Mental Health

Every Child 10 And Up Needs To Know

Delaney Ruston, MD
September 22, 2020
students in class

September is Suicide Prevention Month, and it is important to think and talk about this difficult subject with our kids this month. Today I share ideas about having such a conversation along with a link to a section of Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER that is dear to my heart and really touches those adults and youth who see it.

First off, kids ten and up need to know that the brain is a very wonderful but complicated organ in our body — and just as the heart can suddenly stop beating (called cardiac arrest), a person’s brain can do something similar. The part of the brain that gives a sense of hope can go into arrest mode, and the person no longer wants to live.

For so long, our society believed the dangerous myth that talking about suicide and suicidal thoughts would put the idea into someone’s head. That is not the case! Just talking about suicide does not provoke the loss of will to live.

Tween and teen years are incredibly complicated times filled with challenging emotions and thoughts. (Screenagers and Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER both touch on the new science of understanding our youth’s emotions.)

Let me give you a concrete example of the finding that teens, on the whole, deal with more frequent and intense feelings than adults. What percentage of high schoolers (age 14 -18)  do you think answer “Yes” to the following question?

“During the past 12 months, did you ever seriously consider attempting suicide?”

A. Yes

B. No

In the country’s leading national survey on this topic, 18.8% of teens aged 14-18 have “seriously considered a suicide attempt.” Since the survey started decades ago, this percentage has always been in a high range. When I first learned about these percentages years ago, I was incredibly saddened. These years can be so darn emotionally hard!

Now let’s look at adults and this same question about seriously considering attempting suicide in the past 12 months. It turns out that far fewer are reckoning with these thoughts. 4.3% answer, “Yes,” which is almost five times less frequent than teens! If you ask women my age, early 50s, 2% answer, “Yes.”  Keep in mind that the rate of death by suicide is significantly higher for adults than teens.

We know from research youth are particularly vulnerable to impulsive suicidal behaviors, and now the internet gives explicit ways one can do such actions. For example, I am very concerned that suffocation, as a means of suicide, has been climbing over the years. Recent data looking at completed suicides found that the number one method used by girls ages 15-24 is suffocation — which includes hanging — (45%). The number two way is by firearms (25%). For boys age 15 to 24, firearms are the number one method at 53%, and suffocation is second at 34%.

When I worked in the ER, I saw many young people who tried to take their lives by overdosing on pills. Fortunately, we could do interventions and save them. But suffocation is much more lethal, and of course, gun use is also so lethal too. It is gut-wrenching to know that a teen in their room can look up how to die by hanging online.

Fortunately, the majority of kids and teens will never go into that extreme state of despair. Yet, there is a very good chance that someone they know will, and helping get them to be more prepared for that reality is important. Youth often go to a friend, rather than a parent or adult, when they are in distress. Although this is great that they are at least reaching out to someone, we want to help our kids be more prepared if this happens — and more likely to talk with us about it if someone does go to them.

This weekend, I spoke on a panel of teens at Milwaukee’s Minority Health Film Festival, where Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER showed. During our panel, a 17-year-old talked about when she was 14, and her best friend was struggling emotionally, and then he had to go to the hospital because of his suicide attempt. She spoke about wishing she had known how to talk with him about his emotions. She also said she had a hard time dealing with her feelings of guilt. They had been in a fight, and she had not talked with him for a while, so when he had this suicide attempt, she felt awful, and that feeling continued for a long time.

Just two weeks ago, I heard a similar story from a high school junior who helped a friend get help who was feeling suicidal but then she felt confused and was worrying about whether she had done enough and what more she could be doing now.  

I am happy right now to share a clip composed of two different moments from Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER. It is one of the many stories in the film. In this four minute clip, you meet Ella, an eleventh grader, who showed significant signs of anxiety starting when she was very young, and then as a teenager, she developed serious depression. You meet Ella and her parents and see the school project Ella does to help others.

This clip is the only part of the movie that looks at suicidality issues. I hope you share this with anyone in your home who is about ten and up (but of course, you decide what age you are comfortable showing it to). If you are a teacher, coach, or other adult working with youth, consider sharing this with your students and having a conversation afterward.

One of the things I feel so incredibly happy about is that 90% of teens who see Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER report on surveys that they “are more likely  to seek help if things aren’t going well for them after having seen this film.” As a physician and as a mother, I am over the moon happy about this data.

How to ask about suicidal thoughts?

