As many of you know, Youk is a neighbor and a landsman who plays for the Boston Red Sox. What most of you don't know is that Youk also runs a charity called "Hits for Kids" that works with mental health organizations to prevent depression and suicide in children. This morning I had the distinct privilege of attending Strike Out Teen Suicide, a fund raiser for the Riverside Community Care organization.hosts a panel to address the issue of teen suicide where the Red Sox first baseman was the keynote speaker.
In the town next to ours there has been a rash of teen suicides. More than a rash, more like a plague. After the last one, in March of this year, the kids in town and the kids who were off at college got together and formulated a suicide prevention plan. They were tired of watching their classmates die. They had had enough of the hidden depression so prevalent in high school and college. They banded together and promised to watch over each other and to care for each other. They also promised to tell each other when they were off their meds, feeling sad and hopeless, and were in danger of killing themselves. They affiliated themselves in an informal manner with Riverside Community Care, an organization my own family has been involved with for many years,
Riverside provides counseling, psychopharmacology, support groups, family stabilazion, emergency care for mental health patients in a very wide area of eastern MA. It is an organization that sees patients on Medicaid or Medicare, patients with private insurance, and the uninsured. Besides the emergency rooms, Riverside is the only place to call when you have a severe mental health crisis in your home.
Kevin spoke from the heart. He's a young man who has been drastically affected by suicide, not once, but three times. The first was a friend from high school, who killed himself in his sophomore year. The second was his best friend and college roomate, who took his life in their sophomore year at Thanksgiving break. Kevin broke down when talking about his friend and how his death affected Kevin every single day of his life. Youk is an emotional guy, You see that on the ball field as well as off. Cryiing in front of a bunch of mental health workers and supporters must have difficult, but he handled it well, frequently looking at his wife to ground himself,. His talk was moving, especially when he addressed the kids who were all friends of the last suicide victim in town, many of whom were sitting at our table,
He spoke a lot about the kids he sees at baseball camps and clinics and how they are pressured by their parents to try for baseball scholarships, hoping to make the major leagues. He implored parents to stop applying so much pressure on their kids and to let them just have fun. He spoke about the kind of parents that expect not only great grade and test scores, but to be great athletes as well, implying that this kind of pressure often leads kids to feeling like failures if they aren't perfect, These can and are often kids who kill themselves when the pressure of educational perfection, athletic perfection is combined with a romantic relationship that has failed, He said he has seen this over and over again, This kinda freaked me out because I know a kid in this position right now, with a very driven mom who doesn't allow for a lot of down time. I hope this helps her to become more sensitive to the signs of depression.
The statistics of suicide are astounding. More people kill themselves than are murdered in the USA. And yet you don't read about suicide in the paper or see it on TV when it happens, Even in the town where so many suicides have happened, residents didn't know. Because we have such a stigma about mental illness, because depression is now supposed to be cured by a little pill (as if!), and because we are all blind to the warning signs of suicide, it isn't a topic for polite discussion. It should be. EVERY parent of teens needs to talk openly about suicide prevention.
Warning signs that someone may be thinking about or planning to commit suicide include:
- Always talking or thinking about death
- Clinical depression -- deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating -- that gets worse
- Having a "death wish," tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death such as driving fast or running red lights
- Losing interest in things one used to care about
- Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless
- Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will
- Saying things like "it would be better if I wasn't here" or "I want out"
- Sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy
- Talking about suicide or killing one's self
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
Be especially concerned if a person is exhibiting any of these warning signs and has attempted suicide in the past. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, between 20% and 50% of people who commit suicide have had at least one previous attempt.