Most people already know that Utah has one of the highest rates of teen suicide in the nation. It has climbed about one hundred and forty one percent in recent years. Statistically, someone in Utah will end their life every fourteen hours, the majority of those are teenagers. People like to talk about the reasons and the causes presumably because getting to the cause of it will hopefully lead to the solutions.
I have worked with teens for almost twenty years. I specialize in working with teens, parents and family dynamics. I work primarily with teenagers in my private practice but I also work in a public school in the Salt Lake City area, providing therapy services for at risk and suicidal teenagers there. I’ve been taking on this challenge, of solving the riddle of teen suicide, head on. It has been my goal to ask the right questions to the right people and get to the root of this problem. I believe that I am hot on the trail for some of the things that are causing such high rates of suicide which I will touch on but I prefer to focus on the solutions and I would challenge anyone who reads this to do the same.
I honestly believe that 2017 has brought the most drastic deterioration in the overall mental health for teenagers that I have ever seen. It has been drastic and alarming. I’m used to seeing a certain number of teenagers struggle, it’s common for their to be a certain percentage of depressed teens that are struggling in school, struggling socially, dabbling in drugs, getting in trouble at school and so. Those kids may struggle enough with depression and low self-esteem that they may talk about or attempt suicide.
What’s troubling is that so many more teenagers are entertaining the idea of suicide. Not just the struggling kids but also the kids that don’t usually struggle. I want to be really clear about something, I don’t look at teenagers as good kids or bad kids. The so called “bad” kids are usually good kids too, they have just lost their way but always have great qualities as well. I’m believe that all kids have good qualities but what is troubling is that the kids who don’t appear to be struggling are taking suicide seriously as well. They are seeing it as a viable solution to their irreparable flaws.
So what are the causes? Why are teens turning to suicide so much these days? Again, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this because I prefer to focus on the solutions. I also find that talking about perceived causes quickly leads to blaming and finger pointing which is where solutions start to die. If you ask me, our society is far too fixated on blaming people who are responsible and I assert that it accomplishes very little or nothing at all and while i understand the desire to pin down the people who may be causing harm, I prefer to focus only on the solutions and blaming people just isn’t one.
What I am finding is teens see their mistakes and flaws as an utter catastrophe. They don’t understand that mistakes and flaws are normal and natural but instead see it as a way to determine their overall self-worth. They breath the toxic air of perfectionism just like many adults do. I’ve also noticed that they perceive that their life, their choices and their direction is outside of their control. In other words, they are unable to change the things that they hate about themselves, that they hate about their lives and feel hopeless that things can or will improve. More importantly, they don’t perceive that they have the ability to create the results in life that they want and that they can create the changes that they want. I’ve also noticed that suicide has really become a pathology meaning that many teenagers talk about and think about suicide because everyone else around them is too. They are heavily influenced by the attitudes and behaviors of their peers, just like all the other teenagers since the beginning of time. I am finding that teenagers these days are severely anxious and many teens are crippled with anxiety to the point that they obsess over their mistakes and flaws and what other people are thinking about them. There is research that suggests that there is an undeniable connection to social media but that is a whole other can of worms.
So what do we do about it? This is where I want to focus on the solutions but because this article is already a little bit long, I’m going to do keep it fairly brief as well but please follow me to get more materials on this important topic.
Lately, I’ve been teaching teenagers how to be personally resilient and how to learn efficacy which is the ability to create the results that we want. I’ve been teaching teenagers that it’s important to learn from their mistakes instead of making blanket identity labels from them. I’ve been teaching them how to practice respect for themselves and I’ve been teaching them how to bounce back when life gets hard. A lot of my work is also centered around putting teens in the driver’s seat of their own life, meaning that I have found that a teen is much more likely to change their behavior when it matters to them, I want them to care about their own health and happiness more than anybody else cares about it. This has honestly proven to be profoundly effective for teenagers, they like feeling like they have a purpose, they like having some ownership of their own life.
Parents aren’t off the hook though, they play a big part in this process as well. They are an integral part of the solution. Parenting is hard, very hard, I get that and I want parents to understand that they can be a big part of the solution or they can be a part of the problem. I’ve been giving a lot of recommendations and suggestions to parents that have to do with using effective listening, asking the right questions, letting kids make some of their own decisions and most importantly, don’t take parenting personally. What I mean by this is that a lot of parents seem to have gotten a bit misguided in that sometimes they get too worried about others being critical of them as a parent instead of focusing on what is good for their kids. Unfortunately, I’ve encountered far too many parents that work harder at appearing to be a good parent than actually being a good parent.
Our culture is badly in need of some major changes if we want to reduce teen suicide but it has to start on an individual level. I’m asking everyone within the sound of my voice that is concerned about this issues to get involved on an individual level and on a bigger level. I have created a non-profit organization called The Resiliency Alliance. At the time that I am writing this article, this organization is new but you can check it out at www.resiliencyalliance.org
If you’re worried about your teen and you want to get the right kind of help for him or her, I hope you will give me the opportunity to work with your family. Be warned, however, as a parent, I will expect you to be involved and be willing to make some changes as well. My goal is for everyone to have a positive experience in therapy and strive to make my services some of the best around.