We Now Have Some Answers: Warning Signs and What to do if Someone You Know is Suicidal

September is Suicide Prevention Month. As part of that we want to share the article below, written by Kristen Roye, PsyD, about the warning signs of suicide and what can be done to help.

One week prior to my high school graduation I found myself sitting in the waiting room of the psychiatric wing of a local hospital. My family member had attempted suicide. I remember walking through the sterile white doors into the hospital to visit her and my world was forever changed. I recall struggling with feelings of anger, confusion and hopelessness during this time and thinking that no one should ever have to go through this process alone. I desperately thought “someone should have prepared me for this” “someone should have prepared my family for this” “why didn’t anyone teach us about this?”. I was searching for answers and no one had any. Why was it that at 18 years old no one had discussed suicide with me?

My family member was fortunate to get the help she needed and continues to lead a successful life. But I can’t help thinking that if my family was armed with knowledge she may not have reached the point of hopelessness, or the point of hospitalization. She may not have been in such unbearable pain that she thought the only way out was to end her life. 
Today we do have knowledge and we do have some answers that I would like to share. I encourage you to continue sharing this knowledge and talking to others about suicide. We now have the words and tools necessary to get help for ourselves and our loved ones. I know I only have your attention for a few short minutes and I only have a few words to get my point across. So here’s what I want you to know: you can be prepared, you can get answers and there is help. Suicide prevention is possible and there are a few things you should know. 

The most common warning sign of someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts is a change in behavior or new behaviors. This is especially true if the behavior is related to a painful event, loss or change. Warning signs typically fall into three categories: Talk, Behavior and Mood. Let’s break this down even further…

Talk Warning Signs

Pay attention if you hear anyone talk about: suicide, talk about a plan, talk about death and dying, talk about being a burden to others, talk about wanting to end it all or “for it to just be over”, talk about feeling trapped, talk about feeling hopeless or helpless or talk about unbearable pain.

Behavioral Warning Signs

Pay attention to increased engagement in risky behaviors (drug and alcohol use, risky activities- hiking, driving recklessly, etc.), changes in grades, changes in sleep or eating patterns, social withdrawal or isolation, getting access to lethal means (weapons, guns, razors, rope, pills), giving away possessions, saying goodbyes, and acting out aggressively.

Mood Warning Signs

An individual who is feeling suicidal will likely have a mood that is depressed, anxious or agitated, they may feel embarrassed, humiliated, hurt, or distraught.

What do I do?

If anyone you know has shown any of the warning signs above, it’s time to take action! Do NOT ignore the suicidal statements and think they are going to go away or are simply “for attention”. Take person seriously! Take some time to talk openly and honestly with them about their thoughts. It is extremely crucial that you ask directly if they are suicidal. And remember, this is not the time to offer advice or judgements of their thoughts. If someone is suicidal make sure to stay with the person until help arrives (i.e. mental health professional, 911 response team, etc.); do not leave them unattended. If possible, remove any potentially dangerous objects from person (i.e. razor, pills, etc.) and if the person is a minor make sure to alert parents/guardians. If you believe someone is suicidal call 911 or a crisis hotline to get immediate help. More help can be found by calling and texting below:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 Text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7

If you have a loved one struggling with suicidal thoughts or ideation, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Back-to-school: Time to set an electronic curfew

Back to school season has hit and as everyone adjusts to new activities it’s time to set schedules and boundaries for kids’ time. Screenagers posted an article about setting a curfew for electronics in particular. As your family is figuring out how to navigate this school year read the article below to get some new ideas to help make this school year successful.

“Before I put on my clinical hat and tell you lots of things I have found interesting about sleep research these days, I want to mention what some parents I have spoken with have told me. They tell me that their kids have devices in their bedrooms and their children are getting good about not using them by a certain hour. And my response is YES! AND … although this is probably true, once they hit the preteen and teen years and perhaps a boyfriend or girlfriend comes into the picture, or say another drama has really hit the road, or… – resisting devices can become impossible. (Not to mention they are tired so executive function, i.e. willpower and self-control goes down exponentially).

So if your child has any devices in their bedroom, even a teen, and sleeps fine with them—this is all about realizing that something will come up that will change that so doing the work to set up a sound sleep policy is a good idea. 

Getting back into the new school year and on to regular sleep patterns is critical.  

A major study showed that lack of sleep among our children has become a public health concern: 75% of teens do not get the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep. This can lead to higher levels of mental health problems, accidents, lower academic engagement and much more. But how to help our kids and teens get more and better sleep? 

Leslie Walker-Harding, a pediatrician and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington recently told me, “Sometimes a sleep deprived teenager will appear just like they have anxiety, clinical anxiety or clinical depression and its sleep.”

Forty percent of teens say that most school nights they get less than seven hours of sleep and there’s a strong association between more screen time and less sleep. Since 2012, when the prevalence of teens owning smartphones started to increase, the number of hours teens sleep has steeply decreased.

