Teen Suicide Prevention: How To Innoculate Your Kids
Have you had yet this most important conversation with your kids?
Posted Mar 11, 2019
Jason Reid has been running a one-person campaign to prevent other parents from suffering the devastating loss he experienced. As part of his campaign, Jason has given an important TEDx talk.
In response to his TEDx talk, I asked Jason a number of questions. First here's his talk. Beneath the video is our dialogue.
Dr H: Jason, how did you become so dedicated to the fight against teen suicide?
JR: Depression took my 14-year-old son on March 26, 2018 - The same disease that tempts over 500,000 teens a year into believing suicide is the only relief from their pain. And it’s this disease that is becoming the silent killer to 5,000 teens per year. I wouldn’t wish the pain I’ve experienced from losing my son to my worst enemy. What happened to my family is happening to families all across the world. After my son Ryan’s death, I went through his drawers and found one completely empty, except for two sticky notes that read: “Passwords,” and “tell my story.” My goal is to do just that.
Dr H: Suicide usually is preceded by depression. What do you think is a key reason young people get depressed?
JR: Young people can experience depression in response to many factors. One big one is bullying at school, in the neighborhood, or on social media. The other big trigger is rejection, especially by a girlfriend or boyfriend. A third is distress over grades or other academic issues. Any situation though that triggers feeling bad and hopeless can be a depression trigger.
Dr H: What can parents do to open communication with their child?
JR: Parents are responsible for their child’s health, mental and physical. First parents need to take care of their own mental health so by example they model how to manage emotions in a healthy way, for instance, by talking about feelings and by solving the problems that have given rise to negative feelings. The goal then is to talk with our kids about their feelings. Hiding hurt, sad or angry feelings instead of talking about them starts kids down dangerous pathways.
Once someone verbalizes a feeling, the next step is to talk about the situation bringing forth that feeling, and from there to move toward discovery of solution options.
Parents have to be sure too that when the kids talk, they listen, that they listen with genuine interest, listening to understand their kids’ worlds. The key is to be interested, and to express that interest by asking good questions.
Good questions, especially open-ended questions that begin with How or What rather than yes-no words like Are you or Did you, help the kids to understand their dilemmas better. They then can begin to see new options for how to deal with a problem that's frustrating them. Sometimes parents need also to step in and stand up for their kids, especially when the problem is bullying.
Dr H: How can schools help young people who are suffering from depression?
JR: I am currently working with multiple school districts and many teachers in spreading my TEDx talk, “The most important conversation you will have with your kids,” to more parents. This talk gives helpful advice to parents who have children who are experiencing depression. Schools, like parents, need to make sure they don’t take “I’m okay” for an answer when they see a kid who looks unhappy. They need to make sure distressed young people have access to a counselor or mental health professional whom they trust. They need to convey that asking for help or support is cool.
DR H: What can schools do to prevent teenage suicides?
JR: Schools need to become proactive in suicide prevention by actively stepping in to halt all bullying, including bullying on social media. They need to educate students and staff about what bullying is, and what options kids have for getting help if they feel bullied. They need also to give classes or workshops about healthy communication, what to do when kids feel negative emotions like anxiety, anger, or depression. Also, educating school counselors and also parents on depression and suicide should be a top priority, making sure all of them know what signs to look for in kids.
Dr H: What types of signs were noticeable with your son’s depression?
JR:, I thought Ryan’s mood swings were just what kids often feel when they go through puberty. I figured he was just another grumpy teenager. I never suspected he was suffering a serious depression. I did notice that he was reluctant to ever talk about feelings or show his sadness around his family. I made a big mistake too by never showing my own vulnerable side. If I had told my son when I felt sad or down, he might have been more able to talk about his feelings as well.
Dr H: What steps are you taking to impact the mental health community?
JR: First, I am spreading my TEDx talk to every parent and school administrator I can. I don’t want any parent to experience the Pain I’ve been through. Second, my team and I have created a Go Fund Me campaign to raise funds for a documentary that we are filming with Cinema Libre called “Tell My Story,” an impactful documentary that will shed light on teen depression and suicide in a radically proactive way.
Dr H: How did giving a TEDx talk open up conversation about teen suicide?
JR: Giving a TEDx talk opened up conversation with people and groups from all over the world. I’ve had CEOs, parents, principals, teachers, and people from all walks of life reach out to me and share their own stories, and contribute ideas on how we can further prevent suicide. The first step in stopping the teen suicide epidemic is raising awareness.
Dr H: What suggestions do you offer for parents of children who could be suffering from depression?
JR: Pay attention to your children’s moods. Notice changes especially. Notice if a kid who used to be happy is isolating from friends and family, acting uncharacteristically irritable or grumpy, or newly eating less or overeating.
In addition, be interested always in what’s going on in your child’s life, asking questions and responding in ways that have lots of appreciation and agreement and that have zero criticism. Ask open-ended questions: "How...?" "What ...?" Stay clear of advice giving. Be proactive. Talk to your kids now. Don’t wait.
Dr H: What is “Tell My Story” documentary going to be about?
JR: “Tell My Story,” is a documentary that will take viewers on a journey to understand depression and its impact on today’s youth in order to transform the way we approach suicide prevention. “Tell My Story” will offer a path forward for parents, educators, and the next generation of leaders so that together we can deal more effectively with the rising tide of depression and suicide. I’ve teamed up with Philippe Diaz, known as one of ten “Movie Makers Making a Difference” by MovieMaker magazine, to make this film. Instead of pulling away from the difficult- and heavily stigmatized- conversation around mental health, Philippe and I are pushing the issue forward. We are asking the hard questions.
Dr H: What’s the main advice you would offer parents whose children may be depressed?
JR: Set aside regular times—after dinner, Saturday mornings, Sunday brunch, after homework on weekdays—to hang out with your teenager so that you regularly talk together. At those times, talk about your life and ask about his or hers. Be proactive by asking what’s going on. Ask especially about bullies. And ask especially if you see mood changes: "Hey, what's going on that may be bugging you? You seem to be in a different kind of mood lately." Ask in a kindly and interested way. Talk with your kids, now. Don’t wait.
To learn more and support Jason’s mission, please visit ChooseLife.org.