Sunday, September 09, 2007

Giving Sorrow Words

My friend, Mrs. Stevens, often gives me bits of paper on which she has jotted memorable lines. The other day she handed me a Post-It with a line from Macbeth. “I wonder if this might be of use to you with the work that you do,” she said.

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.

The next morning I read in the newspaper that a study by the federal government shows the suicide rate among preteen and young teenage girls has spiked by 76 percent in the past 15 years. The study showed a 10 percent spike in the rates of suicide by people ages 10 to 24 in just one year. I thought of the words on that that yellow Post-It. I thought, too, of the young adults in our new DVD, Depression: True Stories. Two of the three I interviewed had been suicidal. All have recovered, and therapy was key. In therapy, they learned to share their feelings, to “give sorrow words.”

In Depression: True Stories 17- year-old Angie admits she was cutting herself. Her sister Cynthia found out that Angie was injuring herself and took her to a therapist. The connection Angie felt was immediate. “When I first met with my therapist I really just wanted somebody I could talk to and confide in,” Angie says. “That’s really what I wanted all along.”

Within a month, Angie stopped injuring herself and her depression began to lift. Now she uses the skills she learned in therapy. Expressing her emotions in healthy ways helps her to stay well.

I spoke with Mrs. Stevens after reading about the suicide study. Like any loving grandmother, she worries about her grandkids. Girls in our society, she says, are under so much pressure. They feel pressed to achieve socially and academically. They strive to be not one pound over or under a certain weight. They think they have to wear just the right clothes, or not fit in.

Not all girls feel this stress, but Mrs. Stevens is right. The anxiety is high for our kids.

Richard Lieberman who heads up the Los Angeles Public Schools Suicide Prevention program spoke with Greg Bluestein, a reporter for the Associated Press, who wrote an article for The Boston Globe about the new federal study. Lieberman talks about the pressures facing today’s middle school youth.

“They’re kind of all transition kids,” Lieberman says. “These are turbulent times to begin with. The hotline’s been ringing off the hook with middle school kids experimenting with a wide variety of self-injurious behavior, exploring different ways to hurt themselves.”

Not all youth injuring themselves are suicidal. Not all people who are suicidal are depressed. But there are plenty of kids crying for help. We, the adults in their lives – whether parents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, or professionals who work with youth – need to give our kids our time and attention. Kids need the chance to “give sorrow words.” If they can talk it out, maybe they won’t act it out.


Resources
Depression: True Stories
Words Can Work: When Talking About Depression and Other Mental Health Disorders

Related Issues and Answers columns
Bi-polar disorder
Coping with stress

Related columns for young people

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