“Remember, Maslow talks about how families provide food, clothing, shelter, and safety... and then society provides everything else. By the time you're in middle school, it's more important to have a friend than it is to have a family now.” ~ Tamara Oborn
(Transcript available below)
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Heidi Higgins: Hi there, I'm Heidi Higgins and you are listening to K12 On Learning. Today we are featuring part two of our Mental Health Series. The topic is a serious one, how parents can help prevent suicide. The Mental Health Series featured in these episodes is geared toward parents and is partnership with the Cook Center for Human Connection and ParentGuidance.org. In addition to this episode the Cook Center and Stride have partnered to offer live interactive webinar sessions on the second Wednesday of every month. You can find the schedule and the topics in the National Learning Coach Community located on the K12 app. Tamara Oborn from the Cook Center is joining us today on the episode, along with Veronica Clemmons, senior director of Talent Development and Community at Stride. Veronica I'm going to hand it over to you to share a little bit more about why we are featuring this series, and let you introduce our Cook Center facilitators and presenters. For, again, today's topic how can parents help prevent suicide?
Veronica Clemons: Greetings. We want to welcome all of our learning coaches, parents, and caregivers. My name is Veronica Clemmons and I'm senior director of Talent Development and Community here at Stride. We are in partnership with the Cook Center for Human Connection and ParentGuidance. And you can find more information at ParentGuidance.org. We want you to be able to strengthen your relationship, your knowledge and understanding of your children, and learners, so thank you once again for joining us as this is likely the most important topic for our families and can be approached in the same way that you approach other safety or health issues for your children. By educating yourself about suicide you can learn what puts children at greatest risk, and more over what protects them. I'm thrilled to introduce our facilitator for today Tamara Osborn as we dive into this most important topic how parents can help prevent suicide. Tamara?
Tamara Oborn: Thank you so much. I am thrilled to be here. Myname's Tamara Oborn. I'm here in Pleasant Grove, Utah and I'm the prevention coordinator for the city, and I also work with the Cook Center for Human Connection. I love the Cook Center and the resources they offer, and it is a privilege to be able to talkto you all about this subject today. I'm a parent, I have four beautiful children, and have faced a lot of these situations personally in my life. So we have a really great mix. We have elementary, middle school, high school, and older. And I can tell youthat no matter what ages your kids are the things we're going to learn and talk about today are really applicable at any age, and it's very universal. And not just for your children but maybe for other members of your family or your coworkers. Most people don't feel very confident in knowing how to support someone in a crisis and knowing what resources are available, and so we are really excited to share some of that with you today.
I know as a parent in prevention I have a lot of concerns. I teach this all day long but when it comes to my own family it is complicated, and it is hard, and I can tell you that I do not always get it right. And hopefully today, as we learn a lot of things, we'll just learn a few things that we can just do better. And that is really the goal, is to just do a little bit better and to try a little bit harder. Luckily we're going to be hearing from Dr. Greg Hudnall who is an expert. So we know that research shows an increase in family support significantly predicts a decrease in suicidal ideation. We have to have hope and really our families provide a lot of hope. We can prevent suicide in families and as parents.
And when we're talking about suicide ideation we're talking about a really large range of things that people feel, right? Thinking about how much better off the world would be if we were gone. That's an example of suicide ideation. Thinking about how great it would be if we could run away from all our problems, you know just disappear. You know who can relate to those kinds of thoughts? And then, of course, in the extreme thinking of ways that we could end our life and just stop being a burden to the people around you. Some of us have experienced these things. Statistically a number of us have struggled with these thoughts or may even be struggling with them right now. And some of us really can't comprehend those kind of thoughts. But really either way we can learn how to handle things better when our kids, or even ourselves, struggle. It can be really scary and overwhelming but we're going to do our best to learn some great skills today.
Dr. Hudnall has experienced some really horrible things when he was a principal at a school. He lost a number of children during his years as a principal to suicide. While serving as that principal he had five kids actually die on his watch. And one evening after he had to identify the body of a student he sat in his car and he just cried, and he said, "No more." He has spent the last 30 years being involved in suicide prevention. He's been a crisis team leader, a first responder, and then went back to school to receive his master's in counseling where he worked for four years in an emergency room and worked so much with families. He started the Hope Squad Program. It's a pretty big program and it's growing across the nation. It's a peer-to-peer school-based suicide prevention program. Kids do talk to other kids and we want to make sure these kids know what to do when they get some of this really heavy information. He has dedicated his life to suicide awareness, so we're going to hear from Dr. Hudnall on maybe some of the reasons why kids don't reach out for help.