I know it seems incredibly uncomfortable to ask someone questions about suicidal thoughts. I like to ask in ways such as, “I know it's so common that young people/teens struggle at times with thoughts of not wanting to be alive. Is that happening for you?”

If a teen were asking a friend, the recommendation is to ask like this, “I am concerned about you, I am wondering if you are having thoughts at all about suicide?” The tendency is to want to ask, “Are you thinking of hurting yourself,” but this might miss thoughts of suicide, so that question is not ideal. That said, it is better than not asking at all.

There is more about this type of conversation and lots more on mental health in the book, Parenting in the Screen Age,  that I have coming out in the next few weeks. It is filled with many tools to help you have productive conversations around mental health and screen time topics. You can order it here.

Now is the moment in history when we need to step up and have uncomfortable and awkward but critical conversations with youth about many topics we did not broach in the past. It is so crucial because kids can and do get all sorts of information 24/7 from all their devices and so we must be intentional in getting the important, helpful, and accurate information to them. This information must be delivered as non judgmentally as possible, and be a back and forth where we really listen to their input. Please consider forwarding this email to friends and relatives who have kids ten and up and to any teachers you know.

Ideas to get the conversation started:

  1. Has your school ever talked about the topic of suicide prevention?
  2. If each of you were the head of a school, when and how might you teach about this topic? Do you think teens teaching other teens is one good approach?
  3. Do you know the suicide hotline number? You should know it so you can give it to anyone who might need it. The number is 1-800-273-8255. And also, they can text Crisis Text by texting HOME to 741741.
  4. Can you think of someone you would tell if you were having thoughts of wanting not to be alive?
  5. Do you know about any of these resources?

Click here if you are interested in hosting an ONLINE screening for your community.

Click here if you want to attend an ONLINE screening.

Click here for information about Dr. Ruston’s new  book

Subscribe to Dr. Ruston’s Screenagers Podcast.

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Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Order Here
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Find a Screening - Find a community screening close to you or watch our movies on demand

Learn More
Screenagers Podcast

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Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Learn More
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Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
Book page button

Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Order Here
Find A screening Button

Find a Screening - Find a community screening close to you or watch our movies on demand

Learn More
Screenagers Podcast

Screenagers Podcast - Join Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD for the latest Podcast

Learn More
Book page button

Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
Find A screening Button

Find a Screening - Find a community screening close to you or watch our movies on demand

Learn More
Screenagers Podcast

Screenagers Podcast - Join Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD for the latest Podcast

Learn More
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Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
Mental Health

Every Child 10 And Up Needs To Know

Delaney Ruston, MD
September 22, 2020
students in class

September is Suicide Prevention Month, and it is important to think and talk about this difficult subject with our kids this month. Today I share ideas about having such a conversation along with a link to a section of Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER that is dear to my heart and really touches those adults and youth who see it.

First off, kids ten and up need to know that the brain is a very wonderful but complicated organ in our body — and just as the heart can suddenly stop beating (called cardiac arrest), a person’s brain can do something similar. The part of the brain that gives a sense of hope can go into arrest mode, and the person no longer wants to live.

For so long, our society believed the dangerous myth that talking about suicide and suicidal thoughts would put the idea into someone’s head. That is not the case! Just talking about suicide does not provoke the loss of will to live.

Tween and teen years are incredibly complicated times filled with challenging emotions and thoughts. (Screenagers and Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER both touch on the new science of understanding our youth’s emotions.)

Let me give you a concrete example of the finding that teens, on the whole, deal with more frequent and intense feelings than adults. What percentage of high schoolers (age 14 -18)  do you think answer “Yes” to the following question?

“During the past 12 months, did you ever seriously consider attempting suicide?”

A. Yes

B. No

In the country’s leading national survey on this topic, 18.8% of teens aged 14-18 have “seriously considered a suicide attempt.” Since the survey started decades ago, this percentage has always been in a high range. When I first learned about these percentages years ago, I was incredibly saddened. These years can be so darn emotionally hard!

Now let’s look at adults and this same question about seriously considering attempting suicide in the past 12 months. It turns out that far fewer are reckoning with these thoughts. 4.3% answer, “Yes,” which is almost five times less frequent than teens! If you ask women my age, early 50s, 2% answer, “Yes.”  Keep in mind that the rate of death by suicide is significantly higher for adults than teens.

