Advice on mentoring suicidal teen

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    Dec 08, 2011 1:46 AM GMT
    A colleague of mine just told me her son is gay (16 years old) and that he is getting harassed at school, has tried to commit suicide twice and ended up in the hospital. I HAD to say something, so I told her I was gay and that I would want to help out. I am going to try and mentor this teen, but I don't know how to approach the suicide thing. Is there anything more I can say, besides "It gets better"?
  • drypin

    Posts: 1798

    Dec 08, 2011 9:55 AM GMT
    I'm certainly not an expert, but I have gotten the middle-of-the-night calls on two occasions to rush over and prevent someone dear to me from swallowing pills. I have three pieces of advice.

    Be a persistent, steady and particularly active listener... listen without judging, push gently to get him to open up about his feelings, and acknowledge his feelings when he does tell them. He will very likely begin to sound like a broken record at some point, but you'll need the inner strength to be patient about that. Don't start trying to get him to see the "good side" until he gives you some signal that he's open to that. It might be a question about how you see something or what you might do in such a situation. The only promise I would try to get out of him is that he will call you if he's feeling especially low and doesn't know who else to talk to. And I would get that promise out of him during every visit.

    Involve his family in getting professional help. His reaction to the nightmare he's going through can be exacerbated by hormonal imbalance or other physical conditions. At the very least, a professional might be able to alleviate how his body and mind trigger his depression.

    Make sure that YOU have someone to talk to as well. Interacting with depressed individuals can be very draining. They need your constancy, your strength of character, your concentration, your patience. You are, quite literally, the rock they will hold onto so they aren't swept away by the depression. After spending time with him, you will need to vent some of the exhaustion, frustration, and other feelings that arise so that you don't bring it back with you the next time you see him.

    Best of luck to you for doing this courageous thing
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    Dec 09, 2011 1:52 AM GMT
    Thanks for your help. Since he just came out, I think that even 'just being there' will somewhat helpful for him. Luckily he has a really good therapist, so I might just help him feel OK with who he is.

    I think he was doing well until another kid in his school committed suicide last week. It makes me really angry that school administrators aren't doing enough.
  • aj101

    Posts: 1842

    Dec 09, 2011 1:56 AM GMT
    I think the best thing you can do is really just talk with him. Show him how there is a life outside of HS. The it gets better project is a good tool and I think you should introduce him to it. Plan to meet with him more than once as well. Show him that you want to maintain a relationship and that there are people who really do care. Express to him how suicide is a very selfish, terrible way to deal with problems.
  • MikemikeMike

    Posts: 6932

    Dec 09, 2011 11:44 AM GMT
    AssMan123 saidThanks for your help. Since he just came out, I think that even 'just being there' will somewhat helpful for him. Luckily he has a really good therapist, so I might just help him feel OK with who he is.

    I think he was doing well until another kid in his school committed suicide last week. It makes me really angry that school administrators aren't doing enough.


    That ad sucks!! It should tell the truth. It get's worse then it gets better but only if you get control of your life and don't allow others to do so!!!

    Also teach your children to fight and defend themselves if necessaryicon_idea.gif

    In the 60's-late 80's kids dealt with real bullying and the answer was far less suicide. Protect your kids against the outside world including technology.

    This child needs psychological couseling if his answer is suicide. Don't be too quick to jump down the throat of the schools and administrators the anti bullying is stronger now than ever. It starts at home first!! What about when they get out of school gay men are still subject to the same in the streets, work place etc.icon_idea.gif Parents need to give their children the tools to fight back, the same way you teach you children about the dangers of drugs-if you don't they end up dead as well, and that is NOT a schools fault. Parents need to be parents not buddies. They need to be aware of what their kids have going on in thier lives.

    Give them support, but temper your level of involement because he needs professional help!!!! If you say the wrong things you can be faulted and his Mom will turn on you faster than a rabid dog. Encourage her to get her son in a support group led by a professional.
  • MikemikeMike

    Posts: 6932

    Dec 09, 2011 11:52 AM GMT
    You're 28 and not a child. He is and you didn't say if you have training in this?? Be smart use your best judgement!!
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    Dec 09, 2011 12:07 PM GMT
    The best advice I can give is to tell the mother to seek the advice of a professional.

    Do NOT get involved.
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    Dec 09, 2011 12:39 PM GMT
    afaviation101 saidExpress to him how suicide is a very selfish, terrible way to deal with problems.


    DO NOT SAY THAT!!!!!


    Is school the only thing causing his depression and suicidal thoughts?

    Share with him your story of coming out or a friend's story. Listen to him. Make sure he knows that life will not always be this way.
    Have good eye contact and relaxed and open body language.

