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Suicide Prevention: How to Help your Teen with Suicidal Thoughts
Episode 428th September 2022 • Roadmap to Joy: A Mental Health Podcast • Embark Behavioral Heatlh
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Learn how you can help prevent suicide if your teen is struggling with suicidal thoughts, behaviors, or urges. Your hosts Megan Dean and Jake Sparks from Embark Behavioral Health will give you actionable tips, resources, and best practices for communicating with your child when they are struggling with difficult challenges like self-harm and suicidal ideation.

Resources:

https://988lifeline.org/

Blogs for Parents:

What Is Suicidal Ideation in Teens?

Suicidal Thoughts and Warning Signs

Preventing Teen Suicide

When Suicide Prevention Involves Your Child

How to Discuss Thoughts of Depression and Suicide

How to Parent a Teen with Anxiety

You Found Out Your Daughter Is Cutting: What Should You Do?

What Parents Need To Know When Their Adolescent Has Depression

Videos for Parents

Welcome to Roadmap to Joy!

School Anxiety

How to Improve Teen Mental Health

A Day in the Life of a Short-Term Residential Therapist

Eating Disorders: How Parents Can Support Their Child

Host Bios

Jake Sparks is a Marriage and Family Therapist who has spent the last decade working with often suicidal adolescents and their parents in their journey toward health and healing. During this time, Jake has been a clinician and Clinical Director of several adolescent programs, and is currently the Treatment Director at Embark BH, where he gets to work with the some of the nation’s best and brightest clinicians. Jake’s approach to therapy is centered on the role of relationship and attachment in the context of families. He believes that when authenticity and vulnerability are met with acceptance and empathy people thrive!

Connect with Embark on Social Media:

Have a question for our experts? We want to hear from you! Submit your questions to: askatherapist@embarkbh.com

Transcripts

Megan Dean:

Hey everybody, and welcome to Roadmap to Joy. I'm

Megan Dean:

Megan Dean. I work for Embark I have two teenagers of my own. I

Megan Dean:

have a 16 year old daughter, who's a junior in high school

Megan Dean:

and a 13 year old son who's in middle school. And we're here

Megan Dean:

today with Jake, he's joining us for a second time. We're really

Megan Dean:

excited to have you on Jake.

Jake Sparks:

Yeah, excited to be here. I am Jake Sparks, the

Jake Sparks:

Embark treatment director. I am a licensed Marriage and Family

Jake Sparks:

Therapist and have been able to work with teens, adolescents and

Jake Sparks:

their families for just a bit over a decade. So super excited

Jake Sparks:

to be here. I have I'm not in the teenager stage yet. I have

Jake Sparks:

lots of I have a herd of small children. So not yet teens. But

Jake Sparks:

I'm very excited to be here and talk about this very important

Jake Sparks:

topic.

Megan Dean:

Yeah, definitely. And September is suicide

Megan Dean:

awareness month, which is why we're here today. Unfortunately,

Megan Dean:

this is an ever prevant topic for many parents. For me,

Megan Dean:

personally, just to share with you all, you know, growing up, I

Megan Dean:

did have some close friends who are impacted by suicide in some

Megan Dean:

family members as well. So this is definitely a personal topic

Megan Dean:

for me, and one that I'm really happy to, you know, share more

Megan Dean:

information about and help get more awareness around. So

Jake Sparks:

yeah,

Jake Sparks:

I think most, it's hard to find someone that's not touched by

Jake Sparks:

suicide in some way. Myself personally, personally, and

Jake Sparks:

professionally, again, have encountered it. And the ironic

Jake Sparks:

part of it is, the science is so good. We know so much about how

Jake Sparks:

to treat depression, how to address suicide, and it's really

Jake Sparks:

a matter of getting the right information into the right

Jake Sparks:

people's hands. Because there's so much that we can do to

Jake Sparks:

address to address the suicide across the country.

Megan Dean:

Yeah,

Megan Dean:

definitely. And yeah, I guess a good place to start would be

Megan Dean:

this is just a really sensitive topic overall, you know, it's

Megan Dean:

tough to talk about for some people. So really, like, what's

Megan Dean:

the best place to start?

