Seeking H-E-L-P for teen suicide prevention

Written by Paige Mayhew
Published on February 25, 2020

Back in the 1970s, a cult leader emerged who radicalized a small community of people and convinced them that the only way to ultimately revolutionize their cause was by means of mass suicide. Jim Jones. The Guyana Tragedy at Jonestown. 

Maybe you remember this horrific story? 

As a young girl, this was my first real memory of suicide. It seemed bizarre (because it was) and scary. I am not sure I had the cognitive or emotional skills necessary to make sense of it at the time, but, as I grew a bit older, I do remember asking myself, “How could he convince all those people to kill themselves?” 

The answer to that question has been well reviewed and documented over the years. 

Whispers from the Enemy

As believers, we know the same enemy who whispered to Jim Jones and his followers is now whispering to our generation. And his tactics really haven’t changed much: strip people of hope; lie about the future; infuse with despair; isolate; offer counterfeit solutions. 

We have been told this is his modus operandi by a very reliable source. God’s word states: 

  • “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10) 
  • He is “the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). 
  • He is described as one who is the “tempter” (Mark 1:13). 
  • He is known to “disguise himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). 

And, to really give us a clear picture of the evil one, John 8:44 states, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Glamorizing suicide

When I look around at how he is deceiving our culture today, I feel so angry. 

In one of the most disturbing moments of research for suicide prevention, I was overwhelmed with sadness at seeing an article that lists top songs to “soundtrack your suicide.” 

Are you kidding? Instructions on making a mixtape for my suicide? 

How terrible that our culture would allow this to be written much less readily available to our impressionable and hurting young people. 

Hollywood certainly chimes in with their own worldview, including the most recent remake of A Star Is Born. The music and the acting might be fantastic. But to visually portray the method of suicide and to falsely communicate anything generous or positive coming from one’s suicide is irresponsible at best.

Netflix is certainly on the frontlines of this culture war with 13 Reasons Why. I have personally chosen not to watch the series. But it is my understanding that the show’s producers believe it to be positive in purpose by highlighting an anti-bullying message and an awareness of teen suicide and mental health issues. Sadly, statistics show a surge in teen suicide since the show aired in 2017

If you are like many parents, the reality of this culture war can feel overwhelming. So, what can we do? How can we help our kids and help each other? 

Volumes have been written on this sensitive topic. But, for the immediate moment, let’s look at a few key areas of focus using the acronym HELP to guide our actions.

H-E-L-P for suicide prevention

H: Hope.

The enemy wants us hopeless. But we need to remind our kids and ourselves that JESUS is our HOPE. 

He has promised to go before us. He has promised to be with us. He has promised not to leave us. In Isaiah 43:2, he states, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

In Counseling Through Your Bible Handbook, June Hunt gives a beautiful description of this hope anchored in Christ. With Jesus, we can have contentment, courage, confidence, cheerfulness, and comfort. We would serve our hearts well by voicing this hope out loud. Read those passages of Scripture that emphasize hope amid struggle. 

E: Engage in tough conversations.

Ask those hard questions: 

  • “Have you ever thought about suicide?”
  • “How are you coping with the pain of that death, that loss, that feeling of rejection?”

Parents: do not be afraid to ask these questions. 

When our kids are hurting, they desperately want someone (or something) to help ease the pain. They need to know they are seen and that they matter. Talk about choices and consequences and the struggles of life.

Talk about your own struggles and the faithfulness of God through them. Relationships are a beautiful design of our Creator. Your teen might be under the false assumption that you can’t relate because you have forgotten or have neglected to share your own story of mistakes, hurts and redemption. Our kids need hope, so don’t be afraid to be real!

If there is any history of suicide in your family or in close circles, do not be afraid to talk openly about it. This past suicide can sometimes give “permission” for any future suicides. Some people falsely believe, “Oh, it’s in my family” and resign that somehow that makes it OK. This is a lie and needs to be dispelled by the truth of God’s word. 

L: Learn to see and hear the signs.

  • Have you seen a decline in grades, eating, and/or sleeping? 
  • Is there a lack of interest in the future or in friendships? 
  • Is there an increase in mood swings, anger outbursts, or tears? 
  • Have you noticed any self-harm or cutting? (Or a change in clothing to cover up cutting?) 
  • Are you aware of alcohol or drug use? 
  • Have you seen any changes in social media usage or text conversations?

Be ALERT! In 1 Peter 5:8, Scripture calls us to “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 

Parents, we have got to parent. Maybe we need to ask ourselves some hard questions: 

  • “Where have I gotten lazy or complacent in my parenting?” 
  • “Do I need to check those social media accounts on a more regular basis (or start checking them?)” 
  • “Where are my blind spots?”

Maybe we should pray, “Lord, show me where my kids need me. Lord, show me where I am naïve. Lord, show me where I am prideful, which keeps me from seeing what is really going on.” 

And then maybe we need to ask, “Where can I take action?” 

Do you need to remove any social media or place parental controls on Netflix or other media outlets? Do you need to find a stronger voice and sign petitions or write letters to help in the counterculture war? 

Again, pray: “Lord, show me. Help me to walk in your ways.”

P: Promise me.

Research has found that an effective way of preventing many suicides is to engage in a “contract of life.” As awkward as it might seem, get your child to promise to contact you or someone they trust when they are thinking of any self-harm. Have your child or friend promise out loud to contact you when despair sets in. 

This simple statement can be effective: “I promise I will contact you if I am feeling hopeless or like I want to hurt myself.” 

Get them to promise to communicate in some way (text, email, call) that they need help. Maybe it’s a code word or phrase. Find what works for your student and then assure them you care and are willing to help. 

As we have already mentioned, do not be afraid to engage in these conversations. Make a list (if necessary) of people your child would be willing to call in need, including the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Yes, the reality of this topic can feel so scary. The Enemy wants us living and reacting in fear as parents. He wants us distracted, duped, and paralyzed. 

My encouragement to all of us is to refrain from drinking any of his Kool-Aid. 

Stop believing his lies and start living in victory by faith. 

Live perfectly imperfect

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Paige Mayhew

Paige Mayhew is a licensed professional counselor.
She is currently staying home to enjoy and manage her household of men. She and her husband, Haynie, have been married for twenty-one years and have three teenage boys: Chaz, Luke, and Trey.
The Mayhews have also been Shepherds of a Bible Fellowship class at their church for sixteen years. Paige has also served on the board of trustees at Prestonwood Christian Academy, where her boys attend school.
She loves to volunteer (mostly for the relationships!), and she is passionate about using her spiritual gifts and encouraging others to understand and use theirs.
Paige is grateful for the moments to exercise the joy of writing.

Read more about Paige

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