To Bryce…

 

“…he was acting strange, talking a mile a minute, and kept asking his mom large questions about life. He wanted to know if she and his brothers would be OK in his absence.”      ~South Florida Sun-Sentinel

In my brand new Amazon bestselling book, A Teen’s Life, I discuss teen suicide to the best of my ability. One of the teens in that book is Damiko, a football player who finds himself on the wrong side of the law, after making some tough decisions to help him deal with life’s curveballs, mainly to help his family. He naturally begins to doubt himself and ends up on the suicide spectrum. This is a not too uncommon thought-process and mindset for most of us when we are feeling overwhelmed, anguished and trapped amongst other things, as life continues to deal (as it likes) with us.

I begin with Damiko’s story because it is what I am calling “real” fiction. Just this week, we saw my fiction imitate real life in none other than Bryce Gowdy, a football star on his way to the top, with a full ride to Georgia Tech. A life cut short by train tracks. A life cut short by suicide.

While reading his story in the news outside the post office a few days ago, I kept yelling “he left signs!” “He left signs!”…repeatedly, as I cried my eyes out.

Yes, that poor kid, my son, our son, left signs all over the place, but unfortunately, those around him did not know them, or did not recognize them, and thus did not act.

Several weeks ago, another Florida teen walked into another pair of train tracks to his death. (“His death contributes to the roughly two teens in Florida who take their lives each week, and is the second in about a month to do so by train”.)

While most news often connect mental illness to majority of suicides, it is unclear if our latest victim of suicide contagion (defined as the process by which the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors within one’s family, one’s peer group, or through media reports of suicide can result in an increase in suicidal behaviors and suicide in persons at risk, usually adolescents), had any issues with mental illness in his past (no diagnosis is stated), what we do see though, is that he suffered from severe mental anguish (aka emotional distress) and despair in his last days. (Despair is defined as a profound and existential hopelessness, helplessness, powerlessness and pessimism about life and the future. Despair is a deep discouragement and loss of faith about one’s ability to find meaning, fulfillment, and happiness.)

This article is not meant to argue about mental illness, and its contribution to suicide, it is, however, meant to showcase the fact that most suicide victims DO suffer severe mental anguish with severe reactive depression (aka situational depression) following significant life’s trauma, which in Bryce’s case was extreme poverty and homelessness. These factors confounded the natural anxiety he was already experiencing about leaving his suffering family and going off to college (college jitters), and the helplessness he felt about his inability to “save his family”.

If you are reading this, then you would agree that it was all a bit much for anyone, let alone a young adolescent.

So why does anyone kill themselves?

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Why did a young gifted and talented athlete do this? The truth is that ultimately, we may never know his real reasons. However, a psychological postmortem would definitely bring in all the above factors and maybe even unearth more.

What role does resiliency (or the lack thereof) play in suicides? Are suicide victims truly weak? Are they truly “quitters”? Like a friend mentioned on a Facebook comment recently. Is it truly easy to end one’s life?

As one who has struggled in my past with suicidal ideations (SI), I know just how hard, overwhelming and lonely that street is. I know that the world looks at you with tinted lenses when you mention that “S” word. I know all the stigma, shame and silence that accompany it. I know no one wants to talk about it. Ironically though, talking about it is just what this doctor orders. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has the #silencekills and #talksaveslives hashtags for this particular reason. We MUST talk about these issues. We must call its name, SUICIDE, so as to take its sting and strength away, or at least diminish them.

*In teens specifically, adolescence brings unique challenges that often confound life’s experiences, so they have a tendency to succumb easier to SI.

IS PATH WARM is a mnemonic used to list the signs of suicidal behavior, but, I am quick to state that in youth like in our young teen, Bryce, signs might not be as organized or as obvious. Simply acting differently from the norm; becoming more agitated, giving away their stuff, asking and verbalizing about death, losing sleep, becoming more reckless, buying a gun, writing a suicide note, becoming suddenly happier, calmer, or simply saying goodbye, etc, could be signs of suicidal behavior. We as parents and as adults around them must be vigilant. The list below is of factors that lead to suicidality in youth, an excerpt from A Teen’s Life.

