THE 13 UPLIFTS TO COUNTER THE 13 REASONS WHY

The second season of 13 Reasons Why is being released by Netflix on Friday, May 18th. The first season followed the fictional story of a teenager named Hannah Baker who died by suicide. Hannah left behind 13 audio recordings explaining the reasons why she took this action.

It is unknown at this time if prevention efforts have been integrated more effectively into the second season. Mental health professionals continue to voice their concerns about the impact this program is having on young audiences, especially those who are experiencing emotional distress and may consider suicide to be an option. However, an international study demonstrated that most viewers (including youth and their parents) thought the show was more beneficial than it was harmful by bringing attention to issues that are often harder to discuss. Dr. Ajit Jetmalani, one of the nations top child psychiatrists and a close friend of Youth ERA, counters this study in an op-ed that you can find here.  

There are some things viewers should be aware of before clicking play on 13 Reasons Why. First, Hannah's story does not reflect what prevention professionals know about youth suicide. Her suicide was extensively planned despite the fact that the vast majority of suicides appear to result from an impulse and not the desire for revenge. Furthermore, most who die by suicide do not leave explanations or notes behind for their loved ones to find.

Of particular concern is the message that if a young person takes their life, this should lead to a search for those who are to blame. There are always multiple factors involved in anyone's decision to attempt suicide and assigning blame is exceptionally unhelpful for the recovery of those impacted.

One limitation of the show is that it focuses solely on the mental health of Hannah, a heterosexual cis female. While acknowledging the importance of all awareness brought to youth mental health, it is important also to recognize that many youth who experience these feelings are dealing with additional issues that deserve the same sort of representation.  These factors include but are not limited to toxic masculinity, racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, high stakes testing and performance standards, etc.

An international study conducted following the release of the first season found that young viewers and their parents wanted further guidance on how to address the issues and questions raised by the series. This article intends to provide just that.

The guidance provided by this article is grounded in both positive psychology and trauma-informed care. Trauma-informed care gives insight for when life gets tough, whereas positive psychology, (also referred to as the “science of happiness”) gives insight into strategies people can use to live happy, empowered, and fulfilling lives.

 
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1. Connections with trusted adults (duh).

Just like the phrase “it takes a village” has proven true time and time again, so has Youth ERA's support for the research behind Search Institute’s 40 Assets. In the “Support” category of Search Institute’s compilation, one Asset reads “Other adult relationships—Young person receives support from three or more non-parent adults.”

There are many things we still don't know when it comes to how best to support youth when they are going through difficult times. However, we don’t need research to show that the presence of stable relationships with caring and trusted adults has the potential to impact a young person’s life immensely. The benefit of positive adult-youth connections is something we have seen over and over again.

There are certain situations where a young person not wanting to discuss what is bothering them with a parent or guardian is inevitable. In addition to providing a positive and stable relationship with the youth we support, we also seek to ensure that they have one or more connections with other trusted and caring adults that they can turn to in times of need.

 
 
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2. Mindfulness (no yoga pants required).

You might cringe when you hear "mindfulness," a term that is often touted by individuals who didn’t have to Google the term “Hot Yoga”. But remember, like any parent or teacher struggling to help a young person knows, whether something is current or popular doesn't much matter when it comes to finding something that actually helps. The practice of mindfulness can be a powerful tool for young people hoping to achieve calm and focus. Research has shown that young people who practice mindfulness experience improvements in their health, well-being, social skills, self-regulation, and academic performance.

There are lots of free websites you can use to empower your youth through the practice of mindfulness. Check out the Headspace app, a great tool we use at Youth ERA to help our youth practice mindfulness. We also have an article about mindfulness you can check out to learn more.

 
 
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3. De-escalation and pro-flossing skills.

Our society treats the notion of prevention with a similar disdain as flossing; we know it works, but we'll do it "next time." Preventing stressful events isn’t always possible but understanding how we respond to those events is essential (just like flossing).

