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.

Social Media’s Toll on Relationships

Today, adolescent mental health disorders are escalating at an alarming rate. 1 in 5 youth experience a mental health challenge. Disorders such as depression and anxiety have risen as much as 30 percent since 2005, leaving researchers asking: “what has changed?” Some studies have pointed to the ill effects of excessive social media exposure and its role in the fundamental breakdown of interpersonal relationships.

“Instead of talking to friends and family about what is going on in their lives, we just keep up on social media,” said Canopy Children’s Solutions Outpatient Therapist Caleb Cauthen. “We as a society aren’t connecting like we used to and our relationships are suffering as a result. As social beings, we need those healthy connections to thrive”.

One study published by Clinical Psychological Science reported that increased use of social media correlates to an increased risk of feeling sad or hopeless and increased thoughts of or attempted suicide. This could be in part from the false perceptions that everyone’s life is exciting and perfect according to social media, which can have a detrimental effect on young self-esteem. The rise in cyber-bullying and “FOMO” (fear of missing out) is also believed to have increased rates of anxiety as well as depression.

“People often use social media as a way to display the best parts of their day,” said Cauthen. “We don’t typically share about our struggles because that makes us vulnerable. If all we see on social media is perfection, it is easy to begin to think our life isn’t measuring up”.

Social Media’s Toll on Relationships

Social media in and of itself is not bad, however, using social media in place of personal relationships is not only bad, it can be dangerous. We need these close relationships to fall back on during crises and without shared experiences and regular interaction, the foundations of these relationships fall apart. Personal bonds are sources of encouragement, belonging, support and comfort and without them, life can feel hopeless.

While social media is certainly not going away anytime soon, there are some things we can do to help strengthen relationships and build stronger connections to protect from these feelings.

  • Encourage your teen to “clean up” her social media. Help her realize that QUALITY is more important that QUANTITY. Remove social media distractions and focus on the relationships that translate to real life—the people you see, talk to, interact with.
  • Encourage face-to-face social interaction. Have your child join a club, get involved in a church youth group, get a part-time job—encourage to be around peers who he can bond with over shared experiences or common interests.
  • Monitor your child’s social media accounts. It is the parents’ responsibility to know what is going on in their child’s life, including what he posts, sees and is involved with on social media.
  • “Check-in” on your teen’s mental health. At least once a week, take a few minutes to sit down, undistracted, and connect with your child.
  • Teach your child self-validation, that he is more than the number of followers he has or the amount of likes received in a week. Teach him to look at the big picture and to find the positives he brings to his own life.
  • Take social media breaks. Institute rules about social media and technology during meal times to encourage conversation and connection; take a social media vacation while on vacation—long or short, give yourself a break from comparisons and the mental “burden” that come with social media.
  • Lead by example. If your child sees you on social media all the time, she will follow your example.
  • Be vigilant. If you notice changes in your child’s behavior, reach out, press in, let her know you are there.

If you notice your child withdrawing, acting out of character, losing interest in activities, or participating in risky behavior, be aware these are potential signs of depression. If you think your child is struggling emotionally, seek professional help. Don’t wait.

This article originally appeared in the August/September 2018 edition of Parents & Kids Northeast Magazine. To find more articles and resources, visit their website at www.parentsandkids.com.  

This feature was submitted by Laura Walker, staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions

 

The Alarming Rise in Child Suicide and What You Should Know

Youth suicide is on the rise. After 15 years of decline, rates took a steady increase at the turn of the 21st century. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 15,141 youth suicides (ages 5-18) in the U.S. between 1999 and 2009. Between 2010 and 2016, there were 11,939 youth suicides, an average increase of 31 percent in six years over rates of the previous decade. Let’s think about that. These statistics start with kids as young as five years old.

The CDC reports suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth ages 12-18. These tragedies leave many families, friends and loved ones asking, “why?” Youth interviewed after suicide attempts often report feelings of despair, emptiness, wanting revenge or needing an escape. When young people experience intense emotions related to difficult situations, such as breakups, a recent loss or abuse, they often seek out ways to regain a sense of control over their lives. This may come in the form of healthy coping skills like talking to a trusted adult or journaling to make sense of their feelings, or they may resort to unhealthy mechanisms such as self-harm or self-medicating. If a child takes an unhealthy path, he or she is at an increased risk of suicide.

Self-Harm

Knowing what is happening in children’s lives and recognizing when to get help are the best ways to keep children safe. If you notice your child is struggling, having a conversation with your child’s pediatrician or primary care physician is a great first step. They can serve as a guide before a situation dangerously escalates, and they can help rule out chemical imbalances or other medical diagnoses that may contribute to changes in behavior. If you feel something is amiss, it is important to take action.

What if I know a child grappling with suicidal thoughts?

Many times, individuals who are considering suicide show clear signs of trouble. Signs can include: talking or writing about death; loss of interests; withdrawing from friends and family; changes in appearance or decline in hygiene; trying to access medications or weapons; giving away possessions; or showing intense anger or hopelessness followed by sudden calm. If you have suspicions about a child, talk to them openly and directly to determine the help they need.

When talking to someone about suicide, whether you are a parent or another trusted adult, you need to know how urgent the situation is. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Show confidence in the face of crisis
  • Be up front about your concerns
  • Ask them directly about suicidal thoughts; don’t be afraid to use the word “suicide”
  • Recognize they may not be honest, so observe their behavior
  • Listen and validate their feelings; don’t be judgmental
  • Ask them to give you specific details about their thoughts including how they would commit the act, when, and if they have the means to carry it out
  • If the child is in imminent danger, DO NOT leave him alone and seek medical help immediately
  • Do not mistake a cry for help as a ploy for attention; all thoughts of suicide should be taken seriously

Some youth may be embarrassed to admit they have thoughts about suicide. Under no circumstances should you promise to keep someone’s thoughts about suicide a secret. Explain that as a person who cares about the youth’s wellbeing, that this is not a secret you can keep. Assure them they should not feel ashamed or alone and thank them for being honest. Connect them with a counselor and offer to go with them for emotional support. If you are not the parent or guardian, encourage the youth to have an open conversation with their parents about how they are feeling. Continue to be there for them – your sustained support may be their greatest reinforcement.

Get real about suicide

Suicide is a hard topic to breach, but one that every parent should talk about with their child. In all likelihood, your child probably already knows about suicide either from popular teenage drama series like “13 Reasons Why,” popular YouTube videos, or any number of social media posts, movies, or maybe even real life experiences. Parents can’t hide children from the reality of suicide, but informing yourself about what children are seeing, and talking to them about what they’ve seen or heard can offer a powerful lifeline. Helping them to grasp the severity of suicide – no coming back, no opportunity for things to get better, no reward or satisfaction – will help to save lives.

Get help

Just because an imminent threat has passed doesn’t mean the danger is gone. The CDC estimates 90 percent of individuals who commit suicide were experiencing a mental health crisis at the time of death.

“Mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety, have periods of improvement and worsening,” said Dr. John Wilkaitis, Medical Director for Canopy Children’s Solutions. “Even though a child may seem okay, it is important to seek professional help to better understand and address the underlying cause of suicidal thoughts and feelings. Therapists can help youth develop a safety plan as well as aid them in developing positive coping skills to deal with intense emotions.”

Feeling alone is one of the most critical factors of suicide. Know that you are never truly 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. If you find you need someone to talk to about suicidal thoughts or difficult situations, seek out a local mental health organization or contact area churches about free counseling ministries.

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

This article is shared with permission from Well-Being Magazine. It was originally
published in the magazine’s March/April 2018 issue. For more from Well-Being visit www.wellbeingmag.com.