I'm not a Psychiatrist or any kind of mental health professional. I am a mother and a Yoga teacher for teenagers and children. I love kids of all ages. I am so disturbed by a study presented today at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting. The study shows that the number of teenagers attempting suicide or with suicidal thoughts has doubled in the last decade.
The study was conducted by Dr. Gregory Plemmons and colleagues at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. Dr. Plemmons found that over the last two to three years, he has seen an increase in the number of their hospital beds filled with kids waiting to be placed for suicidal tendencies. Not diabetes. Not pneumonia. Suicide.
Dr. Plemmons and his colleagues looked at data from 32 children's hospitals to identify the total number of emergency department and inpatient visits over eight years ending in 2015. He found a staggering 118,363 children between 5 and 17 with a discharge diagnosis of suicidality or serious self-harm. Slightly more than half were between the ages of 15 and 17. Most of those were teenage girls. 37% were between 12-14 and 15,050 were children between the ages of 5-11. That's 118,363 children who felt so unworthy to be alive they just assume end it all, or at the very least, hurt themselves to divert the attention away from the pain and suffering going on inside their heads.
Suicide is the Third Leading Cause of Death in Children
Corroborating Dr. Plemmon's study is a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says suicide was the third leading cause of death for children and young adults ages 10 to 24 in 2014. The CDC also reports that approximately 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at Emergency Departments across the U.S.
A study about stress in America by the American Psychological Association in 2014 shows that teens experience more stress during the school year than adults. Teenagers have a lot to worry about. There's school, fitting in, body image, standardize testing, college, paying for college, etc. And if they're family is struggling financially, often times those kids have to be the caretaker of their siblings and work on top of everything else.
My heart breaks for these kids. However, there is some good news. Mindfulness education is finding its way into more classrooms. Mindfulness is simply the practice of being present. Why is that important and how can that help our children? To be present is to not worry about the future or the past. It allows us to clear our minds of anything that haunts us. And let's face it. Most of us have been there - consumed by thoughts of despair, anger, frustration, worthlessness, hopelessness.
Being mindful is a skill. You don't just decide one day you'll be mindful and suddenly your mind clears itself of all it's demons. Mindfulness practices, including Yoga, is what I know to be one of the most effective paths to achieving it.
Yoga for Teens
In our Yoga for Teen Athletes program, which is in several high schools in the Dallas Independent School District, we give our students and their brains a break. Through our custom practice, we provide the students with a physical practice along with a variety of breathing techniques and quiet meditation. As we guide them through the practice, we also use words of encouragement and help them develop a positive mindset.
In a survey we conducted last year, most of the students reported that their favorite part was not the physical challenge, which you might assume they would enjoy since they are athletes, but the savasana (corpse pose) at the end of the class where we guide them through stillness - calming their mind by focusing on their breath and relaxing their body.
When the class is over, most of the students have an overall sense of calm about them and their spirits are lifted. They're relaxed, and that teenage frown is turned into a smile.
Learning how to achieve mindfulness is something that takes practice, and it's something you can do at home. Here's one breathing technique, or what is referred to as "Pranayama" in Yoga that you or your child can do any time.
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana Pranayama)
This technique is great for relieving stress. I even use it to help me go back to sleep when my mind is keeping me awake in the middle of the night. It's great to do right before a test, or when you need to clear your head after you've been working on a project for a while. It also helps relieve headaches, and it connects the 2 hemispheres of the brain. Great for learning!
1. Find a comfortable seat - could be sitting cross-legged on the floor, in a chair or wherever you are most comfortable.
2. Sit up nice and tall - roll your shoulders up and back a couple of times until you feel relaxed.
3. Close your eyes.
4. Inhale and exhale through both nostrils to start. Do that a few times.
5. Now open wide your dominant hand, palm facing you - bend your index and middle finger down to the palm. If that's too hard, you can drop your 3 middle fingers to the palm.
6. Depending on which hand you're using, bring your thumb to the corresponding nostril and seal it (i.e., left thumb to left nostril, right thumb to right nostril). That's right, you're closing the nostril off.
7. Breath deeply into the opposite open nostril - hold for a second - then seal the open side with your other finger, open the sealed nostril and breath out. Repeat for 10 rounds (One round is when you complete both sides).
Learn more about how you can bring mindfulness practices to teens and help them cope with the struggles they face every day. Enhance the power of the teenage mind and body. Click here to learn more or call us at 214-497-7982.
Mindful techniques like alternate nostril breathing can help reduce anxiety and clear the mind of unwanted thoughts. But, it's extremely important that if you have suicidal thoughts or know someone who does, you need to get help immediately. These mindful techniques are perfect for supporting you as you go through the healing process.
Author, Phyllis Smith, is the CEO & Co-Founder of Live Free Yoga that provides mindfulness programs, including Yoga, to schools to enhance the power and of the teenage mind and body.