It’s all about the kids: a column by Dr. Janet McPeek Ph.D., President of Crossroads for Youth

If you start seeing orange support ribbons this month, it’s because March is Self-harm Awareness Month. This topic is a broad one that can include includes cutting, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse and more. Just when we start to think about spring and “hope” that sunshine and warm weather are around the corner, this seems like a gloomy subject.

However, these things happen in every community, even right here. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers — over 1,500 teens kill themselves each year, according to the National Youth Violence Prevention Center. Teens and even preteens learn to self-medicate with alcohol and prescription drugs not meant for them. Then there is cutting, or causing self-harm as a way to relieve emotional pain. Recognizing the warning signs of someone who may be self-harming is crucial. Below are few signals to look for:

  • Reduced time with friends and family.
  • Increased layers of clothes. (This may be a way to hide marks.)
  • Withdrawal from normal hobbies/activities or other changes in usual routine.

These could be signs that the young person is feeling pressure and is not sure how to manage all that is going on, which can be normal at this age. There could also be some more serious emotional concerns. Start by talking to the young person without jumping to any conclusions. Reaching out for professional help is always an excellent way to get an assessment of what is going on. Start with your local school, pediatrician or family physician. You may also want to contact your insurance company for referrals to mental health professionals, or call upon a leader in the faith-based community if you are involved in that. We (my team at Crossroads for Youth) can also help you find a resource if you call us at (248) 628-2561.

Starting the conversation is most important so that your young loved one doesn’t feel isolated and unnoticed, or worst of all, seen in a negative light. You might save a life.

If you are faced with someone who is contemplating suicide, or if you yourself have thought about it, I urge you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255.