Health officials urge parents and families to talk about suicide and emotional distress

A variety of resources and tips are available for discussing mental health and emotional well-being

LOCAL RESOURCES for Help and Hope ….

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PORTLAND, OR––With a recent increase in public awareness related to suicide and mental health, Oregon health officials are reminding parents and families about resources and information available for reaching out to loved ones. “Parents and health care providers know that television shows, popular movies and other entertainment can have a strong influence on young people’s thinking and behavior, and may cause some children and teens to think or talk about suicide,” said Ann Kirkwood, the Oregon Health Authority’s suicide intervention coordinator. “It’s critical that parents and health care providers help kids cope by talking openly and honestly about their thoughts and feelings, about what they’re watching, and watch for signs of distress.” Mental health experts have recently noted conversations with a range of Oregon youth, who after watching the popular Netflix series called “13 Reasons Why” had specific questions about emotional distress, trauma and where to turn for help and support. While the series seeks to capture the agonizing challenges of trauma, bullying and suicide, there are a number of opportunities for providing additional information and helping Oregonians know where to turn in the case of distress and thoughts of suicide. “While these shows may be fictional, they depict traumatic events in the life of a child, and may represent incorrect notions about the psychology behind suicide,” said Ajit Jetmalani, M.D. “There’s also often a lack of suicide prevention advice or hotline information, which we want to provide and make sure that individuals of all ages know where to turn for information and help.” Dr. Jetmalani is professor of psychiatry and head of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Medicine, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Talking openly and honestly––without judgement––about emotional distress and suicide is strongly encouraged to promote an open and honest conversation. Often if a child or individual is suicidal, they are relieved and appreciative that someone would care enough to approach them about the subject. “We know that some of the youth calling our support lines are impacted by what they’re seeing on TV,” said Emily Moser, Lines for Life’s YouthLine program director. “Youth need support from parents and other trusted adults to process the difficult topics depicted on TV and to understand the implications of certain choices. We all have a role to play in helping reinforce in our communities that suicide is not the answer to problems and that reaching out to a trusted adult, friend, or crisis line makes an enormous difference in almost every potentially suicidal situation.”​ Even though suicide is not a common response to a majority of trauma and emotional distress, parents, and behavioral and physical health providers should also watch for warning signs of distress or suicidal activity and intervene immediately as necessary. A number of resources are available through trusted adults, school counseling resources, friends or mental health providers. A few key warning signs for suicidal thoughts in youth and others include:

  • Talking about wanting to die, being dead or about suicide.
  • Cutting, burning or causing physical harm to the body.
  • Feelings of loss, lack of hope, despair, or a deep feeling of something being “wrong.”
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and activities.
  • Becoming more worried or on edge, or seeming unusually angry or not their normal selves.

Parents and families can approach the subject in a number of ways by providing open-ended questions and starting a conversation through a few examples listed below:

  • You’ve likely seen suicide mentioned on TV and in the media. What do you think about it and how does it make you feel?
  • Some conversations on TV suggest that adults in a teenager’s life don’t care about their emotional challenges. Do you feel there people in your life you can turn to whom you trust?
  • Do you know about the suicide warning signs in case you feel this way or have friends or classmates who do?
  • Is there anything you’re concerned about now in your own life? A friend or someone that you know? How are you feeling or is there anything that you’re upset by?
  • Reiterate how much you care. Feeling suicidal is a sign that you need to reach out to others. Please know that if you’re ever feeling that way, know that we will figure out what to do together.

For more information and resources, please contact:

  • Lines for Life – Resource for prevention tips and resources at http://www.linesforlife.org/. Teens can text with a peer by texting 839863 or call 1-877-968-8491.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – A confidential service for adults or youth who are in crisis or know someone who is, at 800-273-8255 (TALK) or chat is available at: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.
  • The Trevor Project – Provides crisis intervention for LGBTQ youth at 866-488-7386 or text “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200 (available Tuesday-Friday between noon and 6 p.m. Pacific time) or at http://www.thetrevorproject.org/.
  • Veterans Crisis Line – Confidential help for veterans and their families, 800-273-8255 or http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/.

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