My life with ongoing disability has been punctuated by many crises. But, even in the darkest moments, I have found tremendous support through faith, family and friends.
These gifts have brought me through immediate trauma and have been great encouragement when I’ve faced subsequent challenges — a cumulative effect that has built resilience and enabled me to find joy in suffering.
Many adults I know also witness to the experience-forged, life lesson of, “I’ve been through tough times before, so I can make it through the next ones, too.”
But sometimes we forget that youth do not have the benefit of a track record of resilience-building challenges and, tragically, many consider and some choose ending their lives before they reach adulthood.
An analysis by the Southern California News Group revealed 1 in 5 California high schoolers surveyed says he or she has considered suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that the national rate of suicide for teens and young adults (ages 15-24) in 2017 was 14.46 per 100,000, up from 13.15 in 2016. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that suicide is now the second leading cause of death among teens.
These statistics provide a sobering basis for reflecting on a terrible problem that seems to only be getting worse. As Catholic adults, what can we do?
Joe Sikorra is the father of two sons, a licensed clinical therapist and author of “Defying Gravity: How Choosing Joy Lifted My Family from Death to Life.” He acknowledges that feelings of anxiety, hopelessness and worthlessness have a lot to do with suicide ideation and suicide.
But, adults, particularly parents, can help teens face problems and build resilience through honest, open communication and the deep blessing of support through faith.
“As parents with this generation, we’ve worked so hard to bring ease to our kids so that they’re living in this comfortable world,” says Sikorra. “But look at Matthew 16:24, where Jesus says, ‘If you want to come with me, pick up your cross and follow.’ Don’t run from suffering, embrace it. Follow Jesus, he’ll show you how.”
When facing life’s problems, adults can help teens focus on positive solution and wide choices.
Sikorra says, “What leads to suicide in young and older people is the sense of life isn’t going to get better. But problems are transient. We can most always do something, no matter how small the step. We can make a choice to place our focus on solutions.”
Helping teens understand their worth in the eyes of God is also important.
“We can feel overwhelmed because we’ve been defined by an unloving world,” says Sikorra. “But when we allow ourselves to be defined by God, we can see and find hope. The God who created the universe lives and breathes in you. That equips you to do anything in life.”
Ministries within faith communities can reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and raise awareness about the signs of depression and other mental health issues and offer information about local counseling services and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 and the NSPL online chat.
Parish-based opportunities for teens to gather and share their experiences and become involved in service projects can build a sense of belonging. And compassionate attention and a willingness to listen is crucial.
“We’re imperfect beings trying to do a very difficult job, but love makes up for a multitude of sins,” Sikorra says. “The more we can be available, laugh, communicate, the more we are saying, ‘You matter,’ that’s the best thing we can do for our kids.”
Pratt’s website is www.maureenpratt.com. Joe Sikorra’s website is www.callingsong.com.
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