The hopes and dreams for a child take shape when perspective parents discover they have nine months to prepare for the child’s birth. Most parents feel excitement along with a little anxiety and fear at birth, wondering if they will be good parents and make good decisions.
Most parents never envision the ultimate tragedy and heartache many Stark and Summit County parents have faced this school year – the loss of a child to suicide or some unforeseen accident.
Even as little as a decade ago, kids who faced difficulties or bullying at school, could leave that behind when they walked out of the school building. Home was safe. Today, issues at school carry over to home through social media. Other kids are going home to a different home mid-week, or every other week, due to parents who are divorced.
A recent statistic said Northeast Ohio leads the country in suicide deaths among teenagers. Some of the warning signs may be confused with typical teenage behavior – tired, getting excessive sleep on days off and hormonal changes. However, there are warning signs that can help distinguish a child going through adolescence and a child who is on the verge of taking his/her life.
"An extreme change in normal behavior; talking about death, dying or suicide; expressing hopelessness," wrote Steven Fricke, North Canton City Schools' psychologist who teaches a course call Young Mental Health First Aid (https://www.mentalhealthfistaid.org/). "Excessive mood changes; acting restless; increased use in drugs or alcohol use and withdrawing from friends or activities and not replacing them with something else."
Other signs can include being overly anxious or agitated; sleeping all the time or being unable to sleep; grades slip; giving away prized possessions; cuts and scrapes on arms/body due to self-harm behavior.
"Many of the warning signs could be missed because they often mirror typical adolescent behaviors," wrote Fricke. "However, when the behavior becomes excessive, that is when parents/adults need to ask questions and provide support."
If a parent, guardian, grandparent or other suspects the child is in trouble, avenues are available to help.
"If someone were to come to you with thoughts of suicide, the Youth Mental Health First Aid training encourages the caregiver to tell the person I am concerned and want to help," wrote Fricke. "Express empathy and support. And ask questions. ‘Are you having thoughts of killing yourself?’ ‘Have you had these thoughts before?’ Give support and instill hope. Clearly state that thoughts of suicide are common and that help is available. Do not leave a suicidal person alone until they get help. Encourage to get professional help and give the number of the Local Crisis Center Hotline at 330-452-6000."
Fricke said many schools use a preventative intervention. Hoover does a specific preventative intervention through its health classes each semester (https://mentalhealthscreening.org/progams/youth.)
Society today has many teens coming from split homes. In that case, Fricke said the communication lines need to be more open.
"It is important for the adults to stop thinking about any differences that caused the separation/divorce and start thinking about the well-being of the child," wrote Fricke. "That child should recognize they are more important than the conflict that ended the marriage. Children want to feel secure and loved. They benefit from consistency of rules, expectations and support. It is important to have effective communication that stays kid-focused and do not put the child in the middle of conflict. Children who see their parents continuing to work together are more likely to learn how to effectively and peacefully solve problems."
Social media is playing a relevant role in the mental state of teenagers today. This can be a behavior that influences suicide.
"Social media can influence suicide-related behavior," wrote Fricke. "An immense quantity of information on the topic of suicide is available on the internet and via social media. Social media is a space where young people feel safe and comfortable expressing their thoughts. Therefore, a lot of people will post things online that they would not say face-to-face. Social media is a widely used forum among vulnerable populations. It is shown that cyber bullying and cyber harassment is linked to higher levels of depression, suicidal thoughts and social isolation among young people. Sometimes, suicidal pacts form through chat rooms and virtual bulletin boards. Excessive media coverage of suicide and suicidal behavior sometimes over-glorifies the act and creates 'suicide heroes.' Fifteen years ago, kids who did not fit the norm in society were treated as outcast. Today, society as a whole today is more accepting/tolerate of kids who are transgender or LTGB but overall, all kids seem to be more isolated than ever.
"Recently, many schools participated in the 'Start With Hello Week' as part of the Sandy Hook promise," Fricke added. "They offer their 'Know the Signs' programming for both adults and youths at no cost. Other programs include 'Say Something,' 'Signs of Suicide' and 'Safety Assessment and Intervention (www.sandyhookpromise.org)."
Fricke said the purpose of the week is decrease feelings of isolation because social isolation can lead to bullying, violence or depression. The goal is to include everyone with the school environment, students, teachers and staff so that no feels isolated or left out.
A busy society with many children from split homes has also led to decrease in faith for many teens. But Fricke said faith does play a role in decision making in regards to bullying and self-worth.
"Having a belief system and connection to other or a group is essential to the well-being of a young person," wrote Fricke. "Young people live up or down to expectations we set for them as adults. They need adults who believe in them unconditionally and hold them to high expectations of being compassionate, generous and creative (www.fosteriingresilience.com/7cs.php). Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support instincts for self-preservation."
As an adult, Fricke offered the best advice for parents who see their children’s friends in trouble without violating a kid’s confidence.
"Young people have the right to privacy when talking with professionals who are bound by the codes of ethical conduct," he wrote. "Although other adults who come in contact with a young person may be bound to these codes, it is a good guide for ethical behavior. There are limits to confidentiality. There are situations where it may be necessary to involve the young person’s parents/caregivers or other professional assistant – if you have concerns the young person is at risk of self harm; the young person has disclosed that they are being abused; and in an event that would require immediate attention."