Dr. Greg Hudnall: One of the challenges is that we know that the brain isn't fully developed. That impulse control, planning, organizing in that prefrontal cortex isn't fully developed until young people are 24, 25, 26 years old. We as adults sometimes look at our children and we see them in these large bodies, football players, actors, actresses, whoever it is, our own children and we think they're so talented, they're so smart, that we tend to compare them to adult bodies. And the reality is a lot of that prefrontal cortex is not fully developed. Now you and I think it is, and sometimes we treat them that way, and sometimes we expect them to act that way but it's important to remember that people that are struggling with severe depression, a mental illness, whatever it may be a lot of times they don't understand what they're going through. It's difficult for them to describe their feelings and a lot of times they're embarrassed, they're ashamed. They don't want anybody to know.
I visited with a young man who had been hospitalized for attempting suicide. They brought me in to work with him. And one of the questions I asked is, "Why didn't you tell someone?" And he said, "First of all I didn't want anybody to know. I thought I was the only one." And a lot of times they own it that way and so they don't reach out for help. So for the rest of the presentation I want you to think aboutand have the thought in your mind that if you see someone struggling don't ask them if they need help to come to you, you go directly to them. Cross that path. Have the courage to reach out to them.
Tamara Oborn: We know that our prefrontal cortex development continues until like our mid 20s. And youth especially but all ages of people struggling don't often have the words to describe what they're going through. And there's also a lot of shame associated with suicide ideation and struggling with thoughts of suicide. And they often don't reach out for help. So one of the biggest points Dr. Hudnall's teaching us is we cannot wait for them to come to us, we have to go to them. It takes a lot of courage to talk to someone, especially about suicide, but we can reach out. And we're going to talk about how to do that as we continue.
Let's go over what we're going to continue to learn. Why does suicide occur? The warning signs of suicide. What not to say and do. What we need to say and do. And where can we go for help? So at the very beginning why does suicide occur? We're going to let Dr. Hudnall explain this to us.
Dr. Greg Hudnall: Probably the number one reason that young people take their life is they feel all alone, and it's intolerable for that isolation and aloneness. There's many times I get brought in to work with young people and one of the first questions I'll ask is, "Give me the names of two of your best friends." And I'm amazed at the number of times where that young person will say, "Well there's Johnny." And I'll ask, "What's Johnny's last name?" "Hm, I don't know." "Where does Johnny live?" "I don't know." That's not a best friend, that's a classmate. And I'm finding more and more young people who have cellphones that a lot of connections but they really don't have friends that they can talk to and that they can have that experience.
Remember Maslow talks about that families provide food, clothing, shelter, and safety. And then society provides everything else. By the time you're in middle schoolit's more important to have a friend than it is to have a family. Now hard for you and I to believe as parents, right? Because we're doing everything we can to provide food, clothing, shelter, and safety, and connection with them, which is really important. But at some point in life it's critical to have that relationship with that peer. And that relationship helps us learn what's right and what's not right in society. We get to share emotions, and feelings, and experiences with them that a lot of times wewould never even share with our family. So by far I see isolation and aloneness as one of the top stressors for young people.
I was in the emergency room with an amazing young junior high student, beautiful young lady. They brought me in after she had attempted suicide, so the doctors worked with her and everybody, and then I got to meet with her. And one of the questions I always like to start out with is, "Help me understand what was going on." And she said, "You know, Dr. Hudnall do you know what it's like to go to school with 1,400 other kids, share a locker, go to five classes a day, and for two full weeks not one person even mentioned my name?" She said, "I felt like I didn't exist." Now there was some challenges at home, parents were going through adivorce, so there was a lot of other issues with that. So think about the crisis within the home setting, she needed that safety and connection outside of that but she wasn't able to find it. And she said, "I felt like no one even knew that I existed," and so she attempted suicide.
Now in visiting with her she admitted she didn't want to die. She wanted the pain to go away but she didn't know how to make that pain go away.
