Teens are reaching out for help in record numbers statewide. Teenage depression and teen suicide are the unspoken issues that many families in the East Valley are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.
Dr. R Jason Beals, DNP, PMHNP-BC of Redemption Psychiatry in Gilbert explains: “depression comes in many forms and that, often, symptoms in the depressed teen may not always show in the form of classic tearful sadness. Teenage depression often presents as irritability, appetite and weight changes, poor hygiene, tiredness and fatigue, sudden loss of interest in activities, sports, family and friends; lack of motivation (apathy), isolating in their bedroom, drop in grades and school refusal, anger outbursts, displeasure for life and views everything in a negative light (dysphoria), brain fog / poor concentration, indecisiveness, excessive guilt, thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, self-harm and/or thinking of a plan to attempt suicide. I am always encouraging my child and teenage patients to talk to someone they trust about their struggles, such as a parent, teacher, therapist, an older sibling, a best friend, a doctor, etc.”
This is exactly the mission of Teen Lifeline. The call center is for teens and the calls are answered by teens with a myriad of adult supervision nearby. The Teen Lifeline suicide prevention hotline received more than 22,000 calls and 20,000 text messages from troubled youths throughout Arizona in 2021. That’s a nearly 50% increase compared to 2019. Most of those calls and texts came from Arizona adolescents ages 10-19.
“It would be difficult to overstate the importance of peer-to-peer connection for teens in every Arizona community,” says Nikki Kontz, Teen Lifeline clinical director. “Our teens are looking for validation. They need to hear from other teens that what they may be feeling is normal, that there is always hope and that help is available 24/7/365.”
Steps for Parents
Educate yourselves on symptoms of mental illness to know what to look for.
Do not hesitate seeking help for your teen if symptoms are lasting several days or weeks; affecting quality of life; affecting ability to function. Seeking help will most likely prevent a crisis situation. If you suspect a child is in immediate danger of self-inflicted harm or of acting on suicidal thoughts, call 911 or take the child to an emergency room.
If immediate safety is not a concern, call Teen Lifeline at (602) 248-8336 (TEEN) or seek a referral to mental health services or counseling.
Don’t be afraid to ask your child directly if he or she is having suicidal thoughts. Asking will not plant the idea of suicide in a teenager’s head. Create a safe, loving and non-judgmental relationship with your teen, so they feel comfortable going to the parent to talk about their feelings and challenges.
Talk to your child about the feelings they are experiencing, without passing judgment or acting like the teen is being dramatic. When speaking with your teenager, use nonjudgmental language. An even tone of voice and engaging body language can help the teen to open up. Nathan Shaw, PMHNP shares: “I don’t recommend having the conversation in the “heat of the moment” unless the situation warrants assessing for current danger to one’s self or others. During periods of high stress or frustration, it can be difficult for teenagers to think clearly and can make the topic seem like it should only be brought up when things are not going well.”
Allow the teen to be heard without dismissing what they are saying as merely a fleeting emotion or an overreaction. It can be hard to ask for help or feel heard as a teen, but they deserve to be taken seriously.
Take safety measures to minimize threats to your child’s safety. Lock up all medications, sharp objects and poisonous chemicals, and secure all firearms, including storing ammunition separately. Monitor phone and electronic use. It is the parent’s responsibility and obligation to set limitations/restrictions and to know what their teen is viewing and exposed to on the web and on social media platforms.
This fall, Teen Lifeline received additional support as area coaches recruited some of the most widely recognized Arizona high school football players by leveraging their visibility on campus and their followings on social media platforms to help save teen lives during Teen Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September. Nineteen football players and one cheerleader representing 18 Arizona high schools in the Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma areas starred in a series of professionally-produced video public service announcements (PSAs) organized by Teen Lifeline and the Grand Canyon State Gridiron Club (GCSGC)
Released during September, the PSA campaign is designed to provide messages of hope to fellow teens who may be struggling with depression, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide. The messages let teens know they are not alone and encourage them to seek help if they feel depressed or suicidal. The PSAs were seen throughout the month of September on the players’, teams’ and schools’ social media channels and were broadcast during morning announcements on the high school campuses when possible. In addition to supporting the PSA campaigns at their schools, teams of the participating players recognized Teen Suicide Prevention Awareness Month at select games throughout September, with Teen Lifeline stickers on their football helmets and representatives from Teen Lifeline conducting the pre-kickoff coin toss.
Extending this mission throughout the fall was important to many of the east players and parents. Nadia Trigueros, mother of quarterback Noah Trigueros, said it best. “It’s about saving one family’s heart break”