It can be helpful to think of the stress cycle like an arch. Before we feel stress, we each have a baseline emotional wellness. Then, a triggering event occurs that leads to increased agitation. If de-escalation does not occur at this time, agitation can escalate into an outburst. Then there is a period of recovery that follows. Ideally, both you and your youth will be able to identify either when a trigger event has occurred or when the stress is escalating so that you can de-escalate the situation before an outburst occurs.

Discuss de-escalation strategies in moments when everyone is calm, especially if your youth tends to trigger easily. Find a quiet place to problem-solve with your youth where you can identify an approach they think will work. When attempting to de-escalate, always remember to remain calm, while still being aware of the situation from a safety and escape perspective. Be as non-threatening as possible by avoiding "TACOS" (Threatening, Arguing, Challenging, Ordering, or Shame). Try reflecting back what your youth is saying without judgment and realize that they may be incapable of thinking clearly at this time. Calming is your only goal.

 
 
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4. ERROR: problem-solving & critical thinking skills cannot be found

After reviewing a youth leadership curriculum that Youth ERA created, a researcher asked, “Why are you educating youth about pyramid schemes?” From our position on the front lines of youth peer work, we get an early look at some of the incoming trends; many of them troublesome. While the media continues talking about Tide-Pods and avocado toast, there are issues like pyramid schemes economically preying on youth that are going unnoticed. What makes it worse is that most youth haven't been exposed to the problem-solving and critical thinking skills they need to make educated decisions about these problems.

Parents who hope to raise their youth to be independent should give them opportunities to make their own choices, especially as they get closer to the magic age of 18. In fact, providing youth with some level of decision-making power while living at home serves as an invaluable opportunity to celebrate failures as teaching moments, where they can learn, grown, and move forward.

Adult allies, parents, and others can assist youth as they gain the skills necessary to resolve problem situations independently. One opportunity to practice this is revisiting situations where someone treated them poorly, or they accidentally lost control and were hurtful to someone else. We recommend the "Think Things Through" approach, where providers encourage youth to ask the following three questions when reviewing a difficult encounter: (1) What actually happened? (2) What is my goal? (3) What powerful positive actions could I take that utilize my strengths? It is essential that the youth follows up by asking: Is each action in accord with my values? What is the best first choice I can make? If my first choice doesn't work, what else can I do?

Empowerment doesn’t fix everything, but often adult allies can help youth escape vicious rumor cycles, gossip, and bullying by taking the time to problem-solve.

 
 
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5. Growth mindset.

You can cultivate a growth mindset by encouraging youth and helping them believe that they can develop their talents through hard work, useful strategies, and input from others. Youth with a fixed mindset typically believe that their talents and abilities are innate and as such don't require much work. Typically, those with a fixed mindset achieve less than those who are focused on using their skills and resources to accomplish their goals. Often, they are more willing to try new strategies, and more resilient when they fail.

Having a growth mindset can also be helpful in distressing situations. Youth who recognize and believe that they can change, others can change, and situations can change, are much more likely to think things through and focus on figuring out how to proceed in times of distress. Believing that circumstances are fixed can contribute to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Make sure to acknowledge your youth’s efforts, especially those in response to challenging situations.

 
 
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6. Keeping your personal power.

The Rational Emotive Thinking approach recognizes that people do not get distressed by what happens to them, but by how they think about what has happened to them. As the Roman philosopher, Epictetus said, “It is not what happens to you. It is how you react to it that matters.”

Within this thinking is the A-B-C model. "A" is the Adversity or negative situation. "B” are the beliefs or what we think about the situation. "C" are the consequences. If our beliefs are fixed and negative, then the consequences will be negative. However, if we can change our beliefs, then the adversity will not result in negative consequences.

From this perspective, we can empower youth to respond to any negativity or hurtful behavior directed at them in a way that maintains their personal power. Encourage your youth to repeat the following, “I choose not to let another person control how I respond or think about myself.”

