Sam Chaney walked up to the quiet car in the dark.
It was a place by the lake frequented by teens for romantic interludes, or beer drinking. This car was dark. Silent. But running. He tapped on the window with a bit of anxiety. He’d just been reading about the teen suicide epidemic this morning.
“Hello – Metro police! Open the door please…”
Tap tap tap…”Open up!”
Sam stepped back and looked at the car. Only then did he see the rags stuffed into the exhaust.
After trying to open the door, Sam used his baton to break the glass. The choking odor of exhaust wafted into his face. Carbon monoxide…
Inside the car he saw the lifeless bodies of four teenagers. One looked to be no older than 14.
Immediately he called for emergency personnel and then pulled each body out onto the ground in the fresh air.
One by one he checked their pulses. Nothing.
Instinctively, he did 15 chest compressions, then breathed twice into the mouth of each one. Then 15 more.
After the first one, he moved on to the next, then to the next. Their bodies were cold.
What is Causing the Teen Suicide Epidemic?
The suicide rate in teenagers has increased 56% since 2007. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) And even though the homicide rate in teens decreased 23% between 2007 and 2014, it increased again 18% between 2014 and 2017. Even so, the suicide rate has now surpassed the homicide rate in teenagers.
Suicide deaths in teens are also higher than accidental deaths such as transportation crashes or drug overdoses. These accidents represent the 3rd leading cause of death in people aged 10-24. But suicide has risen to the 2nd leading cause of death in teenagers.
We don’t really know. There are so many reasons. So many factors. Depression rates in children and teens have increased; in fact, they’ve increased across all age groups. Increased drug use has led to increased overdoses, too.
But a big factor seems to be embedded in the dramatic increase of social media use among this age group. This is a generation who has cut their teeth on facebook, instagram, and pinterest. Add to that Yelp, where they feel free to blast a restaurant with criticism every time they eat, just for the sport of it.
A Forum for Speaking One’s Mind – Uncensored and Unsupervised
In short, social media has allowed them to speak their mind, which isn’t necessarily bad. But to speak it without a filter aimed at diplomacy or compassion. We all know it’s easier to say something critical in writing than face to face. And during the teen years, insecurity is often considered hidden by cruelty to others.
Because of this un-squelched form of communication, privacy has taken a hit, too. A middle schooler catches someone in an awkward situation and sends the photo or video to his contact list. In seconds, a fragile, shy, insecure 13 year-old is publicly humiliated with nowhere to hide.
Darwin’s theory about the survival of the fittest is reduced to survival of the ones who dish out the most cruelty without falling prey to the same treatment.
For a child or teenager, the teen suicide epidemic seems daunting and intimidating. Her life experience or capacity to cope with such public shame is painfully limited, if not utterly lacking. And the under-developed prefrontal cortex in her brain prevents her ability to see such a crisis in the “big picture,” –that is, the idea that this too shall pass. Impulsivity can then win out …with a decision so permanent that all that’s left is the grieving.
Far too many of the children and teens who have taken their lives, had been reporting bullying. When circumstances didn’t change, they seemed to feel it was left up to them to stand against the assaults and onslaughts by themselves. And eventually, they may have become weary.
Chronic Stress Causes Pruning of Signaling Structures = Depression
We know what chronic stress does to the circuitry in the brain. Eventually, the synapses break down, dendrites become pruned…and depression ensues.
So a depressed person is more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts…images… and even action.
And there’s another factor.
Too often, as teens become depressed, they grow silent. They withdraw.
At Herriman High School in Utah, a total of 6 students ended their lives in a single year.
After each successive death occurred, the teachers, administrative staff, and parents became increasingly desperate to do something to prevent more.
The students, as well, experienced increased anxiety, overwhelm, and concern that students around them were suffering but no one knew who was at risk.
Parents Seek Answers for the Teen Suicide Epidemic
Parents spoke of the need to teach their children to talk about their feelings, and how things are going, from an early age. The mother of a boy who died said that she had no idea her son was struggling. She just thought he was being a normal teenager. She said, “We need to give them the ability to talk! And I think we’ve missed that along the way.”
