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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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

  • 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

 

 

…your sister, your kindred in depression.

Dear Blog,

I am Nigerian, your sister, your kindred in depression.
I too have been there, and I was also suicidal.

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Yes, I am a pediatrician, a veteran, a wife, a mom, a sister, friend, daughter, lover of life-life of the party.
But when I was down, none of these titles came to save me.
I felt my whole entire world crashing on me, and I wanted out.
I have three children, but they did not count
I have parents, and siblings, but they did not count,
I had a great enviable Lt. Col job in the USAF, it did not count,
I have a nice house, fancy cars, cool clothes, badass shoes, they didn’t count
Nothing I owned, counted,
I simply wanted out.
I am at a better place now, because someone heard my cry
She heard my voice, she listened,
She acted,
I survived.
And now am here…
Fighting.
Daily, speaking out, making eye contact, hugging one person at a time.
It will be done.
There will be no more suicides, no more hurt, no more pain.

BB

PS: My website dedicated to fighting teen depression and teen suicide, teenalive.com is LIVE, click the link to check it out!

 

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10th day of September 2018…

Dear Blog,

In this special month dedicated to suicide prevention awareness, and on this day particularly assigned for it’s commemoration, I wanted to take a moment to share a brief insight into teen depression and teen suicide from my perspective.

Let’s face it, teens have stressors just like we adults, sometimes more. I know most of us parents think teenage years are full of fun and games and carefree living–I am here to tell you that it is often not as we think. Not only do they have to deal with issues relating to adolescence, like the hormonal and physical body changes that accompany it, they also have to deal with school work big time. This may include dealing with AP classes, preparing for SATs and other standardized tests, taking college prep courses, as well as picking colleges and interviewing. They also may deal with dating and the drama that comes along with that, nuances of peer pressure from classmates, and pressure from coaches and teammates for those that participate in sports and other extracurricular activities like band, cheer-leading, and orchestra. I won’t even begin to mention how we parents have our own unique requirements for teens to either “be grown” or act grown, or how their siblings and other family members all have different opinions on whether the teens are grown or still children. 

Phew! That can make for tough teen years!!

So, now that we all agree that teens do have it rough, the onus is on us as family members and the community (the entire village it takes to raise them) to be more cognizant of that fact and act accordingly.

Amidst all of these teen issues listed above, it is easy for us to miss true signs of depression and or suicidal thoughts in our teens. I, for one, missed the depressive signs in my son who was then 12-year old son, and  was bullied in middle school. That sadness that has persisted for longer than 2 weeks now, might not be as a result of his or her school workload. It might not be as a result of the recent breakup from a dating partner; it might not be stress from their overscheduled life, nor pressure from their teachers or band director.

It might be depression and your teen might be suicidal as well.

Teens might become gradually withdrawn or lose their appetite, they might start losing interest in their normal daily activities or extracurriculars. Suddenly, they may no longer want to participate in competitive sports or they might simply drop out of the swim team. In some of my patients, I often note the spark is gone from their eyes–their air is of melancholy, with ashen faces and poor or no eye contact. They may begin hanging out with the wrong crowd, experimenting with drugs, or worse still, they may drop out of school altogether. Self-harm usually in the form of cutting themselves may also occur, and they often find creative ways to hide the marks and scars. For instance, be wary of the teen who always wears long sleeved sweatshirts or jogging pants in the (hot) summer. If suicidal, they might start giving away their favorite stuff, asking questions about death or asking about suicide. They often wish they are better off dead, and might mention it in passing. In truth they might be trying to reach out for help, but do not know how, or who to turn to. Regardless of the presence of friends and close family members, they might not want anyone they know, to know.

The average teen who is suffering from depression is most likely not going to tell you–their parent.

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Where do you begin?

A family history of depression is sometimes the best place to start when it comes to honing in on our suspicions about our children and their prolonged moodiness. If you have a family history of mental illness, do not ignore it… it could happen to you or your child. Adolescence is often an easy period for symptoms of depression and other mental health issues to arise. Since the teens are already faced with a myriad of other stressors, depression simply slithers in, takes a seat, and gets comfortable.

When in doubt, ask their siblings, friends, or school mates about the behavior or mood of your teen. You will be surprised at the wealth of knowledge they possess. Afterall, they often spend a lot more time with your children than you do. Furthermore, these friends might not know how to approach the topic and might not know who to go to.

Your teens’ teachers and counselors will be another great resource. They are there to help and are often very willing to assist in any capacity.

Note that your child might not tell anyone at all and might even concoct stories to hide the truth. In fact, a patient’s mom recently recounted an instance when her son had told his curious sibling that the family cat had scratched him, in response to his sibling’s inquiry about the strange cuts on his forearms.

I recommend you find a nice neutral place to sit and talk, or a simple walk around the neighborhood, or a nice long drive, or even a picnic. A good ambience might help facilitate the communication on a face-to-face basis with your child. This might be a fruitful exercise if your child will cooperate, unfortunately, most teens really do not want to confide in, nor discuss these issues with their parents, however, it is still worth a try.

A short visit to the health professional, like the family pediatrician, family doctor, counselor or therapist is always a very good decision. They will ask you the proper questions and point you in the right direction to get your teen the appropriate kind of help they need. There are multiple places you can get help for your teen as well as their siblings (because there is often a need for siblings to participate in the treatment sessions in order to adequately understand exactly what is going on) and for yourself as well (especially if there is a family history of depression). These can either be online virtually, as telemedicine, or at your regular doctor’s office.

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#endteendepression

#endteensuicide

#askdoctorlulu

1-800-273-TALK

BB

PS: My website dedicated to fighting teen depression and teen suicide, teenalive.com is LIVE, click the link to check it out!