Silent Epidemic-Elisabeth’s Story

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is becoming an epidemic among our young people with a more than 70 percent increase in suicides between 2006 and 2016. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 behind unintentional injury. In Mississippi, for every child who dies by suicide, there are 25 attempts. Statistics from the 2015 Youth Risk Survey taken in Mississippi indicated 15 percent of high school seniors reported having seriously considered suicide in the last year; 13 percent had attempted suicide, and six percent had received medical treatment for a suicidal injury. These stats are troubling and are growing ever closer to home.

In May 2018, Teresa Mosley spoke at Canopy Children’s Solutions’ Children’s Mental Health Summit. Teresa told the story of her daughter Elisabeth who is eternally 15.

Teresa speaking at the 2018 Children’s Mental Health Summit in May, sharing the story of her daughter, Elisabeth, and their lives after suicide.

Elisabeth was a typical teenager. She was smart, creative, caring, compassionate, an “old soul” who loved classic novels, black and white Hitchcock movies, animals and cinematography. Elisabeth was also among the 20 percent of youth who struggle with mental health challenges. Despite all the things that were right in her life, depression clouded Elisabeth’s ability to see the light beyond her darkness. She took her own life on June 13, 2006.

“Statistics are just numbers until you love one of those numbers, and I have loved one of those numbers,” said Mosley. “I want people to know that suicide is not prejudiced, it affects everyone. I pray that God will use the memory of [Elisabeth’s] life so that her death will not have been in vain.”

Mosley read the poem “Not Waving but Drowning,” by British poet Stevie Smith. She then explained the importance of recognizing when a person is struggling with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. While at a distance it may appear as if a person is fine and simply waving, in reality they are drowning.

Here are a few signs everyone should know that may indicate someone is struggling and may be at risk of suicide. If you recognize any of these symptoms in a child, teen or young adult, talk openly with them and seek professional help.

  • withdrawal from friends and family
  • trouble in romantic relationships/close personal relationships
  • slump in academic performance
  • giving away possessions
  • writing or drawing pictures about death
  • changes in eating habits
  • dramatic personality changes/signs of despair
  • deterioration of personal hygiene
  • problems sleeping
  • participation in risky behavior (drugs, alcohol, sex, self-harm)
  • talk of suicide, even in a joking way
  • have a plan of how they would commit suicide
  • having a history of suicide attempts

Mosley also spoke of the importance of not only adults recognizing and taking action if someone is talking about suicide, but also our youth.

When Emily, Mosley’s youngest daughter, was in 7th grade (approximately four years after Elisabeth’s death), a boy in her school posted on social media that he was going to take his life. Emily, with great concern in her heart, hurried to school alerting the school counselor. The boy was not at school that day. School administrators went to his home and were able to intervene, saving the boy’s life and getting him connected with help. That day, Emily understood the importance of speaking honestly and openly about her family’s experience, challenging the stigma with suicide and mental health, and to never to mistake a cry for help as a ploy for attention. Speaking up helped save a life.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, know that you are not alone; there are a number of resources available to those in crisis. Mississippi Department of Mental Health is the statewide provider for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. If someone is in imminent danger, go to your nearest emergency room immediately and connect with a local mental health provider.

Laura Walker is the staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions. Canopy is Mississippi’s most comprehensive nonprofit provider of children’s behavioral health, educational and social service solutions with locations across the state. For more information about services offered through Canopy, visit mycanopy.org or call 800-388-6247.

This article was featured in Parents & Kids Magazine September/October 2018 Desoto Edition. Click here to see more from Parents & Kids Magazine.

