Talking about mental health is always difficult, but teens and parents gathered at Pleasantville High School last week to learn the warning signs of someone in need and how to provide support.
The forum, organized by Pleasantville STRONG and the Break the Hold Foundation, aimed to equip graduating seniors with critical knowledge and skills for their upcoming transition to newfound independence once they graduate.
Colleen Griffin-Wagner, a former village trustee and residential director at St. Christopher’s School in Dobbs Ferry, led the informational forum where she provided the audience with a detailed presentation about the risk factors, preventative measures and the signs and symptoms associated with mental illness.
“Kids are in danger. Kids are suffering. We want families, friends to reach out and understand what they’re going through and recognize warning signs,” said Brian Halloran, co-founder of the Break the Hold Foundation. “You’re not expected to solve all the problems, but we’re trying to reduce the stigma, raise the awareness, raise the volume.”
With between one in every four to five youths meeting the criteria for a lifetime mental disorder, Griffin-Wagner said warning signs and risk factors could emerge from a traumatic event, ongoing stress and anxiety, learned behavior, a brain injury, seasonal change or substance misuse.
She advised monitoring the impact of change when they observe a shift in a friend’s attitude. A depressed mood, unrealistic activity, low-self-esteem, helplessness, lack of emotion, withdrawal, sleep changes, lack of motivation and hopelessness are possible symptoms that could warrant medical attention.
“If someone says to you that they are helpless or hopeless that should be a huge red flag,” Griffin-Wagner said at the June 7 forum. “Somebody writes that, puts it in a letter, posts it on social media, hopeless isn’t a word that people use.”
She encouraged those in attendance to assess for risk of suicide or harm, listen openly and compassionately, be genuine and respectful, provide reassurance and suggest appropriate help when someone is in need.
“If somebody we care about is hurting, we need to help them,” Griffin-Wagner said. “And we may only be the start of the help and that’s an important thing to remember too, that you may be the one person who develops the platform by which this person gets all the help they need just by listening or taking them to the nurse.”
She also stressed the importance of providing hope, adding that it’s something people don’t practice enough.
“We’ve had several tragedies in this little tiny town and it’s not going to go away by itself,” she said. “If someone has a mental illness, just like if someone had a heart condition or diabetes, it’s not going to go away without help. We look at mental health as a weakness and we really have to change that.”
Griffin-Wagner said she wanted attendees to leave knowing that everyone can get better, suicide must never be a secret and there’s a vast amount of treatment programs available for those in need.
“There is so much treatment out there and so much help out there that everyone can get better,” Griffin-Wagner said. “What we need to make sure we do is if we see something or we feel something we help them get the help that they need.”
For those in need of help, particularly teens and young adults, contact the JED Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting their emotional health and preventing suicide at www.jedfoundation.org/help. There is also the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).