Tamara Oborn: Dr. Hudnall's telling us you know our kids they care a lot about their friends. I remember when I first heard the statistic that by the age of 14 parents start to have kind of that inverse relationship of influence on their kids, friends tend to be more. I see it. I see the struggles that my kids had making connections, especially with technology. My daughter, I think, sent 6,000 texts last month. My husband and I watch that pretty closely. And for me a text is not my primary means of communication. That's how they communicate, and doesn't provide that personal connection and close feel that real human interaction does provide. We want to know have you seen that to be true? Does your child have a lot of friends? Do they have a lot of friends at school? If they're homeschooled do they have a good community of friends around them? Do they have virtual friends that maybe they went to school with or maybe they game with online? Friends really do have a big influence on our kids.
No family is perfect and no family is alone in the struggles that we face. Our kids are having a hard time and as parents we just do not always know what to do for them. Dr. Hudnall has another great insight about why our kids might be struggling a little bit, so let's hear from him.
Dr. Greg Hudnall: What we've learned is what we call academic performance anxiety, and it's when adolescents who believe that affirmation and love are one, and earned, are the most vulnerable. Because there's no capacity to psychologically manage that failure. We as adults have created a whole new generation of young people that have never been allowed to fail. See you and I as adults remember that embarrassment, that shame that we felt when we were bullied, when we were left out, whatever it is. And so we swoop down. It's the snowplowing parents, it's the helicopter parents, it's whatever the terminology is. We feel that we need to do everything we can to give our child that extra chance. You read about it, my goodness there are famous actors and actresses that are paying lots of money to try to get their children in through the backdoor into universities, and other things. But here's the reality of it, every time we step in and take away that opportunity for our child to learn from that failure, from that inability or whatever it is, that's one more time we take away the ability for them to build resiliency.
And I stand in front of hundreds of parents when I do my presentations and one of the things I plead with the parents, "Please let your child fail." Now the parents go, "Oh wait a minute, you're talking about suicide, you're talking about failure." But I'm talking about the small things, being left off of a team, not being invited for a dance. You know things that going through life that as you and I look back on helped us create who we are. And if someone had swooped in, and not allowed us to have that experience, then you and I would not be where we're at right now in our lives. Children and kids need opportunities to fail so that they can learn from that and then build that resiliency withinside themselves.
I teach a graduate course at a college level. It's a master's level class. I've been teaching it, adjunct professor for over 15 years, I've been amazed at these kids in this class that don't know how to fail. And in their mind what they see as a failure is something that I see as actually a pretty good grade, they just need to work at it a little bit more. So let your child fail. But the difference is we're asking you to be there to help them pick up the pieces, to learn from that experience, and then to surround them with love and support so that they can move to the next level. Never allowing your child to fail is creating a challenge for them in the future because when they get hit hard by something else they're not going to be able to deal with it and then that's where we see, because of that impulsivity and other things, they turn to that next serious level of attempting suicide.
Tamara Oborn: Are we being a rescuer? Have we stayed up until all hours of the night finishing a child's classroom project when they're fast asleep, or in bed, or completely checked out? One of the most important things we can learn ... And if you're taking notes, you may or may not be, this is a great phrase to practice, "What are you going to do about that? I love you and I'm here foryou and what are you going to do about it? And how can I support you in your choice?" As soon as we make their problems our own problems they get to let go and they kind of stop trying to solve it. They just kind of check out and we don't want to take away their ability to grow their problem solving skills.
As kids get older the cost of their mistakes get older. Little kids have little problems and bigger kids have bigger problems. And different kids have different needs. I have a super independent childwho rarely asks for help and so when she does I know that it's important. And I know that stepping in, and helping her, and supporting her in her problem solving is a big deal. And I have another daughter, who's a teenager, who would probably still let me tie her shoes for her. And it's been important for me to slowly let her learn how to communicate, and problem solve, and sit in some really uncomfortable situations, with support, but knowing she is ultimately the one who has control over her life. It's so hard. But a lot of what Dr. Hudnall is trying to teach us here is those problem solving skills earlier on, in lower intense situations. There really is no one single cause of suicide and so Dr. Hudnall's going to talk about that for just a minute.