If there is one screen time rule I am absolute about in my house it is that personal devices stay out of all our bedrooms when we go to sleep. It has taken a lot of reminding, but many years in now, it’s a lot easier and there are very few battles with my teens around this rule. 

The social interaction, stimulation, and draw of endless entertainment are of course a big reason why keeping tech out of the bedroom is a good idea, but the blue light that emits from these devices is a factor too. This type of light has been shown that it can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin and can disrupt the REM sleep. The most recent study I saw on this said it appears to only impact it by about 10 minutes but still that is something. 

“This is an especially big problem for teens whose circadian rhythms are already shifting naturally, causing them to feel awake later at night,” the National Sleep Foundation says on its page about how blue light affects kids and sleep. “The end result: sleep-deprived or poorly rested kids who have essentially given themselves a mini case of jet lag.”

Here are the latest sleep guidelines from The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM)

  • Children six to 12 years of age should sleep nine to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
  • Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep eight to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.”

Here a few questions to get the conversation started this week:

  1. How many hours of sleep do you think is optimal for you? Then, show them what the AASM recommends. 
  2. What time do you think would be a good time to take all your personal devices out of the room? If they say they need their phone as an alarm clock, you might offer to get them a standard cheap alarm clock.
  3. Where might be a good spot in the house to deposit the devices?

If you have a loved one struggling with appropriate screen usage, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

When Wasting Time Hurts

How many of us, as adults are guilty of wasting time on screens? I’m sure everyone should be raising their hands. This week Screenagers tackles this issue with teens and tweens in the article below:

I am impressed by the number of tweens and teens who tell me they feel bad about spending a lot of time on screens. These young people say things like “I hate that I wasted the day away.” I then ask if they ever talk about this feeling at home. Generally, they say “no” because they don’t want their parents to say something like “yeah, see I told you so,” or “well, you should have known and just gone outside.”

It is summer now, and plenty of youth are spending many hours on screens. Finding ways to help them identify the feelings of “time wasted” can then help them to learn how to resist the urge to be on screens. Even if your child will not openly say they feel like they are wasting time, now is a great time to have a conversation because it will surely come up again during the school year when they are trying to finish their homework but the urge to check social media or watch a Youtube video keeps them from reaching their goal of finishing their work. Suddenly homework is not done and it is 10 PM, or later, much later.

Here are four ways you can share your strategies not to waste time to help them foster their own

  1. Talk about times you choose to indulge in screen time for entertainment. Maybe it’s when you finish a big work project, or it is your one night a week when you watch extra TV. Your kids might be surprised that you have thought this through. Modeling this idea is essential.
  2. Talk about how you find that it is so easy for you to avoid doing something challenging and to do something that feels like “wasted time” to you such as watching way too many movie trailers (i.e. me). The challenging task could be something like calling a friend you need to resolve a conflict with, or calling your tax accountant, or calling HBO yet again to cancel your online subscription, and they keep saying they will have someone call you, but they never do.
  3. Talk about the idea of a “Precommitment strategy,” a term coined by a Nobel-prize winning economist named Thomas Schelling. His concept was to organize things in a way that would ensure success by setting up systems that would make it difficult for you to back out later, and thereby fail at your goal. If you know you waste precious sleep time by bringing your screen into your room at night, the precommitment strategy would be to set a rule for yourself to not to bring the screen into your room so that you will not even have to deal with the dilemma of going on your screen and then to tell yourself to stop.  
  4. How do you forgive yourself when you end up feeling like you “wasted time?” This act is important to identify because when we beat ourselves up for doing what we had set out not do, we often then react by continuing to do the activity that made us waste time. For example, “wasting time” watching yet another Black Mirror episode might make you upset that the bills did not get paid. Then, as a way to soothe yourself from the stress and self-deprecation this brought on, you go right back to watching more episodes. Instead, if you you can stand back a moment, breath, and use your self-compassion and resilience tools to say something like “I needed to watch all those for a reason,” or “I am not sure what it was, but I am going to let this pass and not get anxious over it,” or “I will begin again,” or “I will try tomorrow.” Whatever you say to yourself, share with your kids.

If you have a loved one struggling with appropriate screen usage, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Going Phone-less for Camp

Summer camp is an exciting time, and with just a few more weeks of summer left kids are cramming in as much fun as possible. Screenagers had a great article, below, about the benefits of a screen free camp.

Both day and sleep-away camps provide great opportunities for kids to unplug, connect face-to-face with people of many different ages and learn new skills.  And, many parents are loving this support of no-tech camp rules. 

Lindsay L. says, “No screens allowed, best rule ever!.”  Randi R. chimes in, “No electronics! Best month ever!!” 

