Louise Stanger is a speaker, educator, licensed clinician, social worker, certified daring way facilitator and interventionist who uses an invitational intervention approach to work with complicated mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain and process addiction clients.
The Grammys took a somber turn Sunday night when DJ Logic, sporting a hoodie with the digits 1-800-273-8255 emblazoned across the front, spoke out about equality and shed light on mental health and depression. Turns out the number on the hoodie is a hotline for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
If you listen to the lyrics, nominated for Song of the Year, thoughts of suicide cloud his mind until it turns to hope and a desire to live. In fact, the song became a smash hit single, reaching number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and transcended its pop roots, reports the LA Times. “The Lifeline went up between 30% to 50% after its video went viral, and Logic is using his moment on the Grammys stage to make a powerful statement.”
And fortunately that statement is reaching millions of fans, many of whom are teenagers and young adults struggling with mental health issues, a topic which took center stage at the show on Sunday. Maybe now is the time. A recent Time cover story reported that 3 million teenagers experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year, a jump of 37% from 2005 to 2014, and in the past two years 6.3 million teenagers have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. In total, 20% of all American adolescents struggle with depression at one point by the time they reach adulthood.
As I have written about teen depression before, at the heart of the struggle is identity formation. The famous behavioral healthcare thought leader, Erik Erikson, firmly documented the existential turbulence that comes with forging an identity beset in a digital world. Teens in every corner of the country – private and public school, dropout and home-school – wrestle with big identity questions like who am I, what am I going to do, and what career might I choose. They also navigate relationships, gender identity, and finding their place in the world.
That artists like Logic and Kesha – who performed her Grammy-nominated song “Praying” – adding a voice to the Times Up and #MeToo Movement, are speaking to the issues is a huge step forward. It’s not that these topics aren’t prevalent, it’s that teens don’t always know how to talk about them or how to get help. “Songs like Logic’s might be one way to help that message [i.e. mental health] reach young people and music fans who see a stigma around mental health treatment.”
But removing stigma is only the first step. The message has to lift the veil and offer real action. “There’s a difference between suicide awareness and suicide prevention. It’s very easy to glamorize it and get the message wrong,” said Jonathan Draper, a suicide prevention expert interviewed by the LA Times. “Art can connect people with suffering, but there has to be hope on the other side. It doesn’t have to end in tragedy if you give people an action step.”
Logic gets the message right. “[He] is a great example of how to own your own struggles and destigmatize them,” said Adam Leventhal, the director of USC’s Health, Emotion & Addiction Laboratory. “Some music can glamorize addiction and substance abuse. There’s a difference between speaking out about your troubles and glamorizing that lifestyle.”
Finally, though the trends of rising mental health issues amongst our youth are cause for concern, the last step after building awareness and being mindful is to be an advocate for suicide prevention. It begins with being cognizant of the signs a teenager may be experiencing depression. According to the Help Guide, an online resource for behavioral health information, here are some general signs to look for:
Constantly feeling irritable, angry or sad.
Nothing seems fun anymore and you don’t see the point in trying.
You feel bad about yourself, like you are helpless and hopeless.
Your sleep schedule is off – too much or not enough.
You have frequent headaches or other unexplained physical problems.
You regularly cry.
Your weight fluctuates.
You can’t concentrate and your grades suffer.
You have thoughts of suicide.
If you or a fellow teen is experiencing depression, talk to an adult you trust. Sharing one’s feelings will help you feel better. Then it’s time to take active steps that will curb depressive feelings. Exercise and physical activity release endorphins which combat negative thoughts and feelings. You should also limit your social media usage and don’t rely on drugs and alcohol to escape the negative feelings as they make depression worse. Finally, get plenty of rest.
For parents, Fadi Haddad, a psychiatrist and co-author of Helping Kids in Crisis, suggests ways parents can help their child struggling with a mental health issue from anxiety and depression. Haddad says it starts with validating their teenage son or daughter’s feelings. Too often mental health issues are stigmatized in our social climates. Stripping away judgment and underscoring validation, parents are encouraged to not only talk to their children about sports and grades, but also about the real stuff that teens deal with in a new social terrain completely foreign to their parent’s generation.
Here are some more tips for parents to help their teenaged son or daughter who is experiencing depression:
Watch for the red flags discussed above.
Find quality time each day for face-to-face communication.
Focus on listening (and avoid lecturing).
Encourage your son or daughter to spend time with friends and family.
Encourage plenty of sleep and exercise.
Haddad also suggests finding counseling for the whole family. Often times when a teen is in crisis, it takes a change within the family dynamic to heal wounds. The solidarity of family standing together will teach your child they’re not alone. And for artists like Logic and Kesha who are using their platform to educate and destigmatize the public about issues like mental health, we’re listening.
Living in LA and West Hollywood in particular there are several top notch organizations which deal directly with Suicide Prevention:
Teen Line – Operating out of the basement of Cedars Sinai Hospital in a donated space, this is the largest teen line hotline in the USA. Visit the website here.
The Trevor Project – One of the largest LGBT outreach hotlines in the US with centers in NYC and Los Angeles. Visit here.
Matthew Silverman Foundation, a public charity dedicated to raising awareness with the goals of preventing suicide and saving lives.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Dr. Lauren Walton ASAM APA President. The leading national not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The lifeline featured in Logic’s song – offers free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources.
If you are worried about a loved one, help is just a phone call away. Feel free to reach out with any other questions.
To learn more about Louise Stanger and her interventions and other resources, visit her website.