District 204 social workers: Teens' need mental coping skills
Parents in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 who attended a diversity council forum on mental health Thursday night wanted insight into the minds of their kids.
What they got was a warning.
Today's students are talking more on social media about self-injury and they're more frequently expressing thoughts of suicide, social workers at Waubonsie and Neuqua Valley high schools said.
"They're telling us they need something," said Pam Witt, social worker at Neuqua Valley High School.
These cries for help prove students lack the healthy coping skills they need to endure everyday stresses of academics, athletics, activities and future preparation, said Gina Bogin, social worker at Waubonsie Valley High School.
"When we don't let our children fail, when we don't give them a chance to not be first, we don't allow them to build those skills they need to be resilient. It is important that children learn that failure isn't the end of the world," Bogin said. "Sometimes we have to let them feel the pain so they know they'll survive."
Bogin called it a "disturbing trend" that she now hears of a student who is suicidal about once a week, compared with once or twice a semester when she started in 1995.
"It scares me," Bogin said. "It scares me a lot."
Whenever a student expresses thoughts of suicide, social workers notify a parent, provide counseling and suggest treatment and prevention for additional help, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-7255.
To determine if something is going wrong mentally, clinicians encouraged parents to compare their child's behavior to that of his peers and to the child's own past habits.
"We're looking for age-inappropriate struggles like a student not being able to do things they used to be able to do or going back developmental stages," said Susan Myket, a family psychologist in Naperville.
If a teen is moody or doesn't want to talk to Mom or Dad, that could be normal adolescent behavior.
"When it permeates every area, when it gets bigger than you" is when it might be time to call a professional therapist, Witt said.
The panel discussion was hosted by the Parent Diversity Advisory Council as a way to help answer mental health questions posed to the council's leadership, co-chairwoman Saily Joshi said.
"We can't expect our children to learn if they are suffering," no matter if the suffering is mental or physical, Joshi said. "We have to make sure that we do all we can to support it."
• If you or a loved one is in crisis, visit the nearest emergency room, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-7255 or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.