 
 
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7. Life Pro Tip: Stand tall...like a lobster?

In his book “12 Rules for Life," Dr. Jordan Peterson observes that lobsters who are higher in their social hierarchy tend to have better posture. Young people who stand with “presence” are more likely to be perceived as successful and competent and less likely to be treated poorly. Merely adopting a physical pose that indicates personal power creates the impression that you are powerful. Try picturing someone who believes that they are a failure and someone who believes that they're a success. How do they present themselves differently?

Try this for yourself and encourage your youth to do the same. Imagine feeling powerless and let your physical presence reflect that feeling. Now shift to feeling strong and empowered and watch how your posture changes. Help your youth stand and walk with personal power.

 
 
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8. Kindness (no monkey-business).

The biologist and primatologist Frans B. M. de Waal observed that primates who were kind would live longer and be more effective leaders. Engaging in kindness is shown to promote happiness and overall well-being. When young people reach out and are kind to others, it helps them feel good about themselves. Being kind also results in more thoughtful responses and is helpful for forming positive peer relationships. Research has also shown that young people who engage in a consistent, daily practice of being kind to others, are more likely to be accepted by their peers. For young people who have difficulties forming positive relationships or are being mistreated, learning to be kind can be hugely beneficial for improving their situation.

Reaching out and being kind is also an act of self-compassion. There are often too many pressures on young people, and they can be made to feel like failures for not measuring up. Encourage your youth to be kind to themselves. Encourage them to reach out and be kind to others, including those who are outside of their social group. Hold them accountable and ask, “How did you reach out and show kindness to others today? How did it make you feel? How were you kind to yourself?"

 
 
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9. The power of three letters: BFF

Friendships help young people develop emotionally and build critical social skills, including how to practice effective communication, teamwork, and problem-solving. Through friendships, young people gain an empathetic understanding of how others feel. They practice controlling their emotions and responding to the feelings of others. They develop the ability to think through and de-escalate challenging situations as they arise. Ask yourself if you are creating sufficient opportunities for youth to meet with friends and engage in fun activities? Consider putting more time and resources into opportunities for your youth to build and maintain positive friendships.

 
 
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10. Build your strengths (yes, we all have them!)

Today’s competitive world creates environments where kids are ranked and pitted against each other before they can understand what is happening. The scouting process for collegiate football can begin when children are as young as nine. These competitive arenas can lead youth to internalize even minute failures resulting in low confidence and diminished self-worth. To counter this cultural shift, we need to create opportunities for youth to identify their strengths, put them into practice, fail with compassion and develop into stronger more resilient adults.

One of the most impactful things young people can do is build character strengths. The VIA Institute on Character has identified the following 24 character strengths: creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, perspective and wisdom, bravery, perseverance, honesty, zest, love, kindness, social intelligence, teamwork, fairness, leadership, forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-control, appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, and spirituality. You and your youth can complete a character strengths inventory here.

Help your youth identify and build upon their strengths, especially character strengths. Encourage them to make a daily effort to use their strengths, especially in stressful or challenging situations. Every evening encourage them to ask themselves, “What did I do today that I am proud of?” Celebrate your youth’s strengths and accomplishments even when they seem small.

 
 
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11. Goal setting and action planning

The power of goal-setting is unparalleled in the world of personal development. A young person's ability to set realistic goals enables them to take control of their life. There is also evidence to support the use of goal-setting and action planning to reduce anxiety and depression symptoms.

There are several key steps to effective goal-setting, but the first is to set goals that are motivating and have personal value (and put them in writing!). It's critical that you allow your youth to drive the process and avoid reminding them to be “realistic,” this can leave your youth feeling like their goals aren’t attainable, or you don't believe in them. Instead, try helping them break down the steps they need to take to achieve their ultimate goal. Try to make sure that their goals are specific, relevant, attainable within a particular time, and measurable in some way.

