September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says each year, more than 41,000 people die by suicide.
Last week I went to a local high school to talk with students about mental health. I’m a presenter for NAMI’s in-school program, “Ending the Silence.”
My co-presenter and I spoke to two classes, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. When our first presentation ended, we noticed the teens looked almost stunned. During the question and answer period, no one wanted to say a word. It took some gentle nudging for them to ask us anything.
Then we thought about it… These were incoming freshmen, brand new to high school. Classes started two weeks before. They probably weren’t comfortable yet with their teacher, let alone their classmates.
And they’d just sat through an hour of us talking about a subject that isn’t usually spoken about so directly and openly.
It was a lot to take in.
The students heard about anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, ADHD, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They learned the warning signs of mental illness, and what to do if they notice those symptoms in themselves or a friend.
We had a straightforward discussion about suicide and the warning signs:
- Talking, writing, or drawing about death.
- Talking about having no reason to live, being a burden to others, or not being here tomorrow.
- Looking for ways to attempt suicide.
- Feeling hopeless, desperate, or trapped.
- Giving away possessions.
- Behaving recklessly.
We let the teens know that these symptoms can be subtle. But if their gut instinct is telling them that something isn’t right, something may not be right. And it’s important to reach out for help.
Take the warning signs seriously, and take immediate action:
- Tell an adult you trust.
- Ask the question. Ask if the person needs help, if they are thinking of attempting suicide.
- Don’t leave the person alone.
- Call the National Suicide Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
- Text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
- Go to an emergency room or call 911.
- Do not keep warning signs a secret.
Sometimes when I’m presenting “Ending the Silence,” especially when we’re on the topic of suicide, I think the kids seem so young to hear about it. But they must.
The National Institute of Mental Health says that for ages 10-14, suicide is the third leading cause of death. For ages 15-34, suicide is the second leading cause of death.
Mental illness can affect any one of us. At any time. Teens need to know there is help available and they are not alone.
When I speak to the students, I never know if a kid in that classroom, or maybe a family member or friend, is struggling with a mental health condition. I never know who I’m going to reach.
The more educated the younger generation is about mental illness, the greater the chance the stigma will lessen.
We must have this conversation. Let’s keep it going.
First image courtesy of here
Second image courtesy of here
Third image courtesy of here
Fourth image courtesy of here