● A history of bullying ● Relationship issues like breakups ● Previous suicide attempt* ● LGBTQ+ sexual orientation ● Access to lethal weapons in the home ● Behavior problems like ADHD/ADD ● Poverty ● Socioeconomic/sociocultural oppression ● Institutional racism ● Lack of access to treatment and support for mental illness ● Substance Abuse ● Microaggressions like police brutality and racial profiling ● Social Media ● Lack of Support at home and at school ● Suicide in peers and in the community (suicide contagion) *A prior suicide attempt is the strongest risk factor for a suicide death*

Reading the article, it was quite obvious that he was faced with what appeared to be “unsurmountable” life’s challenges to him. If he had only waited a few more days. If he hadn’t had that train track beckoning. If he only knew the future…if, if, if. But, he had no way of seeing the future, he had no way of knowing the outpouring of love from the world to his family following his ultimate sacrifice. He had no way of knowing how much I cried when I read his story. He had no way of knowing that much like his mother, I also have three sons, and I am a Black woman in America, and I care. For him, at that moment, he felt he had used up all his options, and death was the only choice he had…and then there was a means: a train, and a history of a recent teen death by another train.

A brave child who carried the weight of his family’s troubles on his young shoulders. A brave soul who wanted the best for his family. A boy, a teen who actually reached out, but not quite far enough to save him. A young man seeking answers, but finding death in its stead. We preach reach out all the time, the question then becomes, “what if folks reach out and no one responds?”

Apparent unsurmountable life’s challenges, feelings of entrapment, overwhelmedness, helplessness, and hopelessness…these are the ingredients for suicide.

RIP Bryce, you fought the good fight.

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“Parents, please, know the signs of suicidal behavior. Our kids DO leave signs”

~ Dr. Lulu®

 

 

BB

 

 

12 Myths About Suicide

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Dear Blog,

I know I have been neglectful of you, and even somewhat insensitive of your needs, but I have a great reason, I promise you will be so proud of me! I am nearly done with my second book, and my days and nights have been consumed with trying to put the final touches with editing and such, you know how it is…:)

Today, I would like to share a piece of the book with you!

So, first off, the book is called A Teen’s Life. It looks at the lives of 10 different teenagers from across the globe. They are sharing their stories and struggles with me in a Dear Dr. Lulu format. I respond to their letters as best I can, and then I discuss their situations. It is statistics-heavy, it is sad and deep, but it is real. The stories are all real, but fictitious at the same time. It is essentially about youth suicide in a sense, but it is also about life, teen life. I am hoping that it serves as an eye-opener to the struggles of these youth, and hoping its readers (teens, parents, caregivers, the government, everyone) will come away with a better sense of understanding of the plight of teens and some simple but not necessarily easy solutions to tackle them.

Here is an excerpt from it. This is the portion that deals with myths about suicide. I am really proud of this…enjoy!

Before we embark on what we can all do to prevent suicide in our teens and youth, I think it is only proper to discuss some of the myths about suicide that are floating around. Debunking them will help increase awareness of their falsehood and help fill in some critical knowledge gaps.

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  • Suicide is not a real problem; As we all know, suicide is a real problem in our world today, it is now the second leading cause of death in our youth.
  • Asking or talking to your teen about suicide causes suicidal behavior; Talking about suicide not only increases awareness and puts an end to the shame and stigma, but it also helps teens explore other options and keeps open communication lines.
  • The person/family needs more prayers and more Jesus; while having a sense of belonging to a community or spiritual group is always encouraged and actually protective of suicide it does not in of itself prevent suicide. However many suicidal persons have been known to say that when they reached out for help, they were told they were being dramatic and selfish and needed to pray more.
  • Religious persons do not die by suicide; just this past summer we heard about the young American pastor who was active in the mental health arena, who actually lost his life to suicide, there have been many others including a Nigerian pastor as well.
  • Denial: It does not happen to our ethnicity or family (Blacks, Asians); this thought process as we know is erroneous, and Black kids were recently documented as attempting and dying by suicide at a higher rate than other races.
  • Only a professional can identify a child at risk for suicide; one of the reasons for this book and my work in the suicide arena is to increase awareness by educating everyone about the signs so we are all more empowered.
  • Once someone is suicidal, they will always be suicidal; for the most part, suicidal thoughts and behavior are situational and temporary. Most suicidal persons need to know that their feelings can and do pass once they are equipped with the right tools to deal with their thoughts, and have the necessary support they need.
  • Only people with mental illness are suicidal; When I was going through my suicidal stage, I had never been diagnosed with mental illness, I did, however, experience a lot of life challenges which shook my core and caused me to consider myself a failure and not worthy of life. During the financial crisis of 2008, there was a sharp rise in suicides as a result of the enormous financial losses these people had experienced.
  • Most suicides happen suddenly and without warning; we know that 4 out of 5 teens who attempt suicide leave a sign. The decision to suicide is hardly ever a one-off thing, it is usually a culmination of events over time leading to “overwhelmedness”, an inability to cope, and a perceived or real lack of support.
  • Someone who is suicidal wants to die; in all honesty, most suicidal people do not want to die. They simply want their pain, suffering and despair to end. They often feel like they have exhausted all their options and they also have the means to end their lives at that moment.
  • Someone who is threatening suicide is not going to carry it out; I like to say “do not underestimate the power of determination”. We can never be too sure that someone will not carry out their threat. We must, therefore, take every suicide threat seriously. Part of the reason suicide is on the rise is because these people don’t feel they have any support, they feel all alone.
  • People who die by suicide are selfish and taking the easy way out; because these people have been suffering for a while, majority of them actually feel like suicide not only puts an end to their suffering, it also frees them from being a burden. Many suicide attempt survivors say they feel their lives are a burden to those around them.

