Mental health help available for teens at risk

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee mother who took to social media on May 16 to tell others about her daughter’s suicide attempt is doing the right thing, according to Tykes & Teens CEO and children’s mental health expert Jeff Shearer, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

Tykes & Teens provides counseling services at schools in Okeechobee County.

The mother, whose daughter was part of suicide pact with four other teens, is encouraging parents to talk to their children about suicide, and encouraging teens to tell someone if a friend is talking about taking his or her own life.

On Mother’s Day, alerted to the situation by someone who saw the girl cut her wrists live on social media, an Okeechobee County Sheriff’ Office deputy got to the home in time for the girl’s life to be saved. The parents, who had just been talking to and even laughing with their daughter a few minutes earlier, had no idea that she was in the bathroom trying to take her own life.

OCSO was also able to warn the parents of the other four children in the suicide pact before any of them attempted self harm.

“Suicide pacts are very unusual,” said Mr. Shearer. “Most of the time suicides are about a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. A suicide pact is much more about connection.”

He said those in a pact experience a sense of belonging when they make that level of commitment.

It’s not unusual for only one person in the suicide pact to actually follow through, he added.

“Thank goodness she put it on social media where people were able to speak up about it in time to save her life,” he said.

Mr. Shearer said he saw the mother’s video and understands that before the suicide attempt, the 15-year-old did not show any of the warning signs.

“Most of the time, kids do talk about killing themselves,” he said. “We need to take that seriously.

“Teenagers see what is happening right now as the end all and be all,” he continued. When they are in pain, they do not see an end in sight.

“As adults, we need to reassure them it will get better,” he said.

Mr. Shearer said the timing of the suicide pact and this week’s release of the second season of “13 Reasons Why” on Netflix is disturbing. In the first season, the teen kills herself by slicing her wrists in the bathroom, just as the Okeechobee teen attempted to do on Sunday, he said. That’s actually an unusual thing for teens he explained; statistically, less than 5 percent of teen suicides cut their wrists.

Like many other mental health professionals who have voiced opinions about the program, Mr. Shearer said he thinks “13 Reasons Why” glamorizes teen suicide and could result in a “contagion effect” among young people at an impressionable age.

He said he doesn’t know if the Okeechobee girl ever saw the show, but added that it is a very disturbing series.

He encourages parents to talk to their children about teen suicide and about the Netflix series. If the children want to watch the program, the parents should watch it with them, he said.

“You can’t just tell them not to watch it,” he said, noting that most teenagers have access to the Internet outside their homes, and a parental ban will just make the program more attractive to the teen.

“I would watch it with them and have that conservation with them,” he continued. “Talk about the potential solutions she (the main character) could have used.”

Teenagers may feel that suicide is the only answer to their problems, when in fact there are many other answers, he said. “In the first series, there are multiple people she could have asked for help.”

Mr. Shearer said since 2012 the suicide rate has risen in the young adult population. Studies have shown a connection to smart phones and use of social media to the increase in suicides, he explained. When a teenager feels isolated, and turns to social media to feel a connection, it puts the teen at risk. If others on social media turn against them, it can be brutal.

Mental health help is available for teens and children through the Okeechobee County School System, he said. Tykes & Teens has counselors in all of the schools except North Elementary and South Elementary. Those two schools did not have available office space, so students from those schools are referred to programs at nearby schools, he explained.
He said a parent or a student can contact the school guidance counselor for a referral.
The program is funded through health insurance (deductibles are waived), Medicaid, the Healthy Kids program, the Okeechobee Children’s Services Council and private donations.

During the summer, the counseling services will continue to be offered at the schools.

Those not already in counseling can call Tykes & Teens at 772-220-3439 for a referral.

Mental health services for children are also offered in Okeechobee County by Suncoast Mental Health Center. Suncoast offers evaluations, comprehensive assessments, psychiatric services, case management and therapy. They have an office in Okeechobee, at 408 N.W. Third St. For more information, call 863-824-0300.

Legacy Behavioral Health Center, Inc. is a community mental health center that has been serving residents of Martin, Okeechobee, St. Lucie, Indian River and Palm Beach counties since 2005. Legacy is committed to improving the quality of life and level of performance of emotionally and behaviorally challenged children, adolescents, families and adults through an array of diverse services. For more information, call 1-888-975-3422.

Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel Stephen is asking everyone to speak up and call for help if they think someone is in danger. Don’t assume someone else will call, he advised.

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