Dr. Greg Hudnall: One of the questions that I get asked a lot, even by professionals, is why does the suicide happen? "My son was so popular. My daughter was so beautiful." They had everything that you could imagine as a family. But what we've learned through the years is that that suicide most often occurs when those stressors exceed that current coping ability. So what happens to one young person is enough to be irksome, and they get angry and walk away, but it may be enough for someone else to push themself over the ledge. And that's the challenge. Suicide is so individualized and it's so unique to that individual.
The interesting part ... And I talk with my wife a lot who's a therapist who works with the adult veterans. She talks about the concept that many adults will spend months, a year, planning their suicide. They're going to do it in a certain spot. They're going to go out and raise money to buy a certain kind of weapon. Whatever it is. Young people I call it the 24 to 48 hour window. Something happens in their life, romantic breakup, disciplinary action, something that pushes them towards the edge and not only ... Because, remember, that impulsivity isn't fully developed in their brain and so because of that there's an immediate response. And that immediate response is to that pain that's happening and so they respond to that.
Our crisis team responded to a suicide in the southern part of our state. Beautiful young lady, senior in high school, full ride scholarship to play volleyball. From the outside looking in everybody would have thought, "What a perfect, charming life." The reality, she struggled. Her boyfriend broke up with her. She contacted a couple of friends, chatted with them that night, said, "I'm at the end of my rope. I don't think I can take this crap anymore." Those young friends didn't know what to do. They didn't know what to ask, so it wasn't their fault. The very next morning she came to school, put all of her journals in the boyfriend's locker, and then went upstairs to the girls' bathroom and took her life. It happened that fast.
As we investigated and started peeling back the layers what we perceive is that in that young lady's mind is, "If I take my life ..." See, remember, there's no rational thinking when a young person is in a crisis. All they can do is get that feeling of, "I want that pain to go away. I can't take the pain anymore," so there was no rational thinking from that perspective.
So one of the things that we've learned through the past 30 years that I've been doing this is that suicide never occurs outside of the context of a major social stressor. So when you see your children responding to a stressor, or they're inability to respond to that stressor, that's when it's important to get involved.
Tamara Oborn: We are going to talk about the warning signs. And the important thing to realize, again Dr. Hudnall says, is there is no single cause. We really like to simplify things, and blame, and be able to explain the really hard things in our life but it's usually a variety of factors. And it is so personal and so different for everyone. And just removing that shame and judgment, and looking at someone who's going through crisis as a whole being can really help in these situations. So here are just some warning signs. Thisis not an exhaustive list. These are just things to watch out for. These are some situational signs. Someone going through something difficult, in a divorce situation, the loss of a friend, a breakup. Is it an athlete who had a big injury who's identity is changing? A serious illness? Does someone have a friend who died by suicide? None of the lists are exhaustive. And it's just we need to think about our kids and what they might be going through that could be really difficult for them, even if we think they're fine or even if we think it's not a big deal.
Some of the behavioral signs is talking or writing about suicide, giving away personal possessions, failing grades, pulling away from family. And when we think about talking about suicide it's not alwaysjust, "Oh I'm going to end my life." It's, "I feel like a burden. I just want to go to sleep and never wake up. I just want to disappear. I just don't think I can do it anymore." Any of those signs of someone really struggling are really important.
And then we have some emotional signs, feeling like a failure, having a lot of overwhelming emotions, pulling away from those that they love. And really any really any significant change in behavior can be a sign because sometimes, in both young people and adults, when someone decides to end their life it can feel like a big relief to them. So if you do have a child who's struggling or withdrawn, and then suddenly they become really bubbly and open that might be a sign. I know that my daughter is very moody andcares deeply about things. And if she was to suddenly kind of become numb or not care anymore, or be just cheery all the time, I would maybe stop and ask her what was going on in her life because that would be a major change in behavior.
Self-medication, we know substance abuse has a big correlation to suicide. A previous attempt without getting help. Just because someone survived an attempt doesn't mean that their pain or the situation that they're in has suddenly been fixed. And we do know that a loss of a loved one can increase the risk for suicide by 50%, especially if that loved one died by suicide.
