I have been working in the trenches of teen mental health for 27 years. In addition to my work as a youth motivational and mental health speaker, I am a suicide prevention and crisis intervention expert.
I am here to tell you that the heartbreak of teen suicide has never been as rampant as it is now. We are in the middle of a crisis of epidemic proportions, my friends – and the numbers of teen and pre-teen suicides continue to grow at a terrifying rate.
My latest book, Teen Suicide: The “Why Behind America’s Suicide Epidemic, confronts this issue head-on and lays out the factors contributing to teen suicide, the signs and red flags, and the steps to take when a young person is at risk. I encourage you to pick up a copy.
I recently read an article on USA Today that brings the issue to the forefront in the media: “When Children Say ‘I Want to Kill Myself’: The Alarming Rise of Youth Suicides.” You can read that article HERE.
The article, which originally published in the Louisville Courier Journal, opens with the personal story of a Kentucky woman whose son made the “forever decision” in October. He was 17. There are also stories from other parents, echoing the same anguish, of children who were 16, 12, and 10.
You heard me right. One child was only 10.
In 2018, at least 31 children and teens took their own lives in Kentucky. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the U.S. suicide rate in this decade for children and teens 18 and younger has grown by more than 90 percent. 2017 suicide deaths in this age group hit the highest count since data collection began in 1999.
Because of the stigma attached to suicide, many medical examiners are hesitant to rule a teen death as a suicide. These numbers could be higher. Very rarely in obituaries will you see anything about a young person taking their own life.
It’s time to break that stigma once and for all. We all need to get comfortable being uncomfortable talking about teen suicide and mental illness. We all need to contribute to this conversation. We need to reinforce in our young people one simple yet very effective phrase: It’s OK to ask for help.
The USA Today article stated that youth and teens don’t have enough access to behavioral health services, and that funding is short for things like suicide hotlines and other intervention programs. This hurts my heart, but I am hopeful that things will change as the conversation grows.
A pediatrics professor in the article – Dr. Hatim Omar – said that some younger students may make an impulsive decision to try to kill themselves during a moment of crisis, such as after a fight with a parent or trouble with a friend.
My friends, our young people live in the moment – the here-and-now. They lack the coping skills to realize that the crisis moment will pass. The perceived problem will likely go away and the feeling will fade.
Stress and anxiety are also running rampant among our youth. The pressure put on them in their studies, extracurricular activities and by their peers contribute to this. Their dance cards are full, and hyperconnectivity plays a major role in this as well. They are “on” 24/7 – 365 days a year.
Our young people get a boost of dopamine from every “like” and share they get on social media platforms – like a hit of adrenaline every time their posts are favorably received. But I have seen in my work that too much online time tends to isolate rather than connect. The more your child spends online, the less benefit they receive from real-life interaction with friends and loved ones. This is a problem that we parents must face.
Social media is not true social interaction. The more time your kids spend on their devices, the bigger chance there is that they might mistakenly believe that they are not “as good as” their peers, or they are lot living up to the expectations of others. The isolation will in turn make them feel like they are letting you and others down. They begin to feel like they a burden. This is a serious red flag.
It’s up to us as parents to limit the time our young people spend online. Don’t believe for a minute that our kids will willingly do this for themselves. Society has given our young people rights and privileges that many of them can’t responsibly handle yet.
Remember: You are the trusted adult in your child’s life. It is imperative to establish an environment of trust and acceptance – and a setting where they will always know that it’s OK to ask for help.
I believe that mental illness is quickly becoming the greatest public health crisis of our time.
I also believe that we can make a difference. I am a man who proudly lives with mental illness. Let’s break this stigma once and for all and keep the conversation going.
Jeff Yalden is a youth motivational speaker on teen leadership, teen mental health, suicide, and suicide prevention having worked with teens and school communities for more than two decades. Click HERE for more information.
To order Jeff’s Amazon bestseller, Teen Suicide: The “Why” Behind America’s Suicide Epidemic, go HERE.
To book Jeff to speak at your event, call Betty at 800-948-9289.