Teen suicide is on the rise. Here's what parents can do to slow down the trend.


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The two college students had never met in person, but they both had depression and were drawn to the same dark discussion group. When one wrote that he was planning to commit suicide, the other took a picture of his post. "I'm so panicked," she told me, her school counselor. "Please, find him and make sure he's fine."

With help, I could understand at what school the boy was visiting the Washington area. When I called her manager she was disconcerted. Her student could be disturbing in class, she told me, but he did not look sad.

I was not surprised. In early adolescence, depression may look like rabies or irritability or be confused with normal mood swings. She acted quickly to make sure the student was safe. At a time when the The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report a rise in the suicide rate among young people aged 10 to 14, educators leave nothing to chance.

"When we talk about teen suicide, we talk half-time about depressed children and impulsivity," says Ken Ginsburg, pediatrician of adolescent development at Children's Hospital of Toronto. Philadelphia. Founder of the Communication Center for Parents and Teens. "Children of this age can not express their pain as clearly as older adolescents, their peers are less mature and can not recognize the signs, and they do not want to be bitten."

All of this together, and it's easy to see why parents may be the last to know that their child is suffering, says Christina Conolly, director of psychological services for Montgomery County Public Schools.

Teenage children are far less likely to commit suicide than adults, but they are not immune to a national increase in the number of suicides over the past two decades. The CDC reports that between 1999 and 2017, the suicide rate among boys aged 10 to 14 rose from 1.9 suicide per 100,000 people to 3.3. For girls, the number of suicides almost tripled from 0.5 per 100,000 to 1.7. Researchers recently reported in Pediatrics that, while 50% of parents are unaware that their 11-17 year olds have suicidal thoughts, younger teens are more likely than older teens to deny their pain.

To bridge the gap, Conolly implemented the Suicide Prevention Program this year at all colleges in his district. Students learn to recognize signs of depression, take care of friends in distress, and share their concerns with adults.

As depression and anxiety skyrocket, communities strive to meet the needs of children with limited resources. Here are six ways for parents and schools to work together to cope with soaring suicides.

Maintain open communication

Two-way communication is essential, but it can be thwarted by logistical and emotional barriers. Educators may feel ill-equipped to help students in distress or fear calling home without having to worry about their studies. To improve their comfort, many schools now offer teachers training in mental health.

A program, Mental Health First Aid for Youth, has partnered with Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation to teach school staff to "recognize the signs of a health crisis. mental health or substance abuse, engage in conversation and connect young people with it, "said Betsy Schwartz, who oversees the National Council's Behavioral Health Program.

Even teachers who intervene easily are pressed for time. "I want our children's needs met, but I also want people to understand what teachers do every day," said Traci Townsend, principal of Silver Creek Middle School in Kensington. Parents can help. To improve the dialogue, report that you are ready to hear disturbing news about your child.

"The adoption of an accusatory or defensive stance will prevent sharing of key information, such as the highs and lows of the youth's mood, the concerns voiced by peers, and changes in performance." a student, which can be essential to ensure the safety of students and ensure that the treatments work as they should, "says psychologist Lisa Damour, author of" Under Pressure: coping with Epidemic of stress and anxiety in girls ".

Transparency is essential at the college, says Amy Morin, social worker, author of "13 things that mentally strong women should not do".

"When we need the most eyes and ears on the floor, communication really falls," she says. "Send an email to the school to say," Everything seems fine, but what do you see? "Be proactive and alert when your child needs more support, whether it's a death, an adaptation to a family structure change or depression.

Susan Levine, Resource Advisor at Silver Creek, sees a shift towards greater openness, but it comes with a twist. "Parents are more honest, but kids are less resilient," she says. "If a child friend says 20 good things and a bad one, we can spend a whole day repairing them."

Prioritize self-directed play

As recessions go down and tests increase, mental disorders in children increase, says Peter Gray, professor-researcher at Boston College and author of "Free to Learn: Why Free the Instinct to Play will make our children more Happy and more independent – Students are faithful and better for life. The cause and effect should be obvious, he notes. "Life without play is depressing."

"The kids are almost like prisoners today," he says. "They are constantly being watched, their sense of control over their lives has diminished and this predisposes them to depression and anxiety." Instead of just playing, they are often placed in such competitive and anxious conditions as trying to win a place in a team or win a match.

Gray co-founded Let Grow with Lenore Skenazy, founder of Free-Range Kids, to help communities prioritize the game. Michael Hynes, superintendent of schools in Patchogue-Medford School District in New York, now offers elementary and high school students high school one hour of independent play before school. "It's the closest thing to a miracle solution I've seen in more than 20 years serving children in the world of education," he says. "Children are less anxious, upset and depressed."

