Mental health experts provide tips for youth

Bounce Back, CentraCare Health – Monticello and Central Minnesota Mental Health Center recently partnered to provide an informative evening designed to help parents, grandparents, teachers, mentors, coaches, employers, youth leaders and health care workers recognize warning signs and support young people who are struggling with mental health challenges.

More than 150 people attended the two-hour event Thursday, May 12.

Melissa Pribyl, community health and wellness specialist with CentraCare Health–Monticello, introduced two professionals who provided a wealth of mental health information during the “Spotlight on Youth Mental Health” at Monticello High School.

Sarah Decker, an outpatient therapist for Solutions Consulting spoke first, followed by Jeanette Witham, an outpatient therapist and clinical manager who works with the Central Minnesota Mental Health Center.

Both explained that a mental disorder or mental illness affects a person’s thinking, emotional state and behavior and disrupts the person’s ability to work or attend school, carry out daily activities, or engage in satisfying relationships.

One-half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, three-quarters by age 24.

Typical adolescence warning signs of include withdrawing from family to spend more time with friends, withdrawing from social activity, becoming secretive, wanting more privacy or losing interest in favorite activities and not replacing them with other pursuits.

Decker and Witham also said most youth pass through adolescence with relatively little difficulty despite life’s challenges.

When difficulties are encountered, youth tend to be quite resilient, but when parents or older adults notice something is amiss, they should ask the young person how they are feeling.

Note what you’ve seen. Express concern, and don’t focus initially on changing the person’s behavior, perspective or symptom.

Use “I” statements that are not accusatory. Emergency medical services should be sought if the person has any of the following symptoms: Disordered thinking or not making any reasonable sense (may experience delusions or hallucinations, disorientation–not knowing what day it is, where they are or who they are; unintentionally throwing up several times a day; fainting or collapsing or is too weak to walk, painful muscle spasms, chest pain or difficulty breathing.

Important signs that a young person may be suicidal include threatening to hurt or kill himself/herself, seeking access to pills, weapons or other means, talking or writing about death, dying or suicide; expressing hopelessness, no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life; acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking; feeling trapped; increasing alcohol or drug use or having a dramatic change in mood, sleeping all the time or being unable to sleep, being anxious or agitated or giving away prized possessions.

Discuss your observations with the young person. Appear confident, as this can be reassuring. Tell the person that thoughts of suicide are common and do not have to be acted on Realize the youth may be reluctant to involve family or professional help.

Try to involve the person in the decision making. Ask the question: Are you thinking about killing yourself? Is there a plan? A higher level of planning means higher risk.

The three follow-up questions parents or others need to ask include the following: Have you decided how you would kill yourself? Have you decided when you would do it? Have you taken any steps to secure the things you would need?

If there is a risk of suicide, take action to keep the young person safe. Do not leave him or her alone. Ensure he or she has a safety contact at all times. Help the young person think about people or things that have supported them in the past and find out if these supports are still available.

Ask questions, but don’t push. Realize it may be a relief for the young person to talk about how they feel, and remember it’s about them.

Don’t argue with the suicidal person. Avoid saying things like: “You have so much to live for,” “Your suicide will hurt the family”, or “Look on the bright side.” Don’t lecture on the value of life, or say that suicide is wrong. Promise confidentiality but refuse secrecy.

A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe.

Contact Tim Hennagir at [email protected]