As a result, both students and administration initiated programs to help everyone cope with their own anxiety and grief, and to also encourage everyone to reach out to anyone who seemed to be alone, isolated, or struggling.
In this atmosphere of tragedy, communication became a key focus. Since the parents of some who died recalled that their child had seemed withdrawn, spending long hours alone and talking very little, the students and staff learned to watch for withdrawal in any student. They developed a code: QPR. Similar to CPR, QPR is specific for saving the life of someone who’s suicidal.
Q stands for Question. They realized that people who are struggling may wish they could talk to someone, but maybe they don’t know what to say. In fact, they may not realize they’re struggling as much as feeling “off.” So the strategy they developed is to be bold enough to ask questions.
“Hi, would you like to sit with us?”
“How are you…?”
“You don’t seem to be feeling very well. Do you want to talk about it?”
“Are you at a point that you’re going to harm yourself?”
For teenagers, who struggle to talk at all, this initiative requires a brutal bravery, but as they weigh the awkwardness against the loss of life, they find they can push past the nervousness, and just ask.
P stands for Persuade. It means pushing through your own feelings to focus on the feelings of another. Then persuading that person to trust you enough to accept your invitation…answer your questions…consider solutions…
R stands for Refer. Part of the P in Persuade includes persuading the person to accept help and treatment: the solutions. It means including parents, the school counselor, and outside psychiatric help, as well.
Students refer to QPR as a useful tool for fighting the teen suicide epidemic and also for the helplessness they’ve felt as they’ve heard the announcement of each student who died. They feel armed with a way to help stop the deaths, and to know they’re doing something.
Joining Forces to Save Lives
Just as this high school pulled together to close the gap between hurting teens and everyone else, we can do the same.
To approach those who seem to struggle and dare to get your hands dirty. Dare to ask the questions. Then listen. Then work together with them to help them get treatment and to be safe.
Lots of Help is Available
But start with a comprehensive psychiatric — find the best doctor you can to do the best job they can to pull together all the pieces, all the stressors, all the symptoms. To diagnose and to offer treatment — rapidly.
And to present options and reasonable choices for treatment, the evidence for each, and the speed of response: medications, different talk therapies, TMS, and IV ketamine.
Speed is critical if you’re trying to save a life.
IV Ketamine Treatment works fast to Restore Brain Circuitry
So often, anguish is missed. Overlooked. Or it just doesn’t lift even with the first or second (or third) thing you’ve tried.
We see the end-results of anguish every day when everything breaks down: depression, anxiety, self-loathing, withdrawl. Loss of interest. Loss of eye contact. You don’t even smile anymore. (Or when you do, it’s phony.)
If you feel like this, or if someone you love feels like this, if treatment isn’t working, know that there is hope. You can feel better, you can repair and rebuild the circuitry that will allow that. And it can happen fast.
We know, because we’ve published our own results in a peer-reviewed journal.
IV ketamine treatment specializes in rebuilding broken down dendrites and dendritic spines — it turns on mRNA to switch on DNA to turbo-boost Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) and those dendrites and synapses just explode in new growth. Repairing and restoring the circuitry, and giving you joy, initiative, motivation, energy, … and hope.
Once repair gets underway, your brain can transmit signals along those repaired and restored pathways. Your brain lights up, and your eyes light up with it.
There are solutions.
And even if your insurance doesn’t cover this extraordinary treatment yet, there is financing to help you pay for it. And there are voices clamoring for it to be covered because it can stop suicidal thinking. It can turn around that trip to the ER and make it unnecessary. It can help avoid the need for hospitalization.
Not always. But most of the time.
We’ll work with you, your doctor, your therapist, and your family, to help you feel better, function better, and really enjoy the details of your life again. If it’s been a really long time since you felt that way, you’re probably going to be astounded. Because the longer you’ve been ill without relief, and the more severe your symptoms are, the better IV ketamine treatment may work for you. It’s funny that way. It’s a bit of a show-off.
Let us help you find yourself, your creativity, and your heart again.
To the restoration of your best self,
Lori Calabrese, M.D.