It's hard to believe that November is almost over. If we look carefully, in the autumn foliage we can see our own mortality: a beauty with a sadness never far away. During our All Souls' Day services, many of us were a bit melancholy, especially as we remembered those we loved who have passed on. Those memories, coupled with the falling of the leaves, the cooling of the air, and the darker days, creates a sort of sadness which is not entirely unwelcome; a sort of somber, slowing-down of the spirit, leaving us much needed time for reflection. In November, each morning, I usually take time to remember and pray for all those we have buried in the past year. Death is never easy nor welcome, but in the days of COVID and all of its restrictions, the depth of loss, in so many cases, is like no other.
At every funeral or memorial service, we try with great tenderness to support families and reinforce the message of hope in the Lord's resurrection. Every gathering that celebrates life is also a reminder to all of us, that we too, one day will join them. This year I am particularly praying for our young people because new studies indicate that many of them are really struggling with anxiety and depression from COVID and the "new normal" that we all face - even to the point of suicide. No community is immune from this reality. Tragically, it has even touched us here in Summit. Psychology Today reported in its September edition that there isn't, but needs to be, an urgency to confronting teen suicide. "The race to find a cure to the COVID-19 pandemic certainly is front and center, but that same sense of urgency does not seem to be evident for the unsettling rise in teen suicide."
The article also notes that new CDC data reveals that almost one in five teens across the nation have seriously considered attempting suicide. Picture a typical high school classroom of 25 students. About five of those students could be thinking about suicide. These numbers are screaming for our attention and response!
Quoting Dr Richard Friedman's New York Times piece, “Why Are Young Americans Killing Themselves?" the article offers some assistance by suggesting the following actions:
Prevent. Create a physically and emotionally safe environment for your teens so that thoughts and behaviors about suicide are less likely to happen in the first place. When teens and those around them have the necessary skills to regulate their emotions, and have opportunities to practice these skills and connect with others through positive relationships, we create a safer environment. Through suicide prevention efforts, we can reduce risk and promote resilience and coping.
Recognize. Be aware of the warning signs of youth suicide. Learning the signs and taking part in mental health awareness campaigns is important, as it ensures that teens have open channels for talking about their emotions. Actions such as these will help us recognize when something is off, while reducing any stigma around seeking help for mental health issues. Every young person needs someone to confide in about their thoughts and feelings.
Respond. Learn to be comfortable supporting those who appear emotionally distressed. #BeThe1To offers five action steps for communicating with someone who may be considering suicide: (1) ask in a non-judgmental and supportive way; (2) be there so they feel connected; (3) keep them safe; (4) help them connect to supports; and (5) follow up to see how they are doing. The Respond step is also about putting additional strategies in place, such as increased regular mental health check-ins, during times of increased stress and reduced coping.
One final thought - the LGBTQ+ teen. In recent years we’ve seen a tragic number of gay teens, ending their own lives after enduring anti-gay bullying. It is reported that suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents, and gay teens are four times more likely than straight teens to attempt suicide. I know that many parents find it difficult for many reasons to discuss sexuality with their teenagers, but discussion is crucial if we want our children to develop healthy self-esteem, embrace their own differences, and understand what is different in others.
This month and beyond, I'm praying that you and all of our teens will always know of God's love for them. I'm praying more that our Church will always be a place where all God's people feel safe and loved, even as we endure our own personal struggles and challenges.
Finally, I pray that this community and all of us who bear the name Catholic Christian will truly be messengers of Christ's Good News, because clearly lives are depending on it!