All in all, suicide is a complex issue, but suicide prevention must be front and center in everyone’s minds in today’s world. To find out more, you will have to wait a couple more weeks for the actual book!

TTYS

BBIMG_0806

 

 

7 Things Your Teens Can Do This Summer (To stay busy and out of trouble)

Dear Blog,

“What time is it? The time of our lives. Anticipation. What time is it?” Summertime. School’s out, scream and SHOUT!” A familiar tune from High School Musical-2.

Yes, it is summer time, and time for our children to come home for a break, as they ascend to the next phase of school. If you are a parent of sons like me, you are dreading the incipient refrigerator raids and perpetually empty pantry as a result of their constant snacking and eating. And just like me, you are also reminded that there is a 2-3 month break between now and next school year, and you are filled with dread about what to do, and how to fill in that time with meaningful activities for them.

Well, worry no more! Here are my tried and tested, no-fail ideas for activities for your teens. I have used these tricks for nearly 10yrs as my sons have transitioned from middle to high school, and now to college. However, my sons are very different, so some of the ideas had to be modified for each child, but for the most part, they worked.

Relax

Since they are often just returning from a stressful school semester or year (whether you are home-schooling or they are in traditional schools) I often allow them to take the first week or two off to de-stress, rest and relax from the drama of school work. This short period of downtime comprises of sleep, eating, more sleep, their assigned housework and whatever else they like to do to entertain themselves. As you can guess, it’s mostly video games to their cell phones, listening to music and back to video games…ugh! Because two of my boys play musical instruments, they are often also rehearsing their various musical instruments.

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We often have dinner together as a family, and just talk. We talk about school, what they learned during the entire year, and simply catch up on each other. No electronics are allowed during this “sacred time”. This is usually the most fun time for me, in particular. I do miss them a lot when they are gone, and even the youngest who is still at home is mostly “gone” during the school year because of his homework obligations, extracurricular activities and an early bedtime. So, we try to enjoy each other this first week.

This is also the time we call grandparents and extended family members to catch up on them.

Self Care

This is something very important to me. As a pediatrician, I always ensure my patients schedule their annual physicals during the summertime when school is out, to avoid missing out on school. The appointments can also be made earlier in lieu of school closing if you like. In addition, the doctor’s offices are not often as busy because most folks are out of town on vacation. This is when you want to schedule them for their vision, their dental, general well-child exams, and get updates on their vaccines and other minor issues that might have come up while they were in school.

Since I have sons, this is also the time to get their own personal hygiene taken care of. They get a nice hair cut for the summer, refill on their allergy medications or any meds at all, and get new clothes if needed for those who have had a growth spurt during the school year. I do realize some parents wait until the end of summer to do the back to school shopping, and that is also fine.

Read a book or two

As an avid reader, this is one activity I don’t compromise on. Luckily, most middle and high schools often have summer reading assigned to the students, and that is a bonus for my children. I require as a rule that my sons read for 2 hrs daily, for every 2 hrs of video games they play! They absolutely hate this, but they still do it. What I often do is, take them along with me to the library or make them go to the library for 2hrs daily. It ends up being fun for them, but not before they have complained a lot. Reading in the summer also helps keep their academic skills going. This way they don’t forget some of the stuff they were taught during the school year.  Summer reading is somewhat more fun because the teens have the freedom to pick whichever book they like to read and read at their own pace. We often block 10am-12noon for reading, that way, we all read together, and it becomes a bonding activity at the same time.

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Finally, they have to do a book report on the books they have read, and we have a day or two set aside to discuss the books them. Once in a while, they want to re-read their old favorites, and I allow them, as long as they read.