What not to say and do. When we do recognize the warning signs there's definitely some ways that we shouldn't handle the situation. "You don't mean that. You don't really want to die." When we say that you don't really mean that or you don't really want to die a lot of times we're just afraid. We're afraid that they might be serious. And when we hear our child, our child or someone close to us, express that they are struggling and they may not want to live it is so terrifying. Oftentimes we go on the defense. Oftentimes we use sarcasm or humor just to kind of push the thought away really quickly and change the subject. And our fear makes us respond that way and we need to ... I want you guys to understand that that is a normal response but we need to be prepared to respond differently, to respond calmly, to respond with love and validation.
What are some ways that we could respond to a child that's come to us in crisis and let us know that they are thinking of ending their life, or they feel like a burden, or they just want to disappear? It is easier sometimes to just check out than to deal with it. My response language is sarcasm. It's easier for me to say, "Oh you're going to be fine," or, "Don't be so dramatic," or to throw a joke in there but psychologists tell us, we know from the research, that trying to put a Band-Aid on it isn't helpful. But to sit in that discomfort with our child and not make excuses, and not make it go away, is really what's going to help them start to problem solve and start to move through that pain. And sometimes we can share our own experiences and our own stories of when we struggled, and that can be really helpful for our kids as well.
The goal is to freakout on the inside and to react calmly, and lovingly, on the outside. "I know you're hurting. You can talk to me anytime," or, "Who else might you be willing to talk to if you're not comfortable talking with me?" I can see that being very effective for especially one of my children who we just clash a little bit more than the others. And finding them someone they're comfortable talking to is so important. "I'm here for you no matter what. I'm just here to sit and listen." Just enjoy each other. It's okay. It's okay to have these feelings. Let's remove the shame of having these feelings. "I've had these feelings when I was your age. I love you and you're special to this family." Validate their feelings.
Okay, what not to say. Another thing, "Suicide is so selfish." I hear this all the time, still today, and Dr. Hudnall's going to share with us why that's not okay.
Dr. Greg Hudnall: One of the top feelings, emotions, comments that I hear from people is, "Suicide is so selfish," and, "I cannot believe anybody would think about it." You and I look at it from a different set of lenses than the individual who's going through it. There are a lot of young people, and adults but a lot of young people, who feel like they're a burden to their family.
I was in the emergency room working with a family and when I got to visit with the young man he shared me he had been hospitalized three times. His medication was about $20 a pill. His parents had insurance but it was 60/40, so the company the father worked for covered 60% of it but the parents had to pay 40%. That's almost half. First time he was hospitalized the psychiatrist wanted to work with him twice a week for three months, at about $150 an hour. That family was shelling out money after money.
And so after this last time that he had tried to take his life he was upstairs sleeping and he could hear his parents talking downstairs. So he walked downstairs and he was at the bottom of the stairs, and he could listen to his parents justsobbing worried that they were going to lose their house because they had used up all their insurance, they had used up all their retirement and savings to help pay for this. That young person at that moment felt like they were the burden. And if they were to take their life the pressure would be taken away from their family and everything would be okay.
I've worked with other families where the young person is the one that's causing the chaos, getting upset, angry all the time. Almost like a bipolar back and forth. They know they're the ones that are creating the challenge and their belief is, "You know what? If I go away the family is going to be so much better without me." That's not a selfish attitude. That is an amazing attitude but it's in the wrongplace. But they're feeling that because of the love and compassion they have for the family members. So don't say that. Don't say, "Suicide is so selfish." We want to be careful with that term.
Tamara Oborn: Here's another one, "Things could be worse." Sometimes in a response for a cry for help it's easy to say, "Well things could be worse." Or maybe on the flip side, "Well, but think of all the good things," right? Both of those things are ways to really invalidate what someone is feeling. "It's not that bad. Focus on the good." When I go into high schools and teach suicide prevention courses I hear from kids all the time who, when they go to talk to their parents, their parents like to list off all the ways that their life is so much easier than maybe ours was when we were kids. And that is really hurtful. It's really hurtful for the kids. And the more I've studied, and the more I've realized, and the more I've talked with kids they're dealing with some really heavy things. And the technology alone that they are faced with, and inundated with, is an emotional burden that I can't really even understand.
I had one girl approach me and she went to her dad, and told her dad that she really is really struggling and feels like maybe she needs to see a counseloror some help. And the dad responded, "Well why would you need that? Is being unhappy and needing a therapist just the cool thing to do? You have everything you could ever want. I've given you everything." And that sweet girl was heartbroken and didn't know where to turn. It's a normal experience for us as parents maybe not to understand or to have forgotten what our child might be going through. So, again, let's make sure to really validate. A young person really needs hope and help to get back to healthy emotions, and healthy feelings.