After a youth sets their goals, you'll need to help them create an action plan. This requires thinking things through to identify the steps necessary for goal achievement, and then putting those steps into action to ensure that the goal is met. It may be necessary to revisit the action plan along the way.

 
 
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12. Self-care gone viral

There is a common misconception that self-care is just a “dumb fad,” but in all actuality, self-care is the most helpful practice that people don't realize they're doing. Simply put, self-care describes the positive actions a person takes to cope with stressful or difficult situations relating to their physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Each of us has a different way to relax, have fun, or just take time to themselves. Self-care isn’t about neglecting our responsibilities. To be successful, we need to practice self-care as a part of a balanced life. A powerful form of self-care for many is spending time in nature, an act that has shown to improve memory, restore mental energy, improve concentration, sharpen thinking, foster creativity, and reduce stress. Encourage your youth to make time for themselves and participate in positive activities that they enjoy.

 
 
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13. The hideous strength of...gratitude?

“Does anyone else get annoyed when you hold the door for someone, and they don’t say thank you?” This was a comment left on the Youth ERA Facebook page from one of our youth. When we express gratitude for the good things we feel happy, and in most cases, more good things start to come our way. Gratitude makes us more resilient, strengthens relationships, and promotes forgiveness. Young people who practice gratitude regularly report feeling increased life satisfaction, experiencing more positive emotions, and feeling more connected to their communities. Exploring the subject of Gratitude is sometimes enough to change a person's whole perspective on life. Create opportunities for your youth to practice exploring of gratitude in their daily lives.

 

What to Expect When Calling a Helpline

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Calling a helpline

A closer look into what to expect when calling a helpline

Why should I call a helpline?

Talking in real-time to a trained counselor or volunteer provides you with immediate support and allows counselors to easily connect you with additional places to get help. If you’re feeling nervous about calling, that’s okay. It can be scary to pick up the phone, especially if you don’t know what to expect.

If you’re facing a serious issue or worried for your safety, we encourage you to contact crisis helplines, such as:

  • Lines for Life: Suicide LifeLine - For those going through crisis and those concerned for them

    • Call 1-800-273-8255 (24/7/365)

    • Text 273TALK to 839863 (8am-11pm PST daily)

  • Lines for Life: Alcohol and Drug Helpline - For individuals and family members seeking crisis intervention, treatment referral, and chemical-dependency information

    • Call 1-800-923-4357 (24/7/365)

    • Text RecoveryNow to 839863 (8am-11pm PST daily)

  • Lines for Life: Military Helpline - Support for service members, veterans and their families

    • Call 1-888-457-4838 (24/7/365)

    • Text MIL1 to 839863 (8am-11pm PST daily)

  • Lines for Life: Youthline - Support for youth in crisis or when needing help

    • Call 1-877-968-8491

    • Text teen2teen to 839863

    • Email at YouthL@LinesforLife.org

    • Chat online here

    • Teens are available to chat with you from 4pm-10pm PST daily, all other times are with adults

  • Your Life Your Voice - Trained counselors to talk to 24/7, ran by Boystown (for everyone)

    • Call 1-800-448-300

  • National Runaway Safeline - If you’ve run away from home

    • Call 1-800-RUNAWAY

  • The Trevor Project - If you’re struggling with LGBTQ challenges

    • Call 1-866-488-7386

  • RAINN -  If you’re struggling with sexual violence, like rape, abuse and incest

    • Call 1-800-656-HOPE

Common questions you might have

Who answers your call? When you call a helpline, a trained counselor will answer your calls. Many have a background in mental health or social work, but all volunteers receive training in crisis counseling and suicide intervention.

When should you call? You do not have to be in a serious crisis to call a helpline. Some people call simply to obtain information and referrals for local community services. Others call because they have something that’s on their mind that they want to talk over with someone outside of the current situation. Of course, if you are in a serious emotional crisis, they’re there for that too.

