By Meadowlark Monaghan, AIM Youth Advisory Board Member
I’ve always been curious about the juxtaposition between our culture’s response to physical pain and mental pain. Despite being processed in the same part of our brain, the connotations each experience of pain carries comes coded with cultural baggage.
When a kid enters a classroom with a new cast on their arm, they’re immediately greeted with a myriad of questions from the story of what happened to “can I sign it?” We want to get to know the intimate details and commemorate the scars left behind. When someone is seen crying in class, however, most times they are either whisked away or ignored, leaving their classmates to speculation and gossip.
This contrast is the very reason why most mental health advocates cite “making space” or “having the conversation” as the easiest and most accessible way to destigmatize mental health challenges. The sheer force of asking someone for their story, listening intently, and making space for challenges to be okay, is monumental—it leads directly to increasing the rate of help-seeking behaviors, moving folks from the suffering in silence camp into taking direct action towards their healing.
Suicide prevention is no different. It begins with one of the biggest myths about suicide: that you might “plant the seed” of suicide in someone’s mind. In fact, the best and easiest thing you can do for a struggling youth or loved one you believe to be experiencing suicidal ideation, is to ask them, “are you thinking about suicide?”
Because the truth is, you cannot plant the seed; you can offer the space to speak openly about complex feelings.
According to National Alliance on Mental Illness, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for youth aged 15-25, with nearly 20% of high school students reporting serious thoughts of suicide and 9% having made an attempt to take their lives. Furthermore, the pandemic increased the amount of projected suicide deaths highlighting ongoing disparities that were only further exacerbated by the pandemic.
While these numbers feel staggering, it’s important to recognize the gap between the amount of youth considering suicide (~1 in 10) and the amount who die by suicide (~1 in 10,000). Meaning, there are a thousand opportunities to intervene, to provide someone the space to feel seen, supported, and hopeful about their future.
As a sibling who lost their older brother to suicide during a time where no one was willing to even whisper “suicide”, let alone discuss awareness or prevention strategies, the strides our society has made to include mental illness and suicide into the zeitgeist has been monumentally uplifting.
Today, we are equipping you with strategies and tools for suicide prevention so that you may feel empowered and capable to make a difference in creating a more hopeful future.
Suicide Prevention Toolkit For Youth:
- Know the Warning Signs
- Simply being able to identify signs of distress in yourself or your friends is the first step to helping others. While these signs can have a lot of range, most notably is looking for any drastic shifts. This could be a shift in their interest in activities, feeling trapped, like one can’t control their thoughts, feeling physiologically agitated, withdrawing from social interactions, etc. While it may be different for each person, noticing a drastic shift in someone is a sign to perk your ears up.
- Understand Your Emotions + How To Cope Through Them
- Having the verbiage to speak to, identify, and label emotions is empowering. It gives us the words when our feelings feel indescribable. Encourage your teacher to share about the Feelings Thermometer or a lesson on the range in human emotions. Next, come up with a routine or list of your favorite coping strategies for dealing with overwhelming emotions. Prioritize your self care!
- Resilience Building
- Hand-in-hand with coping with our emotions, monitoring your stress levels and setting up coping routines are the best way to ensure you stay healthy. Turn to your support system. Practice self-care and self–compassion. Remember to take neighborhood walks with friends, practice meditating, and write out your worries in a journal.
- Talk It Out!
- Equipped with an understanding of your emotions, make sure to express your thoughts and feelings openly. Seek help from trusted adults. Speak openly to any conflicts or misunderstandings you are experiencing. Remember, you can’t read someone’s mind. The best way to communicate to others how you feel is by telling them.
- Digital Safety
- Social media comes with many benefits and many setbacks. Be mindful of what those setbacks look like for you: from cyberbullying to comparison. Remember that a whole world exists out there away from our digital spaces. Recognize the impact it may have on you and take breaks when you need it. Practice mindfulness and use social media responsibly.
Suicide Prevention Toolkit For Caregivers:
- Empower Yourself With An Understanding Of Youth Mental Health:
- The first step to equipping yourself as a safe resource for youth is to become aware of youth mental health. Having an understanding of common mental health challenges among young people and where youth find discrepancies between how adults and youth approach mental health is monumentally helpful in starting to normalize the conversation. Check out AIM’s IDEAS Lab Report for youth mental health statistics and information.
- Recognize the Warning Signs
- With the understanding of youth mental health, you should be able to clearly identify warning signs of a serious mental health challenge or suicide ideation. If you want clear direction on understanding behavioral changes and knowing when to intervene, sign up for Youth Mental Health First Aid—we have upcoming sessions!
- Create Supportive Environments:
- Equipped with the knowledge and information, you can now begin to normalize the mental health conversation. Create space for open communication at home by recognizing the importance of active listening. Begin by letting the youth around you speak openly without trying to solve their problems. After creating an understanding that you are someone that they can go to, you can then provide resources or information as needed.
- Effective Ways To Talk To Youth:
- Similar to creating a supportive environment, how you respond will dictate how safe youth feel regarding opening up about their feelings. Remember to offer support without judgment. While you do not have to be their solution, encourage them to find their own—that empowerment will lead to more healing.
- Crisis Management:
- Always be prepared for an emergency. Have a thorough understanding of the steps to take for immediate danger. Create a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) for your child to have, just in case. Know when it’s the right time to contact mental health professionals and helplines. Again, if you feel unequipped right now, you can learn these things all in Youth Mental Health First Aid.
About the Author
Meadowlark Monaghan (she/hers) is a consultant using her knowledge gained as a mental health professional to act as a liaison between brands, creators, + online communities with the field of psychology and mental health. She also co-hosts the personal development podcast, Thoughts May Vary. Her work has been seen with Madhappy, Local Optimist, The Mayfair Group, Lonely Ghost, AIM Youth Mental Health, NAMI San Diego and more.