Jake Sparks:

Yeah, good question. So I always recommend

Jake Sparks:

we start with just some terms. Because it is so uncomfortable,

Jake Sparks:

that a lot of times I find when a family comes and sees me, they

Jake Sparks:

use a lot of terms that aren't really talking about it as a way

Jake Sparks:

to talk about it. Because all those really sensitive issues,

Jake Sparks:

we avoid it directly. So I want to review a quick set of terms

Jake Sparks:

that we do use and then some that I will encourage us not to

Jake Sparks:

use. So whenever I have a client come see me and they're

Jake Sparks:

exhibiting some sort of what I would say self-injurious

Jake Sparks:

behavior, I'm always trying to tease apart is this suicidal

Jake Sparks:

self injurious behavior, or non suicidal self injurious

Jake Sparks:

behavior. So we know there's a population of clients, typically

Jake Sparks:

adolescents, or young adults who might enact intentionally enact

Jake Sparks:

bodily harm as a form of emotional regulation. So this,

Jake Sparks:

you hear about cutting or other types of self directed violence.

Jake Sparks:

And we know that that's actually not a part of suicide. However,

Jake Sparks:

when you're a parent, or you see find out, my daughter has been

Jake Sparks:

doing what? It's really hard to not jump to, does she want to be

Jake Sparks:

dead? That can be really difficult. So we want to really

Jake Sparks:

tease apart is a suicidal self injurious behavior, or non

Jake Sparks:

suicidal self injurious behavior? And that's so

Jake Sparks:

important to start, because that really helps identify the

Jake Sparks:

treatment trajectory. Now, both are problematic, obviously. But

Jake Sparks:

that really helps us to identify where we need to go, and, and

Jake Sparks:

what the course of treatment will look like. There's nothing

Jake Sparks:

worse than being really misattuned, if I have a client

Jake Sparks:

that comes sees me, and I just talk for hours about suicide,

Jake Sparks:

and they're like, "I'm not suicidal, can we give that up?"

Jake Sparks:

And that can be a total mismatch. So we want to make

Jake Sparks:

sure we get that part. Right, if that makes sense.

Megan Dean:

Yeah, definitely. Definitely does so. So you know,

Megan Dean:

and then what's next, as far as you mentioned, talking to, to

Megan Dean:

our clients, and our kids is like, what do you say to them?

Megan Dean:

How do you start that topic with them? Um, in that conversation?

Jake Sparks:

So one of the questions a lot of parents have

Jake Sparks:

is, if I start bringing it up, am I gonna somehow, like put

Jake Sparks:

that idea in their head? Is talking about it dangerous? And

Jake Sparks:

where I think that's mostly coming from his parents

Jake Sparks:

particularly see their children as in such a fragile state. And

Jake Sparks:

sometimes I've even been operating on like, if I can just

Jake Sparks:

make it through the day, how to keep my child happy. They're

Jake Sparks:

smiling, they're on the couch, okay, they're talking to me

Jake Sparks:

things good. Don't rock the boat. So a lot of parents are

Jake Sparks:

just, like, if we talk about what's really going on, I'm,

Jake Sparks:

that's going to be so stress inducing. And I might create,

Megan Dean:

Yeah, I get that

Jake Sparks:

that ideation. So the research is very clear. That

Jake Sparks:

doesn't happen. If someone's thinking about suicide, they are

Jake Sparks:

thinking about it, whether you're talking about it or not.

Jake Sparks:

So the most protective factor A parent can do. One of the most

Jake Sparks:

protective things is they can have some really clear, honest

Jake Sparks:

conversations and create an atmosphere where there's

Jake Sparks:

vulnerability, and there's empathy and kind of set some

Jake Sparks:

norms in the family that we talk about what's really going on,

Jake Sparks:

and for, especially for a parent to say, there's nothing too big

Jake Sparks:

for me there. was nothing too scary for me I am 100% bought

Jake Sparks:

into you and what you need. I'll sometimes tell parent my

Jake Sparks:

clients, I'm willing to walk to hell with you. If that's where

Jake Sparks:

we need to go, I don't want you going alone. So let's you, me,

Jake Sparks:

you and I go there together.

Megan Dean:

I love that that's, that's just so empathetic and

Megan Dean:

like putting yourself in their shoes to and really being there

Megan Dean:

for them. So that's great. So what would be like the first

Megan Dean:

question like a parent, if like a parent feels that maybe their

Megan Dean:

their their child is going in that direction? Like, how do

Megan Dean:

they break into that topic with them? Like, without seeming too

Megan Dean:

overwhelming or overbearing? Or, you know, what could be like the

Megan Dean:

first question that you ask?

