Why Do Something When We Haven’t Had a Teen SuicideWhy do teens kill themselves? Let’s not have a student suicide before you ask that question. I want to educate you now so that we can intervene before this becomes a crisis in your community. This might be an unpopular position to take, but odds are that it’s only a matter of time before your community is rocked by the loss of a student to suicide. Are you having reports or getting referrals for strong suicidal ideation? Is this happening more than it has in the past? If this is the case, which I am quite certain it is, then we can only imagine that there is a very strong possibility of an imminent student suicide. Couple this with the growing concern about increasing numbers of students in need of mental health care and you have a perfect storm. School administrators know they need to address teen mental health and suicide prevention, but don’t quite know how to approach it. Also, many are concerned that they might be opening up a Pandora’s box of issues they might not be prepared to handle. And there is an elephant in the room that needs to be discussed. If you think that you are planting ideas into your students by talking about suicide, think again. Many have already thought about it. And by talking about it, you’re reducing their anxiety because they want to talk about it. The question, “why should we address suicide or mental health when there hasn’t been in issue yet” is not the correct way to think about this. What is the cost of losing a student to suicide? What effect does this have on your students, staff or the community at large? What about its toll on school morale, culture and climate – and how do you respond afterwards?
Schools Need to Address Teen Suicide and Teen Mental HealthWe should understand why teens kill themselves long before a student makes that forever decision. The first thing to do is to be willing to talk about it, no matter how uncomfortable that seems. In fact, we should be comfortable with being uncomfortable about it. We must also understand how critically important our schools are in reaching our kids where they are. Everybody from staff, teachers and coaches to parents and anybody who works with teens have the power to encourage a teen to ask for help – and to make them feel certain that they are not alone. Secondly – we must make sure that we are openly addressing signs and symptoms of teen depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation – and giving students a safe place to talk without judgment. Incorporating mental health awareness programs in the day-to-day curriculum will help students to reduce their anxiety and help them overcome their fears of not living up to the perceived expectations of others. These things can teach our youth how to cope with life and solve problems through tough times. Check out my new curriculum on school culture. Without interrupting your school day, I can teach your staff how to me more intentional, present and fully engaged with our students. It’s about equanimity and connection while teaching our students about mind, body and soul.
Why Teens Kill ThemselvesTeen suicide today is much more widespread than people are admitting – and there are a number of reasons why many our teens are depressed and thinking about taking their own lives. The video below addresses the biggest issues I find our teens are facing. I strongly believe that smartphones, tablets and other devices are having a negative effect on their mental well-being. Isolation is toxic, and while our teens may not understand this, they are harming themselves by spending too much time alone. If a child spends more than four or five hours a day on their device, they are 70 percent more likely to have major depression in their lives. Parents take note: This needs to be addressed at home far more than you expect it to be handled at school. Too much screen time can make a young person believe that they don’t have any meaningful relationships. They feel cut off and alone – and start to believe they are a disappointment to themselves and others. They begin to feel that they don’t make any significant contribution to the world and that they are a liability.
Why Our Teens Don’t Ask for HelpI’ll be honest. Teens don’t ask for help is because they are afraid of being judged or that their thoughts won’t be validated by a trusted adult in their lives. Let’s face it – nobody should be told what they should be thinking or feeling, or that what they are experiencing isn’t anything to be concerned about. This is not how to get your teen to want to talk to you. Another reason could be that they don’t know how they are feeling. They don’t reach out because they don’t know what to say to express what they’re thinking. They may be confused, and many young people don’t have the problem-solving skills they need to cope – so they isolate themselves. Many teens believe they already know how you feel or believe you have your own problems to deal with, so they choose not to bother you with their issues. I strongly encourage you to be open and inviting when your child or student wants to talk to you. Listen. Be compassionate. Be present. Validate their feelings and let them know that what they are experiencing is normal. Offer suggestions only with their permission. Don’t attempt to fix their problems for them – rather give them the leeway to sort things out in their own way. If they know they are supported and loved, they will likely ask for your advice.
When Teens Resort to Self-HarmAlone time is one thing, but isolation is another story – and this happens with too much alone time. If your teen is spending too much time in their bedroom, you need to address this immediately. This can be a bigger issue than you imagine. CLICK HERE for my expanded thoughts on self-harm. Just the other day, I went to a friend’s house for some work on my yoga instruction practice. We were in the family room when the door opened from the outside. My friend’s 11-year-old son walked in. With his head down, he said “hey.” I watched him but said nothing as he dropped his bag and walked into his bedroom. He reappeared 30 minutes later for a snack. I noticed that his curtains were drawn, and his room was dark. He quickly went back to his room in dark isolation to play video games. I never said anything because I wasn’t at my house, and I don’t like to add my two cents around my friends and family. To them, I’m just Jeff – but this was concerning to me, and it exemplifies the landscape of our youth growing up in America today. When a young person spends too much time alone, they start to feel alone – which to them means they don’t have meaningful relationships. When I am talking with teens and I hear these things, my next question is to the point: “Do you feel like you’re a disappointment or a burden to others or even yourself?” The answer is undoubtedly yes, and I know where this is headed. I used to ask after this if they expressed an interest in dying, but I have learned that another popular place many young people reside is in realm of self-harm. Years ago, self-harm was much more the domain of girls. In the past couple of years, this evened out to a solid 50-50. Most recently, boys are engaging in self-harm a bit more than girls – and it looks completely different.
Self-harm is also known as non-suicidal self-injury, or NSSI. It’s not considered mental illness, but it indicates a lack of sufficient coping skills. It is also a sign of mental distress. These hurtful behaviors include cutting, hitting, or biting oneself as a coping mechanism.Self-harm happens in people of all ages, but it is common for the behavior to start in the teen and early adult years – and a vicious cycle starts after a person engages in this activity. The person feels guilty and ashamed and does it again to deal with those feelings. Contrary to popular belief, most people who self-harm are not in it for the attention. Most people hide it because of the stigma attached to NSSI, but if a person hopes somebody will notice, this is likely more about establishing an emotional connection with someone else who might understand what they are going through. It’s more about support far more than attention. Just because NSSI isn’t considered suicidal behavior, this does not mean that the person engaging in it might attempt suicide in the future.