3 Ways to Help Prevent Suicide

3 Ways to Help Prevent Suicide

Recently, I learned of a death by suicide by a prominent pastor – on the eve of National Suicide Awareness Day of all days. It was especially tragic because he was quite vocal about the topic from his writings and the pulpit, even going so far as to establish a non-profit promoting mental health and suicide prevention. He struggled quite publicly with his own depression and mental health and tried to keep the topic front-and-center, especially on social media.

Yet, he still died by suicide. 

This was a tough one as I have a lot of friends in the clergy and have some unique insight into the stressors they face daily. I can understand the pressures that might bring someone to contemplate such a horrible outcome. But the question is, how does someone who is so vocal to the point of founding a non-profit still succumb to suicide? Is it just inevitable? Is it even preventable?

After tragedies like this one and so many other high-profile suicides the common refrain is to urge people to ask for help or call the national suicide prevention hotline. These are definitely worthy actions to encourage. Yet, my guess is those who died by suicide likely gave that same advice at some point.

So, are we missing something here? 

First of all, like most tragedies, suicide is not 100% preventable. Despite our best efforts, those in extreme darkness will choose this outcome no matter the best intentions of those who love them. Yet as those who love students, it would be good for us to understand what might drive someone to take their life.

Numerous studies have shown the actual act of taking one’s life comes by impulse more than we think. Often times we perceive suicide as being planned out meticulously like in “13 Reason’s Why”. Yet as survivors of suicide are interviewed, almost half in some cases report the attempt coming after a crisis less than 24 hours before. In fact, 1 in 4 survivors reported their suicide attempt within 10 minutes of the impulse!

Often these suicide attempts are aided by substance use and deteriorating mental health as well. But the bottom line is this – even though some suicides are long planned out, many more are an act of impulse in the immediate aftermath of a personal crisis!

So, as we talk about suicide, we also need to talk honestly about what is going on with the victim and what we can do to help. We need to understand that suicide can be (but not always) prevented by actual intervention on behalf of the one doing the outcry. While we can encourage the potential victim of suicide to act (i.e. ask for help, call a hotline), there are some tangible things we can do as helpers to intervene.

• If you suspect someone might be contemplating suicide – ASK THEM. You won’t be putting any ideas into their head that are not already there.
• Never let someone you suspect is suicidal to be alone. Keep doors open and conversations ongoing.
• Remove any means that could complete suicide. Remove any guns, ammo, pills, rope, sharp objects, or anything that the potential victim could  use to inflict self-harm.

Why?
Because 90% of suicide survivors do not make another attempt! When we as helpers take basic actions like being present, asking good questions, and recognizing the impulsivity of suicide, we can save lives!

It is time we recognize our roles as helpers to those who are genuinely struggling to find their own voice. We have a role to play for our family and friends who have lost hope. To step into this role demands courage and action.

I highly encourage you to follow some of the research at Means Matter – a study out of Harvard working through the question of impulsivity and the means of suicide. This work has been formative for me as a helper of students to understand more tangible ways to help those contemplating suicide.

Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.

Repost: Helping Students Find Hope in Hopelessness

Repost: Helping Students Find Hope in Hopelessness

A few weeks back, I was sitting with some students from a really tough part of our city and working through some of their resources. Part of our groups involve identifying and building up the student’s sense of courage, connectedness, self worth, and capability. What we noticed with this group is a general lack of self-reported capability. This seemed to be the trend throughout the group of young men.

This was a strange happening in my experience. Generally, a group of young men will tend to overstate their courage and capability from a place of machismo or even lack of self-esteem. It’s a coping mechanism everyone uses from time to time to protect us from being real with each other.

Yet for some reason, these young men decided to stop with the charade. Several of these young men were facing criminal charges as adolescents and were in a general “holding pattern” as they awaited what their PO (parole officer) or presiding judge had to say about their case. They felt like they had no real recourse and that the mistakes they made would follow them for the rest of their lives.

These young men were between the ages of 15 and 17, and at this early age, they were experiencing something reserved for people typically much older – hopelessness.

This hopelessness echoes from their upbringing, family structure, and their neighborhood. It’s a general sense that no matter what happens, they are doomed to the same cycle they have seen over and over again. My guess is this hopelessness has been ingrained earlier than my arrival into their lives.

So today, I am wondering as a “helper” of students, what can I do to bring hope to those whose hope has escaped at an age where hope should abound? I have a few things I have been thinking through along these lines, but I’d like to hear more feedback from you!

  1. Help students see their “preferred future” – This is technique based in solution focused therapy, but it is a really great tool to help the hopeless imagine what their life would be like if things were different. I typically ask students the simple question, “What do you want?” I usually don’t have to be a lot more specific than that. And with that question comes glimmers of hope. You see, even in the darkest night of the soul, the soul still knows what it wants.
  2. Help them work backwards from their “preferred future” – When they establish the goal, help them identify simple, realistic, and controllable steps to start walking in that direction. I wouldn’t even focus on what it would take to accomplish the desire. Really, this is likely too much to handle in the moment. Instead, what would it take to at least turn in the right direction and even take a small step? Maybe it is simply getting more sleep, finding a new job, or asking for help. Try to stay with the small and manageable tasks.
  3. Help them to think about how things will be different when they get to their “preferred future” – In other words, will this make much of a difference? Often the solutions we want won’t really fix anything, but sometimes they do. Helping students think about what things need to be different for their futures to look more positive are very simple. Sometimes life isn’t as horrible as we think it is in our worst moments.