How can they help? Above all, the counselor who answers your call is there to listen.  Whether you’re feeling hopeless, angry or confused, counselors can help you process your feelings and assess your situation before working out what comes next.

Different helplines focus on different topics, but all will be able to provide support, information and referrals. Whatever your issue, your call will be answered by someone who will be supportive and non-judgmental, and who will try to understand exactly what you’re saying and how you’re feeling.

They want to help you stay safe, think through your situation or problem, explore your options, and to help you figure out what you want to do, if anything.

What types of questions will you be asked? A lot of help lines are designed to be anonymous and confidential. This means that while you may be asked to give your first name, you will not need to provide any additional identifying information like last names or addresses, etc. Many find that this anonymity helps them to feel more comfortable when answering personal questions about their situation.

Some sample questions you may be asked include:

  • Are you in a safe place to talk?

  • How can I help you today?

  • How old are you?

    • This helps counselors understand your eligibility for different types of services.

    • If you are a minor (legal definition varies from state to state) and have specific questions related to your age and the issue you’re experiencing the counselor can address those questions.  

  • Tell me a little about what happened that led you to call?

  • When you are upset, to whom do you usually go to for support?

  • Is there anyone else that you feel you can talk to about this situation?

  • How are you surviving, and do you need a safe place to go?

    • For those callers who express a need for safe shelter, counselors, like those at National Runaway Safeline, will need to know your city and state to begin locating an available safe shelter for you.

Why do they ask so many questions?

It‘s important for them to get a clear understanding of your situation and see it from your perspective. Remember, they don’t know you or anything about your life. They don’t ask questions to be nosy—they ask questions to find the source of your trouble and develop an action plan that makes you feel comfortable.

Regardless of age or location, these services are in place to provide support and assure your safety. Honesty about your situation will help counselors determine the best resources for you whether you’re dealing with LGBTQIA+ issues, child abuse, mental health struggles, etc.

Are there alternatives to calling?

Yes. We know some people may be more comfortable reaching out over the Internet, and many services also offer chat, email, online forum or text options.

You can also reach out to someone in person. Speaking to a trusted adult, teacher, school counselor, doctor, or another mental health professional is also a great option.

No matter how you reach out, the most important thing is getting help. You’re not alone!

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com

Survivors of Suicide

After someone ends their life by suicide

A guide to understandings your feelings

Questions you might ask after someone has succumbed to suicide

If someone you love has taken their life, you might be feeling devastated. You could be feeling shock, disbelief and horror. You might be asking yourself: Why did they do it? Could I have prevented it?

All these and so many other emotions can overwhelm you leaving you feeling hurt, helpless and confused. At times you might even question whether you’re going crazy. You may wonder whether you are the only person in the world experiencing such trauma. All these thoughts are very normal.

But you are not alone. Many people before you have faced the same crisis.

When someone takes their own life, it can deeply affect not only the closest family and friends, but it also brings pain to more distant relatives and acquaintances like grandparents, cousins, friends, classmates, teachers and co-workers. Those directly affected by someone’s suicide is considered a survivor of suicide or suicide survivor.

Why didn’t I see it coming?

You might be saying to yourself: I’ve known this person for so long. I should have seen it coming. We talk every day. Why didn’t I know they were in so much pain?

Changes in a person’s behavior leading up to a death from suicide are often gradual. It can be extremely difficult to identify them and to recognize the point when they become significant. Often times, there are no obvious warning signs and the event is seemingly out of nowhere.

Once a person has made up his or her mind to do this, they might go to considerable lengths to conceal their distress and plans from loved ones. Even doctors and mental health professionals who specialize in this field can have difficulty seeing the warning signs.

It’s possible to survive

Many people feel such intense emotional pain after the suicide of a loved one that they wonder whether they can survive. These feelings can sometimes be so intense that you might want to take your own life. If you feel this way, it is best to talk about your feelings with someone you trust. You can always call Lines for Life at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or another crisis helpline to speak with a trained volunteer who will listen and understand what you are going through.

