By Kimberley Lee
It’s hardly news that growing up can be stressful. What may be news is that your son or daughter is likely more interested in talking things over with you than you realize. It’s always a good time to talk about how they’re feeling inside, how things are going at school and with friends, and about life in general. Last week was Suicide Prevention Week, but that shouldn’t be the only opportunity to begin a meaningful conversation with someone you know and love by simply asking, “how are you?”
Nearly 40,000 people in the U.S. die from suicide each year — one death every 12.8 minutes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people die by suicide than from automobile accidents or homicide. Suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death among all Americans and the third-leading cause of death among young people (ages 15 to 24).
Health professionals tell us it’s important to correctly educate children and teenagers about mental illness. It helps dispel misconceptions and stigma, and it provides them with the understanding and resources they need if they or someone they know struggles with mental illness.
If you haven’t had a ‘mental health check-in’ talk with your middle-school or high-school student recently, this week lends a great opportunity to do just that. Help your son or daughter to feel safe in sharing their feelings and opinions with you. Be aware of changes in their behavior, and trust your instinct.
I asked my colleague Nina Slovik, a licensed clinical social worker at the Center for Human Development (CHD), to share some professional insights regarding suicide prevention. “When someone thinks or talks about suicide, they actually have mixed feelings about dying,” she said. “Most often, suicidal feelings come from having a mental illness, and these illnesses can be treated with professional help, including medication and talk therapy. The best way anyone can help an individual experiencing depression is to get that person the help they need. People with a mental illness are not expecting you to fix them; they just want to be understood.”
As a major social-service organization for our region, CHD offers extensive behavioral-health programs, including services designed to identify and treat mental illness. We help people who have mental-health needs, and also educate members of our community to develop greater acceptance toward mental-health issues and people who have them.
You’d seek help from a healthcare professional for a broken arm or a cough that doesn’t go away. It should be the same when it comes to managing your mental health — or that of someone you care about. If someone seems withdrawn socially, starts associating with the wrong crowd, or acts out in ways that just aren’t right, help is available.
Kimberley Lee is vice president of Development at the Center for Human Development.