It is finally May! That means spring flowers, warmer weather, and summer break is quickly approaching. May also means Mental Health Awareness month- something that is very near and dear to my heart. As y’all know, I work with kids on a daily basis who struggle with mental health in general. Anxiety, depression, trauma, ODD, you name it. But something that has been weighing really heavy on me lately is self harm and suicidal ideation. Most people do not know this but spring is when suicidal thoughts and actions spike. This may seem odd to you because the majority of people would think that warmer weather and sunshine would not cause a spike in negative behavior, however, when humans are exposed to something that gives them energy (sunlight for example) they are more motivated. Now, all the negative thoughts and ideations become actions.
I bring this up for a few reasons. 1. Last week I conducted three suicide assessments in one day making it clear that self harming thoughts are rising. 2. I want to educate as many people as I can about mental health, particularly self harm and the recent trends. 3. I want to make sure we promote self care in our youth.
Let’s start with educating. Because we live in a society where self harm is almost glorified, I want to bring awareness to the following.
13 Reasons Why
I don’t think I have a single middle school or high school client that has not seen the new Netflix show, ’13 Reasons Why’. If you are not familiar with the show, it tells the story of a girl in high school who died by suicide but left behind tapes explaining why she did it- specifically, who was responsible for making her feel she had no “out”.
While I think this show is important because it sparks conversation about mental health, sexual assault, bullying, and policy in general, I do not recommend this show to any vulnerable child. Studies have shown that adolescents who have thoughts of suicide or have already self harmed are triggered by graphic images such as the ones shown in the popular Netflix show. Knowing this, it becomes very alarming to me that the kids I work with are watching this show because it can lead to a spike in self harming actions.
Look out for adolescents who are posting negative images or thoughts on social media. A lot of my kids reach out for help through social media by posting their feelings in hopes of somebody reaching out. ALWAYS reach out, even if you think the youth is attention-seeking, there’s almost always a deeper reason as to why. Also look out for anyone who may want to copy the actions of ’13 Reasons Why’. Look for letters, tapes, recordings of any kind- basically any tangible item signaling reasons why a child may feel they need to harm themselves.
Additionally, keep harmful objects away from a child you suspect is harming themselves. Knives, razors, hard plastic, firearms, etc. This may seem obvious but children are creative and if they have the will to harm themselves, they become resourceful.
Blue Whale Challenge
I was recently introduced to this challenge by some of my coworkers because students in the district are already showing signs of being a part of the trend. The Blue Whale Challenge is a social media group run by an administrator who presents “challenges” to vulnerable teens. Teens are targeted by the hashtags they use on social media. These challenges include self harm, watching horror films, waking up in the middle of the night, etc. The challenge takes place over 50 days. To win the challenge, youth are instructed to kill themselves. I have read multiple articles about the challenge and it seems there have been over 130 suicides reported, however I am not certain on that number.
Monitor your child’s social media accounts! In fact, if you can get their passwords, I highly recommend doing that. Look for hashtags that may indicate suicidal thoughts, self harm, or depressive feelings. I’d also recommend scanning through their comments on images. See who they’re interacting with and if the conversation is healthy.
Lastly, check your child’s entire body. Kids are not only cutting wrists these days, in fact I see more kids who cut their legs over their wrists. Obviously cutting in a place where others cannot see makes it easier to conceal. Some common places include thighs, stomach, and hip area.
This information can be overwhelming, however, we can all make a positive impact by promoting self care for youth.
Here are some ways you can encourage your child to take care of themselves.
Have y’all seen those mandala coloring workbooks? Or the intricate animal coloring pages? Use these! I work with youth 5-18 years old and I have yet to come across somebody who did not love to color these pages. Something about coloring brings you back to your childhood, it keeps you calm and teaches patience- I mean, has anyone completed a coloring page like this in one day? I sure haven’t! Additionally, coloring teaches kids to be mindful- being present in the moment without worrying about anything else. No judgement, no distractions.
Exercise and Extracurricular Activities
There’s a reason educators encourage kids to be a part of sports- it promotes exercise and a sense of community. Plus, we all know that athletes are more likely to succeed in the classroom than students who are not in extracurricular activities. How does this fall into self care? My opinion is that it’s indirect. Students will feel better about themselves if they are a part of something they enjoy or think is important, boosting self-esteem. Lastly, it deters kids from turning to other forms of “coping skills” such as drugs or other illegal activities.
Based on one of my previous posts, y’all know I love to sleep! But it’s not a bad thing because it is so important for every human! Kids go through a lot and sometimes their poor minds are being exposed to too much. Make sure they are sleeping an appropriate amount of time so they can recharge and optimize their cognitive functioning.
Has anyone seen the video that went viral of the father who has his little girl look in the mirror every day and say something wonderful about herself? If you haven’t, go watch it! Besides being arguably one of the cutest videos ever, it teaches parents and caregivers everywhere about instilling self confidence in their children. You can do the same and encourage your child to do the same. Even if it’s not daily, make sure you let your child know how great you think they are and have them tell you why they think they’re pretty great, too.
Below are some helpful links if you happen to know somebody who is struggling with self harm or suicidal ideation. Additionally, I have linked some resources about ’13 Reasons Why’ and how you can have meaningful conversations about the series.
The Trevor Project – The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.