One of the most unacceptable circumstances for me to witness is a hopeless student. I’m not okay with it. None of us should be.

So with the three simple ideas I posed here, what would you add to help students find hope in hopeless situations? We would love to hear back from you!

 

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s CEO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
The Masquerade

The Masquerade

This week, my 5-year old son John came down the hall and introduced himself as “Kevin.”   When I turned around from washing dishes, I realized he was wearing goggles- Minion goggles from his Kevin costume. For the next hour, he only answered to “Kevin” and ignored anyone who called him by his actual name. We all had several good laughs when someone inadvertently called him by his true name, causing much playful indignation.

Masks.

Designed for fun. Designed for camouflage. Designed for protection. Designed to make a statement. Worn by people of all ages and stages.

An excerpt from “We Wear the Mask” – a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar:

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

 

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask.

 

Unlike my 5-year-old, too often the students we work with wear masks for protection and/or camouflage. They are anxious about being seen for who they really are. They do not want to be singled out for fear of being targeted. They do not know what to do with the hurt that they carry. They do not know if they will be accepted.

The same things could be said about us as adults.

What can we do? How can we help the students we love (and ourselves)? A few suggestions for pulling back the mask:

  1. Be present. Show up – Be consistent – Follow through – for the students in your lives and your adult friends. Allow others to make their own decisions. No one pulls their masks back without trust and relationship.
  2. Ask students how they feel. Stick to the basics – sad, mad, scared, and glad. This is probably a new idea to many of them and to many adults. Give them a script – “I feel _______ when _______ happens.”  It isn’t always easy, but it makes a huge difference when a person can identify and own their feelings.
  3. Model authenticity with appropriate boundaries. In the words of Madeline Fry– “Healthy vulnerability recognizes when to share and when to remain silent. This helps you strike the balance between guarding who you are at your core and expressing it.” Learning boundaries takes practice in a world that pressures you to share and say yes.

 

Eventually, my son took off the goggles and informed us all that we could call him John again. Our hope is that everyone, students and adults alike, have a safe place to remove their masks and be called by their true name.

May you be that person for someone else and may you have those people in your life as well.

 

 

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Program Director. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.
Combating Fear in the Face of School Shootings

Combating Fear in the Face of School Shootings

Teenagers are pushed to face their fears and overcome them all the time. They fear failure, rejection, stress, the unknown, and so many other things. As adults, our job is to help them give voice to their fear and then figure out how they can find courage in the face of difficult times. But what happens when fear is deadly, random, and unpredictable? How do we respond to the understandable fear after a school shooting?

Fear cannot be ignored.

We see fear of bullies, failing a test, heights, being left, parent’s divorcing, humiliation, missing the shot, letting people down, getting sick. And now teenagers have to add the fear of getting attacked at school? We have to add the fear of our children not coming home at the end of the day?

It isn’t fair. It doesn’t make sense. But it is real and it is something that needs to be addressed.

While we do not have any answers for the tragedies that are taking place all over our country, here are a few ways that we can help combat fear.

 

Be ready for the crisis.

It is easy to react after a tragedy occurs. Once something horrible happens, we look for answers and start having conversations. But what  if we had already started these conversations? What if the ground work was already laid so that when something horrible happened, we were prepared?

It is important to talk to teenagers and kids about what is going on – in their school, city and country. They know something is wrong. They can read adults, and most have access to social media or the internet where they are probably getting more details than you would see on the evening news. We can’t avoid fear and difficult situations that happen across the country. So we need to start having conversations today. Develop a relationship with your student where you can have difficult conversations all the time. That will make these hard topics more manageable.

Here are a few tips to being ready for conversations:

  • Be shock proof: Remain calm when talking to your teens. Be genuine, but don’t let your own fear color the conversation.
  • Ask good questions: Resist the urge to lecture, but instead ask questions about what they have heard and how they are feeling.
  • Keep it appropriate: Conversations are important, but only if they are helpful. Don’t scare or over-share if your kids aren’t ready for it.
  • Be part of the solution: Get involved. Use the resources of schools and organizations, but don’t put all the responsibility on others.

 

Know your resources.

Speaking of being ready for a crisis…this is crucial! When something happens, you don’t have to walk through it by yourself – utilize the resources in your community, school and church. Maybe a resource is as simple as having another trusted adult on call if your teen would rather talk to someone outside of your house. Or be prepared if your child wants to talk to a counselor (whether it be their school counselor or another professional). Ask your church and school what resources are available – is there a series coming up that will address things like school shootings? Are support groups available on their campus? Is there an article or podcast that gives a different perspective?