It is extremely important to take care of your own mental health, especially in the case of losing someone to suicide. Suicide is a known contagion, meaning people that were affected by the suicide are at a higher risk of engaging in suicidal behavior or having suicidal thoughts. In order to end the cycle, we need to process what has happened to this person, how it has affected us, and seek help when we need it.

No matter the circumstances leading up to the death of your loved one or acquaintance, try to remove any personal blame you may have in the situation. Their death is not your fault. If you cannot shake the feeling of guilt or blame, consider joining a Suicide Survivor group online or in-person, or unpacking your own trauma from the suicide by scheduling one-on-one appointments with a therapist specializing in grief and loss.

You might find it hard to believe now, but your grief will not always feel like this. Grief changes as you work through it, and though you’ll never forget, time will change some things. Everyone’s process looks differently, and however that looks to you, that’s okay. If you choose to and if you have the necessary support, you might grow as a person from the experience and integrate what happened into your life.

What to tell others

Many people find it extremely difficult to tell others the truth about the cause of their loved one’s death. They might be tempted to give other reasons. This strategy can seem to ease the initial feelings you might have like embarrassment but in the long run though, it adds to the stress because you might feel like you have to keep the lie going. When the truth eventually comes out, it can also be hard to explain the original deception.

Although suicide can be very hard to talk about, the more it is brought up in casual conversation or the more vulnerable we are in talking about our experiences with it (without going into detail), the more we can fight the stigma against it. The less stigma there is, the more people will be willing to talk openly about what they’re feeling, which is the goal of suicide prevention. As stated earlier, suicide is a contagion, so make sure your needs are met and that loved ones know there are other options too. Suicide prevention is a community effort.

You might find yourself in the position to have to tell people about your loved one’s death, which is a very difficult task regardless of the reason for their death. It might be easier to tell a number of people at once or by giving a simple statement in regards to their passing. Try not to go into too many details, as it can be triggering for you and others you tell.  

Information in this article was provided by:

  • Psychology Today

  • After Suicide: Help For the Bereaved by Sheila Clark, published in 1995 by Hill of Content Publishing Company Pty Ltd, Melbourne 3000

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Suicide Warning Signs

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What are suicide warning signs?

While some suicides occur without any outward warning, sometimes people who are suicidal do give some sign that they are thinking about suicide. By knowing these signs—and what to do if you if you see them in yourself or another person—you can help prevent suicide.

What are the signs?

  • Threatening to cause harm to oneself

  • Looking or referring to ways to kill oneself

  • Talking about being a burden to others

  • Feelings of hopelessness or uncontrolled anger

  • Acting reckless seemingly without thinking

  • Increasing alcohol or drug use

  • Withdrawing from friends, family and society

  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye

  • Giving away possessions

  • Changes in sleeping pattern—too much or too little

  • Experiencing dramatic mood changes

  • Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life or value to others

What should you do if you or someone you know shows these signs?

Take action by seeking help as soon as possible by contacting a mental health professional, a parent, or by calling Lines For Life at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also reach the YouthLine at 1-877-968-8491 or by texting teen2teen to 839863.

If you feel someone is in immediate danger of taking their own life, call 911 or Lines For Life right away. If you are with the person you think is in imminent danger of taking their life, stay with that person until help arrives. For additional information on what to expect when contacting Lines For Life, please see their About section and frequently asked questions.

If you are worried about a friend who is thinking about suicide, you might also want to check out the When a Friend Is Thinking About Suicide fact sheet. If you or your friend are having suicidal thoughts, the Suicidal Thoughts: Wanting to End Your Life article may help you manage those urges. Remember that it’s important to look out for these types of suicide warning signs in order to create a healthy environment to your friend, yourself, and others around you.

Information in this article provided by:

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com