I’ve written content about teen suicide in the past but today I saw another article online that reported, again, that suicide in Utah is still on the rise and is now the number one leading cause of death in the state of Utah for kids between the ages of 10 and 17. I’m profoundly troubled that people are losing their young loved ones and I am making, once again, another call to action by providing additional education on this problem. Here is a short list of the things I have been observing in our state and among our kids and some of the reasons why I think our suicide rates continue to increase.
- Social taboo – Let’s face it, our culture does not like to talk about suicide. But I think this mostly has to do with incorrect underlying beliefs about suicide and the resulting taboo. I’ve noticed that parents don’t want to talk about suicide with their kids because, for some reason, they believe that talking about suicide will only make kids want to do it more. This could not be further from the truth. The people that keep their suicidal thoughts and desires secret are way more likely to follow through with it. The kids that talk openly about it are far less likely to do it, especially when they talk about it with trusted loved ones where they receive support and caring. When they don’t talk about it, they feel even more alone and misunderstood which only increases the desire. I would like to challenge everyone to facilitate more open discussions about it.
- Perfectionism – I notice, all the time, that kids seem to think that they are supposed to do everything right or perfectly the first time around. They see mistakes as complete failures, not only in particular areas but as a whole person. Even small mistakes are seen as massive failures that will be a huge detriment to their future. This creates a fear of taking risks as well. They haven’t learned that mistakes are an important, vital and necessary part of healthy growth and learning. They need to know that making mistakes is okay and they need to know mistakes are not failures, just learning and growing opportunities.
- Lack of rational thinking skills – Kids aren’t born with rational or reasonable thinking skills. They develop them as they grow since the brain takes about 25 whole years to develop completely. When they are young, they use emotion to navigate life and if they don’t learn to use rational and critical thinking skills, life will be overwhelming to them. You can help your kids by helping them learn to think things through instead of just relying on emotions. For people that never develop these skills, feelings are facts. If they feel like a failure, then they will take it as a fact.
- Inability to bounce back – This is directly tied to perfectionism but I notice, more and more, that kids these days take setbacks very hard. For some, setbacks are completely devastating. If they cannot see past setbacks, checking out of life can seem like a very good and viable option. You can help your kids by helping them see past this and share some of the times in your life when you overcame setbacks and good things resulted anyways.
- Social media comparisons – Parent’s ask me about this a lot, about how I think social media affects our mental health. To be clear, I see this with adults and kids alike but I definitely think it can contribute. And here’s why. I believe that social media creates unfair comparisons. I often tell people that I think social media, like facebook, is a commercial for people’s lives. You know when you see a fast food commerical and the bun is fluffy, the bacon is thick, the tomato is juicy and the lettuce is crisp but when you order it, it looks like someone stepped on it before they gave it to you? Social media is often like those fast food commercials, it looks way way better than it actually is. But people tend to compare their lives to the the commercials that they see on social media. I will admit, I’ve done this too. I will see friends post pictures of the events they go to, the people they hang out with, the fun they are having and feel down on my own life experience. But when I talk to that friend they tell me that they are sad, depressed and lonely. You can help your kids by telling them that people’s lives aren’t as good as they seem on social media and they shouldn’t compare their life with facebook pages just like you shouldn’t compare a Wendy’s cheeseburger with the one you saw on their commercial.
Out of all of these, the one that concerns me the most is the social taboo. The reason being is that kids won’t talk about it, bring it up or ask for help until it’s too late. There are warning signs with suicide but I fear that our social taboo around talking about suicide with our loved ones will make warning signs much more difficult to see, acknowledge or admit. I think we are in denial about suicide here in Utah. We must be willing face it, even though it’s hard. A good therapist can always help individuals and families in this regard.
I’m also troubled, here in Utah, by the lack of funding and resources that some people have. Many people here in Utah have a select health insurance plan. While most plans have a mental health benefit, select health has a very limited provider network that results in limited availability, long waits for therapy and difficulties finding the right therapist to meet individual needs. I wish more people would take issue with this. If you have select health, you pay money to them, you are their customer and it’s okay to call them and demand that they cover an out of network therapist. The problem is too big and the demand is also too great for paying members to be put on waiting lists.
*If you are concerned about your teen and you’re having a hard time starting some of these important discussions within your family, I am qualified and experienced in these areas. I hope you will give me a call and give me the opportunity to work with your family.