There are so many resources available, and it will be incredibly helpful if you already know where to look first. Here are a few places we recommend:

  • Youth Specialties Blog: While these blogs are aimed at youth workers, they are a great resources to parents as well!
  • Teen Life: I may be a little biased, but Teen Life offers lots of great resources from our blog and podcast to Support Groups on school campuses.
  • Google: Earlier this week, someone asked us for an online resource after the Parkland shooting and by searching “how to have conversation with child about school shooting,” I found several great options!
  • Preventative Resources: Use resources like Michele Borba’s book or blog to talk about healthy things kids need to focus on. Start with this blog post!
  • Local Resources: Know what organizations are in your area! The Warm Place and Real Help For Real Life are two in Fort Worth but do some research around you.

 

Believe your kids.

It is so important to believe your kids, especially in times of fear and trial. I think sometimes we dismiss students as being dramatic or exaggerating. While teens can be dramatic, and they can exaggerate some details, is it worth not believing them if they are being completely truthful?

In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, several students said that they weren’t surprised by the identity of the shooter. They had always joked that he would shoot the school. How terrible is that? Not only that they perceived the danger, but that they either didn’t share their concerns with adults or those adults didn’t take them seriously.

We have to give our teens the benefit of the doubt. If they express worry about a classmate or friend (whether that worry is about violence or suicide or depression), we need to listen. Validate what they are seeing, teach them how to get help and how to find resources for their peers.

 


 

Fear is all around us, and it is not something that is going away, especially with the digital world we live in today. Your teenagers are more aware of what is going on around the world than we ever were. They probably knew about the Florida school shooting before you did. Instead of hiding from fear, let’s learn how to cope, have positive conversations, and find helpful resources.

 

What are some resources you have found in times of tragedy? How have you helped teens combat fear?

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.
Worry Is The Answer

Worry Is The Answer

Do you worry? I do.

Is your goal to remove all of the worry in your life? It has been mine for most of my life.

I still distinctly remember the fear and worry in college of not knowing what was next. I even remember telling people closest to me, “I wish God would send a postcard with instructions so I know I’m making the right choice.” First, there was a flaw in my thinking that the choice was about what I should do rather than who I am. A lesson I have learned from many respected mentors and leaders like John Maxwell, Michael Hyatt, and others.

In our world today, there is a lot of talk about removing barriers, stress, anxiety and roadblocks. While this is often necessary, when it becomes our full focus and effort, we can lose an opportunity to understand where to find answers by moving too quickly past a learning opportunity.

No doubt this is not a new idea. I am sure it has formed out of the reading and listening I have done, especially the past 5 years. By listening to other successful people, new ideas come to light and clarity is gained. That being the case, this time it was a conversation with my 10 year old that brought the important piece to the surface.

I get to take my son to school daily. This is some great time spent together that I am thankful for. This particular day, I asked him two questions I ask two or three times a week.

“What are you looking forward to at school today?”

“What are you worried about today?”

This time he had a specific thing he was worried about. The elementary spelling bee was coming, and he had been invited to participate and was tasked with studying the word list. His worry was that he was not going to do well during the event because he had not been studying. Without really thinking I said, “You don’t have to worry about that. If you haven’t been studying, you won’t do well. So no need to worry, you already know.” This may sound harsh, but he understood what I meant as I went on to explain that if he isn’t studying, he should expect to not do well. But also that if he is worried and knows studying could help, he can choose. He can either not study and expect to not do well or study and be proud he did his best no matter what happens at the Bee. Either way, the worry is dealt with and not just ignored.

I think the lesson here is that we want to remove worry or ignore it, but it is possible that the worry may be revealing some useful information that could help us move to the next level.

So here are my suggestions for dealing with worry in your life and mine, not just removing it.

  1. Listen to the worry. Don’t dismiss it too quickly. You may miss an important indication that leads you to just the right answer you are looking for.
  2. Seek others’ input. We all need people around us to help us in life, especially through difficult times. Find a trusted advisor or mentor and confide in them what is worrying you and see if they can help you gain some clarity about the direction you need to head.
  3. Don’t let the worry turn into fear. I cannot count the number of things I have missed out on because I let worry turn into fear and defeat me from accomplishing something before I even started. I am working hard to reduce the number of times this happens in my life, and I hope you will too.
  4. Make a plan to process the worry. Maybe have a dedicated journal or app to record what is worrying you, and then spend time processing what you might be able to learn from the worry.
  5. Don’t hesitate to ignore worry when it isn’t helpful. Even though there are times this mentality can be helpful, we face a lot of worry in life, and the reality that much of it is not worth our attention is worth recognizing. So when you worry about things out of your control or that are unrealistic, simply say to yourself, “I’m choosing to worry about the things that matter.”

I’ll leave you with this. My son did participate in the spelling bee and he did pretty good, too. He actually did really good! He placed 3rd! Out of nearly 40 students in grades 3-5 at his school, he had the courage, stamina and focus to spell words I’ve never heard of correctly. Was it my comment that made the difference? Probably not as much as I would like to think, but the principle and mental perspective to think differently about what he needed to do, I hope, was helpful.

 

So what in your life have you ignored or tried to remove that could actually have some benefit or provide you with some insight as to how to take your next step and maybe even what that step should be? Let us know!

Ricky Lewis is our CEO and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.