Before writing anything else, I just want to say that I wish every young person had access to camps, and it makes me sad that many do not. I have long contributed to organizations, including our regional YMCA, to help provide summer opportunities for youth. I remember fondly the one and only camp I was able to attend growing up. I was in 9th grade and felt so lucky to be there enjoying racquetball, tennis, “skit night,” and more.  

An interesting study that I cite in Screenagers found that children who attended a five day, tech-free camp, had measurable improvements in their ability to read emotional cues when compared to before the camp. 

When kids leave their phones (their connector to us) at home during sleep away camp, it is a great opportunity for them to practice building self-soothing skills. Inevitably many youth will feel homesick or have an uncomfortable new social situation and when they can contact you, to help them through these feelings, they are likely to do that. I just heard a story about a friend’s 12-year-old son who brought a cellphone to an overnight camp that had a no-cellphone policy. Sure enough, he had a problem with a friend and called his parents to come to pick him up. When the counselors saw him on the phone, they confiscated it. He then fell apart even more and demanded that his parents pick him up. They didn’t, and in the end, he had a great few days.

I would just add that all camps have an emergency phone available with the adults and if necessary, you can contact them, and they can contact you. But remember, when your kids feel homesick this is an excellent opportunity for them to make strong connections to other trusted adults and peers, and that can be undermined if they can call you for every problem.

Camp Newman in Northern California sums it up perfectly in their rules book: “We recommend that your child powers down, unplugs, and takes what we’re certain is a well-needed break from the world of electronics. We recommend bringing other ‘interactive’ things, like playing cards, chess, scrabble, word games, etc. Of course, books are always welcome! Please be respectful of the usage and content limitations we have in place.”

Some day camps do not have clear guidelines about mobile devices, or if they do have a no-device policy, might not have the bandwidth to enforce it. That is why if you want your children or teens to stay off their phones at camp, you will need to simply ask them to leave them at home. It is a great chance for them to practice asking to use a counselor’s phone if they need to reach you during the day. These little moments of getting out of their comfort zone to ask for a bit of support (i.e. to use a phone) are wonderful ways to develop communication skills in general and in this case, self-advocacy skills. 

If you have a loved one struggling with leaving cell phones behind for interactive events please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Saying YES to Summer!

Children’s Screen Time Action Network has some great ideas for summer – like saying YES to kids and helping them learn resourcefulness. Check out their article below:

For most of us, school is out already and we’re in those transition weeks that can produce anxiety, both for us and the kids. Ok. So I see that parents are sick of hearing that they have to set screen limits. Like Advisory Board member Dr. Meghan Owenz says, “If you offer more fruits and vegetables, it edges out room for the donut.” Hence, my message this week is less about screen limits and more about the opportunities that a little extra time can bring to families.

Here are four ideas that go beyond summer tip lists:

1) Say ‘yes’ a lot!  It feels so good to say ‘yes.’ A simple thing… but so contrary to the many, many times we have to say ‘no’ to our kids. In our house, we had a Mom-says-yes day and a kids-say-yes day every summer. (Of course dads can do it, too!) I suggest doing the parent day first. There was a low-price limit on what they could ask – have a friend over, have dessert first, stay in our pajamas all day, go to McDonald’s (shhhh – don’t tell anyone at CCFC!) But, it brought so much joy. And the kids-say-yes day got a lot of chores done!

What I learned: I can do anything for one day. When kids are allowed to choose, they can make good choices and know their limits.

2) Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. They’re exhausted! Discussion about trips and camps can be downright cutthroat. While we did our share of both, the best excursions were local hikes, museums, and lakes with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. As in life, buying an expensive summer doesn’t guarantee happy memories. You’re still juggling work, maybe adjusting your hours or working at home more, maybe driving your older kids to summer jobs. Added pressure to spend more and run more will only spread anxiety to the kids. What we think they want and what they really need—quality time with family and friends—are two different things.

What I learned: A break from the stress of school (especially for high schoolers) is best when there isn’t added pressure to make the summer perfect.

3) Trust that kids can and will entertain themselves. As long as they are safe and fed, kids will find something to do – if we let them. Boredom helps kids make their own meaning of life. Of my kids, Evan was the best at coming up with ideas and playing by himself. But, the others came around to it also, if I was willing to gently remind them, “Mommy is working right now.”

What I learned: I can put up with a little whining to build resourceful kids. The whining goes away after they know you mean business. And when everyone’s tired, you can give in to the temptation to have a little screen time now and then – once you’ve checked that it’s ad-free!

4) Set expectations. Those of you who have been with me for a while know this is my go-to parenting advice. The more you can talk about the new routine ahead, let them draw pictures of it, or have a visual calendar (not just on your phone), the better their behavior. Some surprises and flexibility are important as well. But, kids thrive on a little routine, even in the summer months.

What I learned: Sometimes I had to repeat myself, but as long as we talked about it ahead of time, the summer months went easily – and often, too quickly.

If you have a loved one struggling with their personal life please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.