It could be worse, that's the reality. It could always be worse but it's a really dismissive statement. We have years of life experiences that our young people, the people we love, just don't have. And what they're experiencing in the moment is their reality and maybe nothing could be worse to them in that moment. Kids need hope and encouragement. They don't always need to be punished or learn a lesson, or look at how everybody has it worse than them, or all the great things. Sometimes they need to work through that on their own and really understand why they're feeling those emotions. And that's our job to help validate that and help them work through that.
Okay, here's another one, "Just get over it." Again, we have to acknowledge their feelings. We don't know how they're processing their experiences and how it's effecting them. It's such an individual thing. We often don't know if the stressor that they're facing, that social stressor, is exceeding their capacity to dealwith it, is exceeding the problem solving skills they have in their toolbox. So we need to take the time to learn about that. Here's another wonderful example from Dr. Hudnall.
Dr. Greg Hudnall: And then the last term that I hear a lot is that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem and, "Just get over it." I hear that a lot. While it may be temporary to that young person where it's a romantic breakup, disciplinary action, something happened, it's not a temporary problem to an individual who will be struggling with a mental illness their entire life. I do a lot of youth presentations and I always have kids coming up after my presentation as I'm putting my equipment away.
And not too long ago I did a presentation to about three or four hundred young people. And afterwards I had all the kids, and I was signing my book and doing other things with them, but out of the corner of my eye I could see this beautiful young lady, dark hair, just waiting until everybody was done. So I finished, packed everything up, and I'm headed out the doors to go to my car. And this beautiful young lady comes up to me and she says, "Dr. Hudnall do you have a second?" I said, "Sure." Tells me her name and I ask what school she goes to.
And then she kind of putsher hand up and she said, "I've just been diagnosed being schizophrenic." And I went, "Wow, that's got to be tough. Let's talk about some of the things that you can do." And I started talking about some of the things that she could do, the new medications, the new counseling they have out that is just amazing to help young people her age. And then she kind of put up her hand, she goes, "No." She goes, "I don't think you get it." And I said, "Okay, help me understand what I don't get." She said, "My mother is schizophrenic. For the last 20 years she's never gotten out of bed. I know what it does to a family and I don't think I want to be around." That really hit me to my core. That young lady not only felt it but she had seen it.
And so be careful when we hear those comments about, "It's a temporary response." It's not. Because this young lady knew that for the rest of her life she's going to have to deal with some challenges that are doable but they're still going to be challenges that many of us would never even think or never even have to deal with.
Tamara Oborn: We talked a lot about what not to do, let's talk about what we do need to say and do. So here's a great list of what we can do. Number one, stay calm. We don't need to try to fix it. Remember what we said earlier about swooping in and saving, and problem solving? We don't have to fix it, especially right in the moment of crisis. Don't interrupt, just listen. I love, love, love this piece of advice and it is so hard for me but I'm still working onit. Say two words for every hundred words your child says. Maybe three words, "Tell me more. I'm listening. I love you." Think of some short phrases that you can say to keep your child talking.
Three, validate and encourage. Avoid saying, "You did this," or my favorite thing to say is, "Well if you would have just done what I had told you before." Oh my gosh, if I could pay someone else a quarter every time I said that maybe I'd stop. Rather say, "I am sure this is really painful for you." Again they don't always need a lesson reinforced right at that moment. They don't always need a punishment. They need to know that we're here for them and we can see that they're in pain.
And number four, don't be afraid to ask questions. You're not going to give themthe idea of suicide. It's already out there in the world. Asking them if they're struggling with thoughts of suicide, about a plan they may have made, these things are things they're hearing about and talking about but having that conversation in a loving and safe environment is going to be very protective for them.
Dr. Greg Hudnall: The second part of that is don't be afraid to ask the tough question. We are afraid to talk about suicide. We're afraid that if we ask the question it may give someone the idea, but the research continues to show us that a healthy person it bounces off of and that a high, high percentage of people struggling have already thought about it because of social media, because of movies, because of books. It's out there. It's out there every single day. When I walk into a classroom, even a middle school class, I'll ask the young people in that classroom, 35 kids, "How many of you know someone who may be struggling, that has even thought about suicide?" And it doesn't matter what partof the country I'm in 80% to 90% of the kids will raise their hands, so they know it and it's around there.
