Communication is key to saving lives

Published 12:09 am Sunday, January 31, 2010

NATCHEZ — Teenagers are moody, just ask their parents.

Teens and even children can go from the highest of highest to the lowest of lows in minutes, but experts say parents need to know when the situation is more serious than just a mood swing.

“A lot of parents will say (their teen) is just being a teenager,” family therapist Mary Ann Simons said. “But you need to be concerned with what is going on with them. Even if you think they are being overly dramatic, pay attention.”

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Teens do experience true depression, said Simons, who specializes in children, adolescents and families at Swoveland & Simons Family Therapists in Natchez.

“What you are looking for is a change, a change in mood, grades, eating habits or friends,” she said.

Anger is also a common sign of teen depression, Concordia Parish school psychologist Wilton Nolan said.

“If they fly off the handle or seem mad at the world, that is one of the signs,” Nolan said.

If a teen has a family history of depression, parents should be more aware, Simons said.

And all adults should take serious statements to heart.

“Do they ever say, ‘I feel like killing myself?’’ Simons said. “You always take that seriously.”

When the signs are there and a teen has changed, it’s important that parents start talking, both Simons and Nolan said.

“It’s always important to talk with your child,” he said. “Keep lines of communication open. Find out what the problem is as best you can.”

Professional help is available at a level like never before, Simons said, with financial assistance programs, more therapists and a more accepting view of the need for mental help, there are no excuses.

But sometimes, teenage suicide isn’t preceded by red flags, Simons said.

“It’s hard with teenagers. So many people can’t see it because No. 1, a teen doesn’t want them to,” she said.

“They will do everything they can so that you will not be able to stop them. The truth is if they had wanted you to stop it, they would have done things, but they don’t. In their thinking, they are fixing the situation.”

Teens can be more impulsive than adults, she said, making some suicides impossible to prevent.

“If you have ever talked to teenagers, one minute they are in love with someone and the next week they are in love with someone else,” Simons said. “A phone call could turn it around. As adults, we sit down and are a lot more internal. Teens are more external; it’s someone else’s fault.”

The only thing teens internalize, Simons said, is their personal appearance, and teens that harp on issues related to how they look may need attention.

Teen who mention suicide offhandedly, have already given the issue thought, she said; don’t ignore their comments.

“If they’ve made a decision (to kill themselves), they’ll become very at peace,” Simons said. “They’ll start giving away things, taking care of things. They’ve made a decision that is the only option left.”

Community wide, suicide is becoming a topic for discussion.

The second annual Out of the Dark walk for suicide prevention awareness drew 100 people in November.

The release of the film “To Save a Life,” which focuses on teenage suicide, has drawn support from dozens of local teens and church youth groups.

And last week, Vidalia Junior High School students attended an assembly hosted by the Louisiana State Police that dealt with bullying, suicide and choosing the right friends among other things.

All these measures and more are needed, though, VJHS Principal Whest Shirley said, to educate young people living in a world that isn’t what it used to be.

“Kids today definitely have a rougher time than we did,” Shirley said. “Life is getting harder. Alcohol was the biggest thing when I was in school, but now marijuana is common. Facebook and MySpace open doors to teen bullying online. Texting and cell phones, we battle that daily.

“We have more and more (children) coming from divorced homes.”

Shirley tries to remind himself and his staff daily that it’s their job to teach children more than academics.

“Too many times we look at the kids’ test scores, and we just kind of forget why we are really there, and that’s to put out good citizens,” he said.