Volunteer

For those of you who know me, you know that I am very big on volunteering. It is one of my most enjoyable past times. Teens could volunteer at home, or in a more structure set up like the regional hospital. Helping others, not only builds empathy, but it also builds compassion, mindfulness and a healthy dose of kindness and gratitude, and helps your teens learn the value of giving back to the community. These are a few of the guiding principles I discuss in my brand new Amazon bestseller, “How to Raise Well Rounded Children” available on Amazon or on my website.

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I believe that volunteering not only builds character, it also opens one’s mind up to experiences well beyond their personal imagination, and will ultimately help create a much better world for you and me. If you have not tried volunteering yet, do try it. Register your age-appropriate teens for various volunteering opportunities. Check this list for ideas of places you could all volunteer this summer. Remember, these experiences could also last into their adult years, so go for it.

Get that summer job

Beginning around the age of 13yr in most states in the US, most teens can start working. It could be around the home as babysitters, dogsitters, mowing the lawn, or other odd jobs to get paid by their parents. As they get older, the type and complexity of the jobs change and before you know it, they are older teens working in the corporate world.

I love the idea of teens working for pay, be it minimum wage or more organized pay because it is often their first taste of adulthood. It is also the best way to teach them responsibility, time management, money management, and independence. It is the ideal introduction into their employee or entrepreneurial future. While my eldest son just qualified to drive uber 3days ago when he turned 21yr, he has been holding down 2 jobs at Stanford since his early days as a freshman. Though reluctantly, he worked at Pizza Hut as a young teen, and that helped encourage his immediate younger brother to also seek employment at Pizza Hut in his high school days. Both sons are well versed in money and time management today, thanks to an early work habit. Not to be left out, my 14yr old youngest son was actually employed at his middle school this past school year as a football referee.

The money earned from work can be used for their own personal needs or saved in the bank, invested or used to help out their parents. One thing I made sure I did for each of my sons as soon as they turned 18yr was to open up an investment account for them. The accounts are funded by their own employment earnings. If you are not doing this yet, I strongly suggest you consider it. In all, working as a teen has much more benefits, than not.

Travel

Whether it’s learning a new language by immersion, learning how to save and budget money,  drawing up a functional itinerary, becoming independent and responsible for oneself, or learning about and experiencing different cultures, (foreign) travel is the ultimate way to spend a summer. It could be a study abroad program as part of a college or grade school curriculum, or a family vacation, or simply traveling together with friends. Either way, teens can learn a lot about the world at large by actually experiencing it. They develop critical thinking skills, tolerance for others, communication in foreign languages, and an open-minded world view.

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As a teen, I studied French in high school and got a rare opportunity to travel to Togo, and Benin Republic, two neighboring countries to Nigeria where French is the Lingua Franca. I also got traveled to Germany, the United Kingdom, and Greece as a young adult. All these countries shaped my life and my personality today. More recently, my children and I have visited Canada, The Bahamas, and Mexico. My eldest son toured Europe with the Stanford Orchestra last summer and came back a changed man. He sang praises about Europe and can’t wait to go back when he is older. His brother will sign up for a study abroad program with his Architecture class from Texas Tech next academic year. All three children have visited Nigeria numerous times.

I cannot overemphasize the power of travel to the developing mind. I am almost inclined to declare that “the traveler lives his or her life twice as much; first as themselves, then through the people, they meet in the course of their travels”.

Hang out with their friends

Summertime is a time for reconnection with (old) friends. Your teen should be allowed to travel with or simply hang out with their friends (vetted or not). Good friends balance you out as much as bad friends do, and teens can actually learn a lot about themselves through their friends.

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Case in point: My middle son is already home from college. He asked to go hang out with his friends a few days ago. I let him take the car. He returned within an hour. Puzzled, I enquired about his early return home. He explained that his friends had decided to hang out at the pool and drink alcohol at 5pm in the afternoon! Since he does not drink alcohol, he opted to return home. I was filled with so much pride and admiration for him. He made the right call. The safe call, all on his own. He chose to not hang out with his friends that afternoon because he “knew they were going to eventually get drunk and he did not want to be around them”.

Having friends and feeling connected to a group gives teenagers a sense of belonging and being valued, which helps develop self-esteem and confidence. Friendships also help teenagers learn important social and emotional skills, like being sensitive to other people’s thoughts, feelings, and wellbeing. A teen’s friends can be a powerful influence, positive or negative, and the teen must know when to say no to the negative influences of such friends.

In all, allow your teens to live their lives out loud this summer. You have done most of the hard work, the rest is on them. Remember to listen to words said and unsaid, and in all things, live your best life as a parent, so they can emulate you, their first and most important teacher.

Toodles 🙂

“You become the choices that you make, so choose wisely” ~ Dr. Lulu