Parents can help change the tide. Advocate for more school recreation and give priority to unstructured games at home. Organize weekend parties and coordinate with neighbors so kids can play at the same time.

Identify helpers

To normalize the help-seeking behavior, ask the children to silently name the adult they were approaching in a crisis. When I do this with my college students, I invite all those who are perplexed to come meet me. Volunteer educators can also identify themselves as helpers. Teachers may need additional support, but Morin urges them not to send a student to their counselor alone. For starters, the American School Counselor Association reports an average ratio of students to school counselors of 406 to 1, so they may not even know that person. "They may not know what to share, so take them there and say," That's what I hear, "Morin said." It's powerful for a teacher to say "I really know this kid, he's not a complainant, and here are some backgrounds."

Parents can also make an effort to become a trusted adult in the lives of their children's friends. Ask questions and show genuine interest in their well-being. If your own child is suffering, tell him he is not alone. Ginsburg recommends saying, "I feel really bad at ease and I need you to know that this is not necessarily the case. You deserve to feel better, you can get better and I will be by your side as you do. "

Sweat the little tricks and the big stuff

A child's concern may seem exaggerated, but take it seriously anyway. College students have intense emotions but few prospects. "It's easy for them to imagine that every circumstance is an emergency," says Ginsburg.

That said, some experiments should lift the red flag. Bullying, for example, is closely linked to suicidal ideation and attempts, says Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Center for Cyberbullying Research and Professor of Criminology at Florida Atlantic University. Listen to your children, validate their experiences and involve them in problem solving. "Parents and well-intentioned educators should avoid secondary victimization by responding abruptly or incompletely when a teenager or teenager invokes enough courage to tell them what is happening in the first place," he says.

Stay calm, engaged and non-critical. "If a child says," I hate myself and I want to die, "do not answer:" But you are so good and so good, "says psychologist Mary Alvord, author of" Conquer Negative Thinking for Teens. "" Shoot from them, "What did you do well this month?" Give Choices; "Were you kind to people? Were you a son? or a loving or helpful girl? "

Alvord created the Resilience Builder program, which is being implemented in several schools in the district and Maryland, to strengthen children's business acumen. "We could say, imagine that you did not pass a test well and that you were very angry," she says. "We explain that if you are reactive, you tear the paper or cry. If you are passive, you retain it, which does not make it disappear. But if you are proactive, you ask, "Is there an additional credit? Can I study more next time? At home, ask your child, "What can you control and what should you let go? How can you take initiatives? "

Reinforce children's sense of belonging

When students leave elementary school, they exchange the constancy of a tenured teacher against a renewable composition of educators. "They may feel progressively away from school staff at a time when they more than ever need nonparental adults," says Robert Dodd, principal of Walt Whitman High School High School. in Bethesda.

In response, some schools give priority to building relationships. Montgomery County's White Oak and Argyle Colleges have implemented Project Success to allow some Grade 6 students to spend half of each school day with an intact teacher and peer group. The data shows that it works incredibly well, said Dodd, who founded the program after many years as a college director. "These kids are more likely to feel that their teachers are valuable to them and that their peers want to help them."

The care starts at the top and is contagious, says Townsend. "When you feel concerned by your colleagues, you pass it on to the children. You are more likely to sit next to that child in the cafeteria who is alone and say, "What are you doing – where is everyone?"

Parents can also help strengthen links with the community. Get to know other families in the school and enter into an information exchange pact, whether you know the child is giving away valuable items, commenting on dying or disengaging from friends, as many signs of serious problems.

Encourage children to take care of each other

College students may think they are a bad friend if they reveal that a peer is out of step. "We give them permission and tell them it's more important to save someone's life," says Conolly. "We say," Let go of your phone, talk, tell them that you want the best for them and that you will ask for help. "" Parents can give the same advice.

Children may even commit to prioritizing emotional health, says consultant Mimi Darmstadter, chair of the Stressbusters Committee at Walt Whitman High School. The PTSA subcommittee coordinated with school officials the distribution of "Oath of Welfare" cards that each student can sign. Dodd says he hopes to duplicate efforts in the elementary and secondary schools of the group and allow parents to do the same exercise at home. Ask your child how he plans to take care of himself and others. Then model personal care and self-compassion in your own life, and verbalize any strategies you use to deal with frustration, sadness or disappointment.

"Parents and schools need to work closely together to assess common standards of parenthood," says Dodd. "Are we completely performance-oriented, or are we modeling empathy, resilience and well-being?"

Phyllis L. Fagell is an Education Consultant at Sheridan School in the District, a therapist at the Chrysalis Group in Bethesda, and author of "College matters. "She blogs at phyllisfagell.com and tweets @pfagell.

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