    And if he tells you anything concerning.... or you notice "red flags" make sure you tell someone... even if you promised to keep it a secret.
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    Dec 09, 2011 1:09 PM GMT
    Check out the Trevor project website
  • bad_wolf

    Posts: 1002

    Dec 09, 2011 1:16 PM GMT
    Suicidal tendencies is often a result of depression and depression, from the cognitive psychological perspective is a cycle of learned helplessness.

    An individual becomes depressed because they see no way out of a situation which upsets them, and that they also see themselves unable to get out of the cycle when an opportunity is presented.

    I don't enough about the situation to help but keep the model in mind and try a cognitive reconstructive therapy approach, take what they know and change it, go down the path of fortifying and altering thought patterns for positive and improved outcomes and take apart any thought patterns with incorrectly lead to a negative effect.

    You'll only know what to say when you speak to him but the above tools will help you when you come across a road block or are lost for ideas.
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    Dec 09, 2011 3:26 PM GMT
    Talk to him about getting into any type of martial arts training. Not so he can fight, but so he can have the mental assertiveness to defend himself when needed. That alone will do more good than any counselor. It will also gain him more respect from the bullies and they'll leave him alone.
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    Dec 09, 2011 3:35 PM GMT
    credoThe best advice I can give is to tell the mother to seek the advice of a professional.


    ^^^ Agreed ^^^

    Trained professionals are the best people to deal with this type of issue. Otherwise, one is not sure when they are helping or hurting. So you could find some references and medical professionals. That is helping out a lot.

    For many people it's that first step that to seek help that is a barrier.
    icon_twisted.gificon_evil.gificon_twisted.gificon_evil.gificon_twisted.gificon_evil.gif
  • a303guy

    Posts: 829

    Dec 09, 2011 3:37 PM GMT
    AssMan123 saidA colleague of mine just told me her son is gay (16 years old) and that he is getting harassed at school, has tried to commit suicide twice and ended up in the hospital. I HAD to say something, so I told her I was gay and that I would want to help out. I am going to try and mentor this teen, but I don't know how to approach the suicide thing. Is there anything more I can say, besides "It gets better"?


    I admire you for not only stepping up, but also willingly outing yourself to someone to help another. That's huge.

    Its good that he is already getting professional help - that takes a lot of burden off of you. What i recommend is what I did a few years back when I was in a similar situation with an aquaintance that was just beginning his journey of coming out - and that is to talk about anything else other than the suicide issue - focus on things that will make him understand that we are a huge community, and that he is not alone.
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    Dec 09, 2011 3:43 PM GMT
    That seems like a lot to take on with no training. I am sure he could use a positive role model to provide an example that high school is -- in fact -- survivable, but I would be cautious about getting in over your head.

    I've reached out to someone I know in STL to see if he knows of any programs that this family might benefit from. Will let you know if I hear anything.
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    Dec 09, 2011 3:48 PM GMT
    drypin saidI'm certainly not an expert, but I have gotten the middle-of-the-night calls on two occasions to rush over and prevent someone dear to me from swallowing pills. I have three pieces of advice.

    Be a persistent, steady and particularly active listener... listen without judging, push gently to get him to open up about his feelings, and acknowledge his feelings when he does tell them. He will very likely begin to sound like a broken record at some point, but you'll need the inner strength to be patient about that. Don't start trying to get him to see the "good side" until he gives you some signal that he's open to that. It might be a question about how you see something or what you might do in such a situation. The only promise I would try to get out of him is that he will call you if he's feeling especially low and doesn't know who else to talk to. And I would get that promise out of him during every visit.

    Involve his family in getting professional help. His reaction to the nightmare he's going through can be exacerbated by hormonal imbalance or other physical conditions. At the very least, a professional might be able to alleviate how his body and mind trigger his depression.

    Make sure that YOU have someone to talk to as well. Interacting with depressed individuals can be very draining. They need your constancy, your strength of character, your concentration, your patience. You are, quite literally, the rock they will hold onto so they aren't swept away by the depression. After spending time with him, you will need to vent some of the exhaustion, frustration, and other feelings that arise so that you don't bring it back with you the next time you see him.

    Best of luck to you for doing this courageous thing
    This. Suicidal tendencies are a symptom of a problem rather than the actual problem itself, so it is going to take quite a bit of time to help him. I wish you the best of luck. My original advice is to spend some quality time with the kid and his dad- show him the beauty of college somehow such as by going to sporting events in general and how the right college can be a refreshing change to the toxic cesspool known as high school. Good luck.
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    Dec 09, 2011 3:55 PM GMT
    AssMan123 saidA colleague of mine just told me her son is gay (16 years old) and that he is getting harassed at school, has tried to commit suicide twice and ended up in the hospital. I HAD to say something, so I told her I was gay and that I would want to help out. I am going to try and mentor this teen, but I don't know how to approach the suicide thing. Is there anything more I can say, besides "It gets better"?


