hell.
Her parents thought it was once or twice where this person would sneak into Suzie’s room and watch her sleep. She courageously shared with me that he did more than that. I sincerely felt she was being honest and wanted help but didn’t know how to ask or what to do.
I told her I appreciated her sharing and trusting in me and that talking was the first step. I told her that it will be okay and that I could help her – but she would need to get additional help and would be responsible for doing the work. In the end, she would be free, stronger than ever and incredibly thankful that she worked through this trauma – ending her guilt and pain.
But in order to properly deal with this, her parents would have to know the whole truth. This would be the first step on the journey to healing.
I then asked Suzie if I could invite the school counselor in to share some of this – and she was hesitant because no one else knew any of this. I told her that it would be important to have another trusted adult that she could talk to, aside from her parents – in case she needed a time-out, a hug or just to have somebody tell her that things were going to be okay.
She trusted my judgment and finally agreed to have the counselor come in. I knew this was a moment she would never forget, and I had a chance to help her help herself.
Before we called on the counselor, I told Suzie that I was proud of her and that if she didn’t agree with anything I was about to say, she could feel free to interrupt me at any time. I promised her that I was not going to talk behind her back, but I was going to share what she told me with the counselor.
After the school counselor heard about what Suzie went through, she was in shock. She had no idea about any of this. We talked. Suzie shared, and she did very well.
Both Suzie and the counselor agreed with my plan about how to tell her parents. The counselor is going to follow up and make herself available to Suzie for whatever she needed. I felt great about all this and hugged Suzie as I gave her a pass back to class. I did give her a few extra minutes to gather herself and breathe.
How to Move Forward
Here is what I want to explain about moving forward. It’s Your Responsibility. I made sure Susie understood that it wasn’t her fault, but how she moves forward is her responsibility.
Being violated by this person is traumatic and it isn’t her fault. If he made a forever decision to end his life by suicide, that wouldn’t be her fault either. He had attempted but didn’t complete the act. Suzie carries significant and unfounded guilt.
We are all traumatized by life. Some of us suffer from the wrongdoings of others. Some of us are traumatized by pain we haven’t yet processed and emotions we have yet to address. Many of us simply don’t know how to move forward. Regardless, we all have a story and we’ve all been hurt. We have suffered loss, rejection, abuse, addiction, abandonment and more.
It doesn’t matter how the trauma came. We are all dealt certain cards. Sometimes they are not a winning hand.
Remember this: Even when you are not at fault, healing will always be your responsibility. Nobody else can do the work for you.
It’s not that time heals all wounds. It’s what you do with that time that heals the wounds.
Suzie had to want to get help. She had to be honest with her parents and move forward in a healthy way, so that these issues wouldn’t manifest later in life. She understood this and was ready to receive the help she needed.
Instead of being burdened by the trauma in your life, you can actually learn to see that pain can be a rare gift in many cases. You learn from and are shaped by the circumstances in your life. Deal with the pain. Don’t avoid it. If you don’t talk it out, you will find yourself acting out.
If you don’t move forward, an unfair circumstance becomes an unfulfilled life. Unprocessed pain gets transferred to everyone around you. You can’t allow what someone did to you to become what you do to those you love.
You have one life to live. Don’t be the victim of circumstances. Choose to be the victor and take the responsibility to heal with the help of a professional. It’s okay to ask for help.
Waiting and hoping for someone to come along and change your life will not change the source of your pain. You have to deal with it. If not, you will only become dependent and bitter.
You have the power to heal yourself even if you previously have been defeated and led to believe you aren’t strong enough. You are strong enough and you’re not alone.
The pain in your heart is a signal that you are meant to rise up and transform. Dealing with your pain will empower you.
Many of the great people in history had the cards stacked against them. They rose up after tapping into an inner strength that outmatched the worst that life could throw at them. You can tap into this inner strength too. Discovering this source of strength will shape you.
Taking responsibility for your healing is the first step.
Metabolize the pain and affect change in your life. Do it for you, your loved ones, your family. Make the world around you a better place. Freely pursue your dreams. Don’t allow your pain to hold you hostage. You can handle anything life throws at you when you take responsibility and start the healing process.
Stand up and face life as it comes. By doing this, you will become stronger and more confident – willing to dare, risk, dream and begin to see yourself as the victor you are.
Teen Mental Health Speaker: Jeff Yalden
Jeff 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:
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