When to Speak Up

In Buzz, November 2022 by Lauren KruchtenLeave a Comment

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There’s been over 500 mass shootings in the U.S. this year alone—an alarming number of which are committed by minors. In the peril of such ubiquitous tragedy, many people are left wondering why? What drives someone to commit such a major act of violence? And what can we do to actually help them—and help prevent the next tragedy? 

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, 46% of parents say their teen (ages 13–18) has shown signs of a new or worsening mental health condition. How this data can escalate played out in our city last month.  Arguably anyone who commits a mass shooting is clearly dealing with a mental health crisis. It’s not enough to simply acknowledge the struggle—how do we start to recognize a crisis before it becomes a tragedy? We sat down with Dr. Barbara-Ann Bybel, director of psychiatric services at UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill and UNC WakeBrook in Raleigh, to discuss what signs to watch for, how you should approach a person in crisis and more.

What are the warning signs a young person is struggling with mental illness? 

Everybody has bad days; it’s more looking for a pattern. You’re definitely looking for changes, maybe with sleeping, changes with appetite or struggling to do schoolwork. 

What if someone is verbalizing self-harm or threats?

If someone’s making statements like, ‘Oh, I might as well just kill myself,’ that really shouldn’t just be shrugged off as teenage drama. That’s not a healthy thing to say, and it really needs to be more deeply explored.

How should you approach a teen you’re concerned about? 

Access to services is hard for everyone, but minors can’t pick up the phone and make their own appointment—they need their parent or guardian to advocate to get them therapy or have them seen by a professional. It’s the most important thing to ask them straight out if they’ve ever felt so upset they thought about hurting themselves—and be totally nonjudgemental, empathic and accepting. You should praise them for talking about it because, unfortunately, there still is so much stigma—a lot of times people are ashamed and don’t want to talk about it and think something’s wrong with them. But there’s nothing to be ashamed of. 

If you think someone is a danger to themselves or someone else, what should you do? 

At school, talk to a guidance counselor or teacher. … For parents, if you’re concerned about one of your child’s friends, reach out to their parents. In an extreme crisis, like your child is actively trying to hurt themselves, call 911 or get them to the ER. 

What are some warning signs of depression in yourself? 

A keyword is hopelessness—or if you’re not feeling joy. If you’re feeling like ‘maybe I used to be happy, but now nothing makes me happy anymore,’ definitely talk to a trusted adult. And there’s a new (free) national suicide hotline: 988.

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