    First, talk with a professional and get him some counseling.

    Second, ask him if he wants to go to a different school. I think sometimes adults fail to appreciate just how much the high school and peer environment defines a teenager's world. At a point where a kid is attempting suicide, sitting on our hands and "working with the school" is not the solution. My sense is that he needs to be placed in a different peer environment, and pronto.
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    Dec 09, 2011 3:56 PM GMT
    This is what he came back with: http://www.growingamericanyouth.org/

    Growing American Youth is a social support organization for youth who live near St. Louis and who are 21 and under and may identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity. Growing American Youth has been serving St. Louis area youth for 30 years.
  • gumbosolo

    Posts: 382

    Dec 09, 2011 4:38 PM GMT
    Amazing that you're doing this. I've been the coming out counselor for some kids before and there can be a mourning process for what was, especially for someone who doesn't know much about gay life. He may or may not ask for it, but I'd be ready to answer a lot of basic questions about what it means to be gay; "Don't you have any diseases?" sticks out as the most shocking and the most demonstrative of how much this particular kid didn't know. If he doesn't have gay friends or family members, then it's likely that a big part of his education has been the negative stereotypes of others, and re-education, like coming out, can be very hard but ultimately a relief. He may say some really offensive things; just remember he's probably heard them somewhere else.

    What he needs will really depend on what kind of kid he is. While you're always there to listen before talking, I'd try to come ready with the names and stories of some prominent LGBTs, a good grasp on my own coming out story, a list of local organizations (does his school have a GSA? If you're in an urban area there might be a non-school-affiliated support group, which can sometimes be preferable since it gets them out of the familiar school context), and some gay-positive examples of whatever it is he likes. If he's a jock type or wants to be, some out athletes are good to know; if he's more bookish, David Levithan and Alex Sanchez are a couple of very good gay-positive YA writers; and so on down the list. Basically come in with a lot of knowledge and be ready to improvise, because all or none of it may end up being useful.

    The last problem I'm going to mention may or may not affect him at all, but some kids, especially those without a lot of friends, will get nostalgic for the closet, since being out places them in such a vulnerable position. My go-to response when that happens is to ask what things were like before, and particularly what it felt like to keep a secret. This brings back more specific memories and helps him see how far he's come.

    Best of luck and keep this thread going! Let us know how it proceeds.
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    Dec 09, 2011 9:09 PM GMT
    You guys are great! Thank you for all your responses.

    Just for some background. My first reaction to hearing his story was - get him out of this school/environment. His mother says she offered and that he doesn't want to, since that is where his friends/support are.

    Also, I just wanted you all to know that he is seeing a psychiatrist on a regular basis for his depression, and related issues, so I'm not trying to duplicate/replace that.

    I want to show him reasons why he should be proud, and things to look forward to doing. I'm thinking he needs a good group of gay friends his age, since I don't believe he has any. Maybe my most meaningful purpose would be to just facilitate that. Although I'm not ancient, I think having peer support from young men and women his age will be extremely helpful. So maybe my next step is to try and get him more active in this way.

    I'm definitely going to try see if he will go to Growing American Youth (http://www.growingamericanyouth.org).

    I found out I'm not very well-versed in gay history and I don't really know too many gay figures. I will definitely need to learn a bit, too.

    I will keep you updated.
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    Dec 09, 2011 9:12 PM GMT
    I'd say just talk to him about life, his interests. Don't focus too much on the suicide topic. Show the kid that there is more to life and once he is out of high school everything changes.

    I find it kind of bad to talk about suicide as you keep it in their minds longer and give them more time to think about it. Talk to him and show him the brighter happier sides of life.

    Fcous on his strengths and boost his confidence and self-esteem.
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    Dec 09, 2011 9:25 PM GMT
    AssMan123 said

    I found out I'm not very well-versed in gay history and I don't really know too many gay figures. I will definitely need to learn a bit, too.

    I will keep you updated.


    Couple of more things:

    Is he athletic and/or a sports fan? There is an awesome British football figure named Ben Cohen who has been touring the country talking about homophobia in sports. Also I found a blog written by three out gay young athletes.

    Don't know if they or you are religious at all but if you think an affirming clergy person or faith community would help I can make a referral in that area.