The Silent Cries of Child Abuse

At five years old, Katie hears the door slam. Keys crash against the countertop. She feel her heart pounding and her mind begin to race, “Please have had a good day, please don’t be mad…” The house falls silent, then a voice filled with frustration and anger echoes down the hallway as she hears a crash in the kitchen. Katie turns off the light and jumps into bed, pretending to be asleep, hoping maybe, just maybe, he won’t turn down the hallway. Loud footsteps clomp closer and closer to her bedroom door, then stop and trail off in another direction. She hears a loud smack followed by a string of loud obscenities and muffled crying. Katie closes her eyes tightly, “Please no, not again.” The crying turns to screaming, pleading, “No! No, please! Leave her alone!” Katie’s bedroom light turns on. She is drug from her bed to face the horrors of what she had heard from behind the door.

Katie’s story is real for the more than 7.4 million children affected by some form of child abuse each year. More shocking, approximately five children die every day as a result of abuse—80 percent of those fatalities are children under the age of four.–Children’s Bureau

 

In 2017, the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services cited more than 6,000 evidenced cases of abuse or neglect in the state. Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education. In honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month, Canopy Children’s Solutions wants to bring awareness to this issue that is devastating the lives of children across our state and country.

80percentWhat constitutes child abuse? Under Mississippi Code Section 43-21-105, child abuse is defined as a child whose parent, guardian, custodian, or any person responsible for his or her care or support, whether or not legally obligated to do so, has caused or allowed to be caused upon the child non-accidental physical injury or other maltreatment. This does not include reasonable corporal punishment. Child abuse is more broadly characterized by six major categories by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families and Children’s Bureau: physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, abandonment, and/or substance abuse.

“Understanding what constitutes abuse is important in protecting those who are often unable to protect themselves,” said Tammy Miller, South Central Region Director for Canopy Children’s Solutions, who has more than 17 years of child welfare experience. “Many times, a child will not openly tell a trusted adult they are being abused, either because they are too young to understand that these actions are inappropriate, or for fear of what the abuser will do if they find out. However, there are sometimes signs or behaviors in children that can point to an abusive history.”

Signs of abuse can include extreme aggressive and unwarranted behavior, unexplained injuries, cowering from an authoritative figure, frequent or prolonged unexcused absence from school, fear of going home, behaviors that are not age appropriate (pants wetting in school-aged adolescents, hyper sexuality in children, delays in development, etc.), and extreme weight loss or malnourishment.

If you suspect that a child has been abused, collect as much factual information as possible. Document things you have witnessed, seen or heard that make you suspect abuse with the date(s) and detailed description(s) of each occurrence (i.e. child was out of school for a week and returned with a faint bruise to his left cheek; child constantly comes to school hungry; parent yelled and called child “stupid” and “useless” over report card grades, young child seen wandering the street alone after dark). Miller advises asking the child about things you have noticed using open ended and non-leading questions while being aware the child may not be truthful. Be sure to disclose if you think he or she is hiding something. File a report by calling the Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-222-8000, or file a report online at www.reportabuse.mdcps.ms.gov. These two options will open a case with the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services (CPS) who will further investigate the claim. Only utilize these options if the situation is not an emergency. If a child appears to be in imminent danger, call 911 immediately.

“Many people shy away from reporting concerns over fear of false accusations. If the behaviors are severe enough to warrant concern, it’s better to be safe than sorry,” said Miller. “Filing a report does not necessarily mean a child will be removed from a home or that criminal charges will be pressed. In fact, CPS can often provide services to the family such as substance abuse treatment, mental health evaluations, parenting skills, and other social services that can benefit the family as a whole.”

what ifMiller also noted that fear of retaliation is another major obstacles that keeps people from reporting. Reports can be made anonymously through the 800-number.

Children are our most valuable, and yet, our most vulnerable assets. Helping protect the livelihood of children in our communities is a responsibility of all adults, whether you are a teacher, a parent at a baseball game, or a bystander in a store parking lot. Don’t let the silent cries of a child keep you from speaking up. If you suspect something, say something.

For more information about signs and types of child abuse, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway website at www.childwelfare.gov or contact your state child welfare agency.

Written by: Laura Walker, staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions