On a chilly Thursday evening in December, 15 teenagers sat in a circle in a cozy living room, a little anxious and not quite sure what to expect during this night they were invited to chat about teen suicide.
These courageous teen leaders participated because they recognize an unspoken feeling that anxiety, depression and suicide are on the rise in their schools and community. And, they’re right. Oregon has an epidemic of depression and teen suicide, up 50% over the past decade. And what these young people spoke about that night was powerful and eye-opening.
Hosted by Susan Holt, Lisa Hutchins and Andrea, the objective was simple – to let our community teens give their input and perspective on mental health and teen suicide and provide suggestions for change. Five questions were asked:
- What did they believe were the contributing factors to teen depression and suicide?
- Who is most at risk?
- What is being done right?
- What is being done wrong?
- What could adults be doing differently to address it?
While what we learned wasn’t super surprising, it was shocking to hear the intensity and depth of the emotion being expressed among all the kids. They are greatly impacted by their lack of understanding about mental illness and suicide and feel helpless about how to support a friend or themselves.
Below are some of the key takeaways from each of the topics:
- No one talks about mental illness or suicide.
- No one is available to talk to about it.
- The bar is too high and expectations of perfection create anxiety and depression.
- It seems like everyone has a better life than you – you are “never enough.”
- Loneliness is a key theme.
- Not having a solid squad leads to anxiety and depression.
- Bullying is an issue – more mental bullying than anything.
- Social media perpetuates anxiety about everyone else’s great life, loneliness and bullying.
WHO IS AT RISK
WHAT’S BEING DONE RIGHT?
Starting conversations like tonight to talk about it.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE DIFFERENTLY/WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE?
- Invite conversation. Talk about it more at schools and with parents.
- Provide more education on mental illness and suicide.
- Provide more information and resources on how to support a friend or yourself.
- Schools need to engage more with students.
- There needs to be more dedicated mental health counselors – and someone the kids connect with; someone they can trust.
When asked what information is available to them about suicide at school, a few kids offered, “A poster on the wall in the office.”
At the end of the evening, we asked the kids to answer four questions, confidentially on sheets of paper. One of the questions asked, “If you have ever thought about suicide, finish the following statement, “I wish . . .”
SIX out of the 15 kids in attendance completed that question.
The following are the questions and some responses:
WHAT DID YOU LEARN TONIGHT?
- Social media is the root of a lot of mental health issues.
- A lot of us have the same feelings and think the same way but no one talks about it.
- There are a lot more factors contributing to suicide than I thought.
- Pay attention to the little things and signs.
- You never know what’s going on inside someone’s mind. Be kind.
- Always tell an adult if you’re having trouble or a friend is… don’t keep quiet.
WHAT WILL YOU DO DIFFERENTLY AFTER TONIGHT?
- Keep talking about mental health and suicide.
- Realize others may be struggling even though you can’t tell.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE CHAMPIONS OF CHANGE CONTINUE IN THE FUTURE?
- Hold more gatherings like this one.
- Keep the conversation going.
- More activities and interaction.
- Talk more about real life circumstances.
IF YOU’VE THOUGHT ABOUT SUICIDE, COMPLETE THIS STATEMENT, “I WISH . . .”
- “I wish someone knew how I was feeling.”
- “I wish someone was there for me.”
- “I wish I said I love you more to family.”
- “I wish I had told someone.”
- “I wish I talked about it.”
Takeaways for the adults present that night? Continue to hold these teen chats and communicate about mental health and suicide. Share the information with other adults and parents. Advocate for change in the schools and among legislators for funding to provide school support.
We hope to hold Champions of Change teen chats regularly. Please look for dates and encourage youth and students to attend. The gatherings are low key and very empowering and validating for the kids. If you have a group that would be interested in participating, please contact Andrea at firstname.lastname@example.org.