Culture of Caring

teenage boy using computer

Meet Them Where They Live

Do you have a teenager or young adult in your family? Do they call you or even answer the phone if you call them? Not usually. But kids will text. 

That’s actually a good thing to know. And it’s related to one of the positive outcomes of the current pandemic.

Hidden symptoms

Too often, youth suicide happens when teens struggle with undiagnosed and untreated mental illness. They can be skilled actors, hiding signs of depression from family and friends, not wanting them to worry. Bound by powerful convictions that revealing their pain would add to others' burdens, they convince themselves that their families would be better off without them.

The incidence of depression across all age groups right now is sky high. As adults, we may be able to rationalize that this too will pass. But teenagers have different needs, and social connections are vital to them. They've already missed out on proms, sports, school dances, and other special events, let alone the daily communication with friends and teachers at schools. And those are the ones who live in stable homes. Too many are struggling with basic survival and families under tremendous stress.

Now that schools are opening, kids have to remember the social distancing rules, wear masks, and follow all the other public health guidelines. Schools may offer a hybrid option with some classes online. It’s just not the same.

How to get help to come to you

As a parent, you may have concerns about your child's mental health. If you’ve tried to get them to go see a counselor, you already know it can be incredibly difficult. Especially for boys. What about those living in rural or urban areas where there are not enough mental health professionals available, even if you could get teenagers to agree to see one?

We need to meet them where they live. Think about it. How do teens communicate with friends or even video game partners? Online, messaging, texting, FaceTime, and other electronic pathways. 

The pandemic has forced health providers to go online to meet their patients. Telehealth, telemedicine, video appointments, and smartphone apps have become the tools that help us work around the limitations of in-person visits.

Patients can simply download their provider’s app and log in. The security has improved in recent years, making the platforms secure and HIPPA-compliant.

Young adults are comfortable communicating with providers by texting, revealing their feelings much more openly than they would in person or even over the phone. The results of online screening tools tend to be more accurate. Once the patients have e-met their therapists or psychiatrists by texting, they are often more willing to transition to video conferences. And it’s a lot easier to get them to an appointment on a phone or computer than it is to get in a car and take them to a doctor’s office.

It’s a solution that could save lives

If you wonder if teletherapy effectively treats depression and anxiety, the evidence indicates that it is. Therapists would probably prefer to meet in person since their treatment depends on reading facial cues and body language and some are just not comfortable meeting online. But most agree it is a positive solution for us now and may allow providers to help more patients in the long run.

A Culture of Caring: A Suicide Prevention Guide for Schools (K-12) was created as a resource for educators who want to know how to get started and what steps to take to create a suicide prevention plan that will work for their schools and districts. It is written from my perspective as a school principal and survivor of suicide loss, not an expert in psychology or counseling. I hope that any teacher, school counselor, psychologist, principal, or district administrator can pick up this book, flip to a chapter, and easily find helpful answers to the questions they are likely to have about what schools can do to prevent suicide.

Theodora Schiro