A couple months ago, a middle school youth cried to me in our youth prayer room — her best friend had FaceTimed (video-chatted) her to tell her she was going to kill herself. The youth had talked to her friend for hours, trying to walk her back from the edge, to convince her to not do it, at least not tonight. The girl eventually agreed. The parents of the youth had no idea what was happening, and when the youth spent hours on the phone in her room and locked her bedroom door, they chalked it up to classic adolescent angst.
A teenager in our community has attempted suicide every two days since January 1, 2015. Cook Children’s Medical Center admitted 187 children between the ages of 10 – 18 for suicide attempts in 2017.* Teenagers are dealing with the consequences of this epidemic. We just get to decide whether or not we will be part of the conversation.
I’ll be spending some time this weekend talking to our high school youth about suicide and self-harm, what they need to know about it, how they can help their friends, and how they can get help for themselves. This is an issue that has affected every single youth in our ministry, either by struggles of their classmates, their friends, youth in our ministry, or because they have struggled with it themselves. We are uniquely positioned to be a resource without stigma or shame for teenagers reaching for a lifeline.
We’ll be talking about what these things are in a way that should empower our youth by giving them language and letting them know that they are not alone and that whatever struggles they’ve experienced or seen in friends, that their struggles are not their fault or because of any “weakness” but are a hurt that can be helped and managed by professionals and healed with time, like any other.
We’ll also have a time for talking about what it means to be there for our friends. If my conversation with that middle school youth taught me anything, it’s that teenagers are the ones really in the trenches with these issues. More than once, the line of reporting a suicide threat by a youth has gone one teenager to another, the second teenager to youth staff, and youth staff to parent. Teenagers having what amounts to emotional first aid training is essential. We would never ask teenagers to take on more than they should; as is evident in that middle schooler, there is a real cost to teens shouldering more than they can bare. But, to continue a medical metaphor — if someone stops breathing, we would never ask teenagers to do a tracheotomy, but we can teach them CPR.
And CPR saves lives.
I hope you’ll keep us in your prayers as we tackle this hard subject, and if this is a topic that you care about, I invite you to join me at the “No More” Symposium, hosted by Paschal High School, on March 6 from 6:30 – 8:00pm at TCU. This annual symposium will focus on stress, anxiety, social media and their links to suicide, and how we can be part of the solution.
* Information provided by Dr. Kathleen Powderly of Cook Children’s Medical Center to Paschal High School for “No More” Symposium promotion.