Let’s Talk & Save Lives
by Donna Rhodes
When my son was nine his dad let him watch “Alien.” He came home withdrawn and frightened. It took several hours to get him to tell me the whole story. He’d also fallen in the tub and bruised his back. When he saw the bruise, he was convinced he had an alien inside him for about three days before he came home.
You never know what a kid will imagine. And they often don’t talk about such things. because it’s scary and embarrassing. Add to that the fact that my son didn’t want to rat out his dad for letting him watch an R-rated movie. Complicated.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Beverly Ramey MS, RN, FNP-C and a Mission Family Nurse Practitioner since November of last year, shares the following regarding mental health awareness (depression and suicide) for kids 3-17. And yes, three-year-olds can suffer anxiety, too.
She says my son behaved typically. Something was bothering him, he didn’t know how to handle it, so he clammed up. It’s our job as parents to stay on top of that … to keep communication channels open. Beverly says, “…not just when something’s up, but talk every day, so it becomes part of a family routine.”
She says to ask open-ended questions, not the kind that can be answered with “yes” or “no.” A closed question: “Did you have a good day?” An information-gathering question: “What was the high (or low) point of your day?” The latter opens the door to more questions, follow-ups, and the real skinny on what’s going on.
Children often feel powerless, so ask empowering questions: “What is your biggest fear?” followed by, “If you could change something in your life right now, what would it be?”
How do you separate a serious emotional problem from ordinary pre-pubescent or teenage angst? Pay attention to behavior. Warning signals:
Irritable moods or mood-swings
Bouts of sadness
Lack of sleep (or sleeping a lot)
Refusal to play or go outside
Excessive weight loss or gain
Refusal to go to school
Disciplinary problems at school
No longer doing things once enjoyed
Mentioning death, drawing pictures of killing people, or people dying
Family history of mental illness
Talk of self-mutilation, suicide, or saying, “The world would be better off without me.” Or “I want to die.”
What contributes to these red flags? It could be a family in crisis because of:
A dysfunctional parent
A family member dealing with substance abuse
An older sibling leaving home for college/job/marriage
Abuse or neglect
Ask questions and listen without judgment.
Take your child to your primary care physician or a counselor (or have a friend or relative take them if they refuse your help)
Visit ER in an emergency situation.
See a counselor yourself to get guidance in helping your child.
Beverly’s office is a walk-in, so no need to make an appointment. If you feel your child is in crisis, take him/her in during regular hours and get help right away.
Keep these numbers handy:
Mission Health Center Highlands: (828) 526-4346
Mission Community Primary Care Cashiers: (828) 743-2491
Highlands Cashiers Hospital: (828) 526-1200