It seems as if lately we cannot escape the media captivation with the topic of youth suicide, and more specifically, why it happens. The recent pandemic has stressed that depression and anxiety will be elevated and mental health will be affected by the sudden changes everyone experienced.

Although it is impossible to explain every situation, we feel it is important to share our insight on the issue and why we will continue to fight to be sure no teen feels alone with their depression. Sadly, every school community is impacted by this disease, and we want to make it easier for educators, parents and teens to have conversations about mental health. The biggest mistake people often make in trying to understand suicide is that they look to life circumstances to explain this sometimes impulsive decision; issues such as school, financial troubles, relationship difficulties and family crisis. Although these factors can contribute to someone ultimately making the decision to end their life, life stressors certainly are not the root cause of suicide.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 90% of people who take their life have a diagnosable mental illness, 60% of those being people struggling with depression. In regards to our youth, approximately 15-20% will struggle with depression before adulthood.

Depression is characterized by a chemical imbalance in the brain that impacts our moods, thoughts and behaviors. The best way to explain depression is feeling like you’re trapped inside a burning building. Thoughts of suicide come into the picture when all other exits appear closed off to you, and taking (or ending) your life seems to be the only foreseeable option. Through the eyes of someone struggling with depression the world appears bleak, and without proper support and treatment, you can easily lose hope that life will improve.

It is this exact issue, hope, which helps us to understand the decision to take one’s life. If you have hope, you will try to hold on.  People who take their life don’t want to die; they simply want their pain and suffering to end and haven’t been shown a way out. 

To many of us, it may seem unimaginable that someone could be in so much pain that death seems to be the only viable option. But ask yourself this, as a society, what options do we provide? How often do we talk about depression and mental illness as individuals, in our families, in our schools and communities? How often do we hear that depression is common, can be serious, but is treatable? How often do we hear that if you’re struggling with depression you are not weak and it is certainly not your fault? We need to end the stigma and let those suffering know that there is a way out, that there is hope.

Erika’s Lighthouse is changing that. We encourage open conversations by spreading messages of hope to educators, parents and teens. We offer free resources and are doing our part to end the stigma and Get Depression Out of the Dark.

We want to help trusted adults be there for the young people dealing with this disease in isolation. Even if someone is able to understand that they have a disease, the shame or stigma often keeps them from talking about it and reaching out for help.

So, if spreading hope is how we can prevent suicide, where do we go from here?

Start by educating yourself, your family, your friends and when you’ve gathered enough like-minded individuals, take it a step further into your community through a parent/teacher meeting, school orientation, health class or faculty training. The options are endless. Visit our website to see our resources including the following: 

  • Warning Signs and Symptoms in both English and Spanish
  • Intervention Language for Educators
  • Student Assessment Protocol
  • Sample Immediate Intervention
  • Mental Health Checklist
  • And so much more…

Our philosophy is that anyone who touches a child’s life should understand mental illness, because mental illness will impact our youth more than any other medical issue.

For more information and ideas about how to organize a program for your school or community visit the Erika’s Lighthouse website.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

-Margaret Mead

Author: Lisa Honcharuk, Marketing and Engagement Manager