We know from research youth are particularly vulnerable to impulsive suicidal behaviors, and now the internet gives explicit ways one can do such actions. For example, I am very concerned that suffocation, as a means of suicide, has been climbing over the years. Recent data looking at completed suicides found that the number one method used by girls ages 15-24 is suffocation — which includes hanging — (45%). The number two way is by firearms (25%). For boys age 15 to 24, firearms are the number one method at 53%, and suffocation is second at 34%.

When I worked in the ER, I saw many young people who tried to take their lives by overdosing on pills. Fortunately, we could do interventions and save them. But suffocation is much more lethal, and of course, gun use is also so lethal too. It is gut-wrenching to know that a teen in their room can look up how to die by hanging online.

Fortunately, the majority of kids and teens will never go into that extreme state of despair. Yet, there is a very good chance that someone they know will, and helping get them to be more prepared for that reality is important. Youth often go to a friend, rather than a parent or adult, when they are in distress. Although this is great that they are at least reaching out to someone, we want to help our kids be more prepared if this happens — and more likely to talk with us about it if someone does go to them.

This weekend, I spoke on a panel of teens at Milwaukee’s Minority Health Film Festival, where Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER showed. During our panel, a 17-year-old talked about when she was 14, and her best friend was struggling emotionally, and then he had to go to the hospital because of his suicide attempt. She spoke about wishing she had known how to talk with him about his emotions. She also said she had a hard time dealing with her feelings of guilt. They had been in a fight, and she had not talked with him for a while, so when he had this suicide attempt, she felt awful, and that feeling continued for a long time.

Just two weeks ago, I heard a similar story from a high school junior who helped a friend get help who was feeling suicidal but then she felt confused and was worrying about whether she had done enough and what more she could be doing now.  

I am happy right now to share a clip composed of two different moments from Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER. It is one of the many stories in the film. In this four minute clip, you meet Ella, an eleventh grader, who showed significant signs of anxiety starting when she was very young, and then as a teenager, she developed serious depression. You meet Ella and her parents and see the school project Ella does to help others.

This clip is the only part of the movie that looks at suicidality issues. I hope you share this with anyone in your home who is about ten and up (but of course, you decide what age you are comfortable showing it to). If you are a teacher, coach, or other adult working with youth, consider sharing this with your students and having a conversation afterward.

One of the things I feel so incredibly happy about is that 90% of teens who see Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER report on surveys that they “are more likely  to seek help if things aren’t going well for them after having seen this film.” As a physician and as a mother, I am over the moon happy about this data.

How to ask about suicidal thoughts?

I know it seems incredibly uncomfortable to ask someone questions about suicidal thoughts. I like to ask in ways such as, “I know it's so common that young people/teens struggle at times with thoughts of not wanting to be alive. Is that happening for you?”

If a teen were asking a friend, the recommendation is to ask like this, “I am concerned about you, I am wondering if you are having thoughts at all about suicide?” The tendency is to want to ask, “Are you thinking of hurting yourself,” but this might miss thoughts of suicide, so that question is not ideal. That said, it is better than not asking at all.

There is more about this type of conversation and lots more on mental health in the book, Parenting in the Screen Age,  that I have coming out in the next few weeks. It is filled with many tools to help you have productive conversations around mental health and screen time topics. You can order it here.

Now is the moment in history when we need to step up and have uncomfortable and awkward but critical conversations with youth about many topics we did not broach in the past. It is so crucial because kids can and do get all sorts of information 24/7 from all their devices and so we must be intentional in getting the important, helpful, and accurate information to them. This information must be delivered as non judgmentally as possible, and be a back and forth where we really listen to their input. Please consider forwarding this email to friends and relatives who have kids ten and up and to any teachers you know.

Ideas to get the conversation started:

  1. Has your school ever talked about the topic of suicide prevention?
  2. If each of you were the head of a school, when and how might you teach about this topic? Do you think teens teaching other teens is one good approach?
  3. Do you know the suicide hotline number? You should know it so you can give it to anyone who might need it. The number is 1-800-273-8255. And also, they can text Crisis Text by texting HOME to 741741.
  4. Can you think of someone you would tell if you were having thoughts of wanting not to be alive?
  5. Do you know about any of these resources?

Click here if you are interested in hosting an ONLINE screening for your community.

Click here if you want to attend an ONLINE screening.

Click here for information about Dr. Ruston’s new  book

Subscribe to Dr. Ruston’s Screenagers Podcast.

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