OUR SCHOOLS AND MENTAL HEALTH
This blog post is the second in a series based on the principles from my book, Teen Suicide: The “Why” Behind America’s Suicide Epidemic.
In part one of this series, I talked about eliminating the stigma attached to teen suicide and mental illness. I believe that by talking openly about these issues, we are making enormous progress in this regard. We are beginning to shine a light in the darkness, and we need to get comfortable about being uncomfortable and continuing the conversation.
Your fear of the stigma is part of the illness.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines stigma as “a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.”
Yes – the stigma is real. The student living with mental illness believes from experience that others won’t be understanding or empathetic about their mental illness. This impacts their desire to ask for the help they know they need. The threat of stigma coupled with the effort to avoid being labeled are so powerful that more than half of the people who would benefit from mental health services never even obtain an initial interview with a professional.
If you are a teen and are suffering, I encourage you to set aside what you believe to be the stigma and reach out to a trusted adult at your school. You will be glad you did.
Schools can be a great resource and most teachers and counselors care deeply about all of their students. Administrators and other key staff are trusted adults and can point you in the right direction with contacts of support in the community.
Sometimes the young people we need to worry about are not necessarily on the school’s radar. Right now, there are students who are silently struggling with mental illness – and they are hesitant to come forward because of the stigma.
This needs to stop. We need to get past this reluctance to come forward.
We are all responsible for this. The more we talk about mental health, the more we demystify the stereotypes. The more comfortable we become, the more people may realize that this is a very serious situation in our country.
THE BOTTOM LINE
More than ever, teens need adult guidance to understand the emotional and physical changes they experience. When teenagers’ moods disrupt their ability to function on a day-to-day basis, this may indicate a serious emotional or mental disorder that needs attention.
Act immediately. Do something. Getting help is OK…
Mental illness is an economic issue and along with raging opioid addiction, it’s becoming the greatest public health crisis of our time.
We must take responsibility and actively work to eliminate the stigma. Talk about mental illness. Talk about teen suicide. It’s OK to share our thoughts and our feelings. It’s OK to be vulnerable.
We need to be present and in tune with what others around us might be going through. We need to work on our emotional intelligence in order to pick up on the cues we might not otherwise notice from others.
When we break the stigma, more people will be comfortable asking for help. Do it for each other. Do it for yourself, your family and your community.To find out more about The Jeff Yalden Foundation, go HERE. ORDER your copy of Teen Suicide: The “Why” Behind America’s Suicide Epidemic.
To book Jeff for your school, event or conference, 1-800-948-9289You 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 Facebook Page School Resources Join Mailing List: Text YALDEN to 66866
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
Top 5 Most Memorable Moments in my Career. Last year, I had to have her taken by ambulance (all by herself) to a hospital nearly 80 miles away. Heartbreaking. Today, we were reunited. WOW!Inspirational. So proud.Posted by Jeff Yalden on Tuesday, 22 October 2019
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: For more information, please visit www.JeffYalden.com or click on any link 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
Armed with Hope Conference – Omaha, Nebraska
Teen Mental Health & Teen Suicide Prevention Expert Jeff Yalden keynotes two years in a row…On October 5, 2019 Teen Mental Health and Teen Suicide Prevention expert Jeff Yalden was invited back as keynote speaker for the Armed with Hope Conference, the second such event for teens impacted by depression and other mental health struggles – and presented by an awesome nonprofit called Teens Finding Hope. Teens Finding Hope was formed in 2010 by mothers Kristi Barth and Sherry Krueger, who were looking for resources and support for their children, both of whom struggled with depression. This year, the event took place in Omaha, Nebraska. Last year’s conference was in Portland, Oregon – co-founder Barth’s hometown. “This was another great year talking mental health and suicide prevention with families, teens, local mental health professionals and the community,” said Yalden. The Barth family is passionate about making a difference and giving hope to those suffering from mental illness or who have lost a loved one to suicide. They have had their own experiences within their family, but the difference is that they are not afraid to talk about it – because they know that this is the only way to break the stigma once and for all. Yalden said it was a pleasure to work with the Barth family. “They’re all involved and have such big hearts – giving back and working tirelessly to make a difference. I’m truly honored that they brought me back for a second year.” This year, Yalden focused his keynote address on mental health and his theory on why teen suicide is an epidemic. He talked about what teens tell him when they come to him for one-on-one conversations. They’re feeling lonely, and loneliness means they don’t have meaningful relationships. Often, a lonely teen doesn’t want to burden anybody with their problems – and that leads to a feeling that they are a disappointment to their parents and others. Yalden also laid out his thoughts about smartphones, and especially how social media can become the antithesis of “social” – leading instead to isolation in our young people and the fallout from “the dopamine effect…” “Every time a notification goes off on their phone, the chemical dopamine is released – and this sense of temporary euphoria leaves them wanting more and more,” he said, adding that the brain typically doesn’t mature until 24 or 25 years of age – but technology is so advanced that our young people are not capable of moderate use. For them, it’s all or nothing. “Our youth are given the phones and expected to know better and be more responsible as if they are adults and should know better, but they don’t,” says Yalden. When Yalden hears teens tell him they feel alone and a disappointment to others, the next question he asks the individual is about self-harm. When he describes the timeline of a teen in crisis, self-harm typically comes into play, especially if they don’t know how to ask for help. Why do teens self-harm? Teens turn to self-harm when they want to feel like they are in control. Self-harm is not just about cutting, but Yalden says cutting is more often than not the go-to method. Other methods would be self-medicating, reckless behavior, pulling their hair, banging their heads against the wall, punching themselves, scratching, picking skin, rubbing so deeply that it causes a rash – and more. Most at-risk teens tell Yalden that they self-harm because it makes them feel better in the moment, but in the long run it only makes matters worse. In cases like these, Yalden asks the young person is they are looking to feel better without the pain of self-harm. He is all about building the relationship and gaining their trust – and is successful because of this and that the fact that respect is given and reciprocated. This one-on-one is crucial. Today’s teens want answers to the following questions.
- Do you care about me?
- Can I trust you?
“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