So don't be afraid to ask the tough questions. "Have you thought about hurting yourself?" I like to use that question with younger kids and then depending on the response I'll go to the next question, "Have you thought about suicide?" And then my final question, "Have you thought about killing yourself?" Because I want to know as much as I can and then I'm going to listen. I've been amazed at the number of times, hundreds and hundreds of times, when young people have been referred to me and I didn't even know them very well, and sometimes it's the first time we ever met them and within 10 to 15 minutes I'll ask that tough question. "You know, Danny, thanks for spending some time with me. You were referred my Mrs. So-and-so, and she had read something that you had written in one of your journals in her English class, and she was concerned that you were thinking about hurting yourself. Have you thought about suicide?"
I've been amazed at the number of times where the kids, about 60% of the time, will open up and start talking about it. 20% will depend on the relationship, that other 20%. And then the other 20% depends, "I don't want anybody to know." They're too embarrassed about it or whatever. But don't be afraid, please, to ask the tough questions because you're never going to find out if you don't ask. And you never know, that may be the last opportunity you have to really find out if your child is struggling. And what the research continues to show opening that up gives them a chance to share their emotions and their feelings, and to feel like it's safe to share and, "I'm not going to be embarrassed. I'm not going to be put down for those feelings."
Tamara Oborn: We have talked about the importance of understanding the signs, being aware of them, what not to say, what to say. Be sure to ask the question, and ask it directly and lovingly, "Are you having thoughts of suicide?" It's not going to put thoughts in their head, it's going to allow a conversation to occur and that is what's really important. And once that happens what resources ... Where can we go? What resources do we have? Obviously sometimes finding a counselor or a therapist isn't an immediate option but there are some really great resources out there. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is one of my very favorites. Anyone can call it at any time, whether you're in crisis, whether you're worried about someone, you can call them up. They're trained crisis counselors. They can give you a quick recap of exactly what we've talked about today and be there with you.
I've been in a lot of crisis situations and I do this, this is my job, but I will call up the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and say, "Hey, I've got a situation. I just need someone who's a little bit more removed, maybe not quite as emotionally involved, to help walk me through, and make sure I'm saying and doing the right things." Please use this wonderful resource.
NAMI.org provides freeprograms, they provide free support groups. Much of it is online and is available to anyone, not just for people who are struggling but if you're supporting someone who's chronically struggling you need support as well. It can be a really heavy and hard burden, so make sure you're reaching out and getting the support that you need.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has so much information, information on local support groups, wonderful videos. I love just being aware of what their latest videos are so that I could send it to someone or say, "Come sit down with me and watch this." Maybe that is what that person needs so they aren't feeling quite so ashamed.
Headspace or the Calm app. Again meditation programs, so good for our mental health. Calming down, finding the present, accessing that part of our brain that can utilize those problem solving skills it's really important. And Virtual Hope Box is a great app to have someone have on their phone. When they open it up they can say if they're in crisis or if they're just looking to calm down, or looking for coping tools. And there is games, and meditations, and tricks to positive thinking. And these are just all things we can have at our fingertips that we can offer someone, "Hey," whether or not they're ready to open up, whether or not they're ready to share, "here I'm going to offer you some hope and some tools for you to use, now or maybe in the future."
I just want to thank you for being here with me. I wish I could see your faces. I wish we could have a little bit more of a discussion, but this is a great format to learn a lot of really great information. I want you to remember that we're not perfect and we don't always do it right but as we learn, and we practice, and we prepare for the tough situations that we'll face we will be able to have the conversations we need in a loving way, in a calm way, that can really lead us to helping our kids find what they need.
Heidi Higgins: Thank you for listening to K12 On Learning, sponsored by Stride. To learn more about online public schools powered by Stride K12, Stride Career Prep Programs that foster lifelong learning, or any of the private school or individual course offerings please go to StrideLearning.com, or K12.com. Special thanks to Tree-K Studios for providing the music for us. Remember to subscribe to this podcast and feel free to leave us a good review. We hope you'll join us next time for K12 On Learning.
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