Tales from Utah Valley: Suicide prevention must continue during summer break
Summer break is a time we all look forward to — the great weather, outdoor activities, a bit of relaxation and getting a break from school. But, it can also be a time when kids are not seen as much, more isolation, no fellow students, teachers and school counselors watching out for suicide warning signs. But, there are things that we, as family members, neighbors, fellow church members and friends can do to keep our kids safe and mentally healthy.
Dr. Greg Hudnall, founder of Hope Squads, a suicide prevention program in many schools, suggests that family members begin building relations with young children at an early age.
“During the first part of the pandemic with COVID, suicides in young people actually went down. The research showed the reason was that families were spending more time together, watching movies, going for hikes, playing games and eating meals together,” he said. “Parents also noticed when their child was suffering and were able to get help for them.”
Hudnall suggests finding ways to do things together to connect as a family and for children to connect to others in healthy, safe ways. Starting some family traditions is a fun way to keep the connections strong. Hudnall said that his wife started a “Thursday Night Friend Night” where every child had to invite a friend over.
“There were many nights when I would come home later and tired as a high school principal. I did not want to be around more kids. However, over time I saw the advantage of it. Kids need to be connected and we as adults have to sometimes help those who want to be alone,” he said.
It’s okay to use devices, but kids should be taught to use them in healthy ways. Hudnall said that adults are the role models for their children. If they spend a lot of time on devices, research shows that their kids will also spend a lot of time on them. “Have down time when everyone puts their phones and other devices away,” he said.
If kids are away from devices, they can have more time to have experiences that benefit mental and emotional well-being, such as getting outdoors in the sunshine, exercising, reading books, playing, creating art, listening to music and talking with friends.
Talk About It
Taryn Hiatt, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) area director, also stresses that connections are important and so is talking. “Stay connected and make time for daily check-ins and have real conversations about mental health,” she said.
Not sure how to start a conversation about mental health? AFSP’s website, afsp.org has many suggestions for talking to others, including teens and tweens, about mental health and suicide.
“It’s important for us as adults to talk about mental health as a family in a positive way,” Hudnall said. “Find ways to ask your children how they are doing in a private moment so as to not embarrass them. Go for a walk, ride a bike, do something fun they like to do. One of the most important things I have learned from youth who have struggled is for parents to not judge, not be afraid, but to ask and listen. Many of us adults are hurting. If we are hurting, think about what our kids are going through.”
“If you notice behaviors that are concerning, don’t wait. Ask directly if what you are observing is related to thoughts of suicide. Seek help, encourage healthy eating and sleeping during the summer,” Hiatt said.
Help is available 24 hours a day by calling or texting 988. There are also great lessons on Hope4Utah’s website for families. Some topics are understanding warning signs and risk factors, self-care and how to talk to someone who is struggling. To find the lessons, go to http://hopesquad.com.