Talking about mental health is tough but it’s necessary

Thank you for taking a moment to stop and read this piece. These days, the topic of mental health is at the forefront of many discussions in school, at home, in the community—essentially in every space we interact. Please know that however you are feeling — whatever you are feeling — help and resources are here.

For adult crisis intervention resources, please reach out to the Department of Health and Social Services at 1-800-652-2929 in New Castle County or 1-800-345-6785 in Southern Delaware. If your child or a child you care about needs crisis intervention services, call Delaware’s 24/7 Youth Crisis Support (Mobile Response and Stabilization Services) at 1-800-969-HELP (4357). Children and adults can also text the Crisis Text Line by texting DE to 741741. You are not alone.

We are compelled to write this piece to shed light on a necessary, but tough dialogue about mental health and suicide. Recently, there have been high-profile suicides in the news, including former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst and Ian Alexander Jr., award-winning actress Regina King’s son. For many of us, the COVID pandemic has exacerbated already existing mental health challenges and put undeniable stress on families. Many people, regardless of age, are coping with feelings of loss and isolation. Some are facing daily challenges at work and at school. Some may be struggling to meet their basic needs. Our youth often have fewer emotional resources or healthy strategies to manage distress. It can also be frightening to see stories on the news of people taking their own life, and even more impactful when this happens close to home.

A recent US Surgeon General report on youth mental health shared some staggering statistics. A survey of 80,000 youth across the globe found that symptoms of depression and anxiety doubled during the pandemic, with 1 in 4 youth experiencing depressive symptoms and 1 in 5 youth experiencing anxiety symptoms.

We know that one life lost to suicide is one too many. But we can change the narrative.

The Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services in partnership with stakeholders like the Mental Health Association in Delaware deliver suicide prevention training to professionals in child-serving organizations like schools or community centers. These programs, such as Signs of Suicide and Lifelines, educate adults on how to talk to youth about these tough topics and how they then can empower youth to learn the signs of risk and how youth can reach out to a trusted adult for help. A trusted adult could be a parent, aunt or uncle, coach, or teacher.

Some signs a youth is struggling include feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, changes in personality or loss of interest in once-enjoyed hobbies, and troubling statements or threats that they “won’t be around much longer.” By knowing the signs, we can provide a lifeline to someone in need. Just as important is checking on our loved ones who have the appearance that everything is OK. The death of Cheslie Kryst was so shocking because to others she looked like the picture-perfect young professional — someone who seemed happy and successful, someone to look up to. We now know that the Instagram-perfect moments and the quippy Twitter banter did not tell the whole story. There was much more under the surface. With the increased isolation and decreased social activity that came with COVID-19, it is even more important to authentically connect with one another, to reach out to those we care about and to allow ourselves to reach out for help when things feel unmanageable.

We encourage you to check on your loved ones, your neighbors, your coworkers. Call, text, send a video message or schedule a virtual visit. Sit down with your kid and listen. Really listen. Let them know it’s okay to talk about their feelings, the uplifting ones and the ones that bring us down. They weigh less when they are shared. Encourage children to talk to a trusted adult. We can work to prevent tragedy when we start the conversation and change the narrative, together.

For suicide prevention resources and more, visit www.gov/youthsuicideprevention

Yolanda Jenkins is the Manager of Provider Services for the Delaware Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services. Jennifer Smolowitz is the Director of Suicide Prevention with the Mental Health Association in Delaware.

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