Navigating our way through the world today takes a lot of work, and while much of it is rewarding, it can oftentimes be frustrating. The demands of difficult work situations, strained personal and interpersonal relationships, geopolitical upheaval, and an uncertain future sometimes lead to feelings of hopelessness and desperation. And that’s for those of us who are adults, who more often than not have experience and support networks to help us work through those issues.

Now throw in wildly fluctuating hormones (for the first time, not the later in life kind) and their attendant body issues, as well as a constantly shifting media landscape – social and otherwise – and you have modern teen life.

Our world is changing at a faster pace today than ever before, and today’s teens are faced with more choices and options than their peers in the past, and the consequences of their decisions have greater uncertainty and a wider potential reach – for themselves and the rest of society – than many of us had to be concerned about.

Which is why it is more important than ever for those of us who are able to, to be the adult in the room – the family room, the classroom, the boardroom – so that fewer of us have to face being there in the emergency room.

Last week, I was fortunate to hear a presentation by Cornerstone Services through Will County Workforce Services on Youth Suicide Awareness. Especially as we continue to hear about tragedies like the Parkland, Florida school shooting, it is important that we are aware of the signs that our teens are struggling and know where to reach out to help them get the help that they need to be healthy. Did you know that suicide is the leading cause of death among 10- to 14-year-olds? Were you aware that in 2015, 47,000 Illinois youths ages 10-19 attempted suicide? 97 of them were successful in their attempts – which is 97 too many! There are many risk factors that can lead to students attempting to harm themselves; being bullied, suffering from depression, and experiencing dating violence carry the greatest risk, especially when in combination.

There are signs that we can watch for, however, that can help us help our youth at risk; we need to particularly pay attention to any expressions of self-harm or occupation with death, as well as watching for withdrawal from friends and family, hopelessness, anxiety, rage, or impulsiveness. One of the best things we can do if we are concerned about any of these in a teen in our lives is to ask if he or she is considering suicide, and we don’t need to worry that introducing the topic will lead to thoughts that weren’t already there. As this video from Mayo Clinic explains, “it doesn’t hurt to ask – it helps.” The link above also provides several resources for getting help, both in cases of emergency and for ongoing care.

While we have seen in the case of the Florida students that many of them will approach tragic situations as an opportunity to effect change, we have also witnessed in this same case that they need our support in accomplishing their goals – especially when some become so sadly aligned against them. One such expression of support was carried out in our backyard as a response to lift up Bolingbrook high school students after last week’s tragic events. Our teens need to know that we are there for them, in good times and in bad, and while these parents’, school officials’, and volunteers’ reaching out was an admirable reaction to a horrific situation, we should also look for ways to build up our communities without needing such a tragic prompt.

PS Did you see that JB Pritzker got both Crain’s Chicago and the Sun Times endorsements this week?  Early voting and vote by mail are now available. The Fountaindale Library will start early voting on Monday March 4th.   Click here for details.