Jake Sparks:

Yeah, well, so what's probably also already

Jake Sparks:

happening, is there some other red flags that are parents are

Jake Sparks:

seeing around general mental health? So it's typically

Jake Sparks:

clients, or it's or adolescents are not experiencing suicidal

Jake Sparks:

thoughts or suicidal behaviors out of the blue? There's

Jake Sparks:

typically been an ongoing mental health issue. So usually some

Jake Sparks:

symptoms of depression, maybe anxiety, is was there a major

Jake Sparks:

trauma that just occurred? So we hope by the time this question

Jake Sparks:

comes up of, are you safe, that we have a pattern or a history

Jake Sparks:

of talking about mental health together, and that's seen as a

Jake Sparks:

valid, reliable, safe, secure process that a child parent and

Jake Sparks:

a child can go through together? It, then that's actually one of

Jake Sparks:

the reasons I tell parents talk to your kids about their mental

Jake Sparks:

health. Because you don't want this to be the first time you've

Jake Sparks:

ever talked to them.

Megan Dean:

Right.

Jake Sparks:

Right? You don't want to be like, Hey, by the

Jake Sparks:

way, I heard this. And that's a Whoa, like, you want to be

Jake Sparks:

rehearsed and practiced. And so that's the first thing I always

Jake Sparks:

say is establish, regardless if your kid is sick or not, are

Jake Sparks:

where they are on the mental health continuum of health. We

Jake Sparks:

want to establish patterns that reinforce security and safety.

Jake Sparks:

And so that when you do need to have the conversations, the hard

Jake Sparks:

conversations, you already have that relationship and connection

Jake Sparks:

that's there.

Megan Dean:

Right? That report is already there. And it's it's

Megan Dean:

more of a not a surprise question.

Jake Sparks:

Yeah, yeah.

Megan Dean:

So Okay.

Jake Sparks:

When that came up, I might start by saying, Are you

Jake Sparks:

feeling safe today? Okay, tell me tell me how safe you're

Jake Sparks:

feeling. And a lot of times, parents are like well don't want

Jake Sparks:

to be intrusive. I don't want to push their boundaries, I don't

Jake Sparks:

want to push them away. And I always say, my experience, I

Jake Sparks:

don't know what the research has on this my experience as a

Jake Sparks:

clinician, that if a parent doesn't respond overtly,

Jake Sparks:

sometimes the internal narrative of the adolescents is my parent

Jake Sparks:

doesn't care.

Megan Dean:

It's like fine balance.

Jake Sparks:

Yeah. Because I usually the way,especially if

Jake Sparks:

you're already prone to some suicidal ideation, maybe some

Jake Sparks:

depression, anxiety, those most of the times those adolescents

Jake Sparks:

or young adults are not sitting there thinking, my parents are

Jake Sparks:

so respectful of my boundaries, they just love me so much that

Jake Sparks:

they know when to not ask me about these things. They don't

Jake Sparks:

think through that. That's not the thought you never asked

Jake Sparks:

about it. It's they don't care enough to ask, or they're too

Jake Sparks:

afraid of what I might say, I am frightening my parents. Right

Jake Sparks:

there, we're gonna misattuned, and we're gonna miss each other.

Megan Dean:

Yeah, that makes sense. What about what not to

Megan Dean:

say?

Jake Sparks:

Yeah, parent. Equally important, or maybe more

Jake Sparks:

so important. So there's a few terms that I hear a lot. And I

Jake Sparks:

want to eradicate them from our nomenclature as a society. So a

Jake Sparks:

couple things that I might hear sometimes is, oh, they just want

Jake Sparks:

attention. Right? It's like, oh, you're chronically suicidal. So

Jake Sparks:

you must just want attention. And so then sometimes parents,

Jake Sparks:

or even therapists will label that behavior, as they'll say,

Jake Sparks:

Well, it's not really suicidal. It's parasuicidal or suicidal

Jake Sparks:

gesture, or is that make sense though, kind of couch it is

Jake Sparks:

like, Oh, it's just they just used it for attention. And

Jake Sparks:

that's really problematic. So, so let's not use the term

Jake Sparks:

suicidal gesture. Parasuicidal, let's not use any of those

Jake Sparks:

terms. What we need to get at, firstly, is saying, this is

Jake Sparks:

suicidal self injurious behavior, or non suicidal self

Jake Sparks:

injury. So that's why I started with that. Even the term we've

Jake Sparks:

been talking a lot about suicide attempt. Some things that get

Jake Sparks:

really mixed into that is a lot of times I'll hear well, it was

Jake Sparks:

a failed suicide attempt. And I will say, that's not a failure.

Jake Sparks:

That's that's a win, like failure is not good. Or

Jake Sparks:

sometimes I'll hear people talk about it was a successful

Jake Sparks:

suicide. And I don't want the word success and suicide in the

Jake Sparks:

same sentence.

Megan Dean:

Right?

Jake Sparks:

Right. So that's some of the first parameter is

Jake Sparks:

really again need to be clear about our language. This is self

Jake Sparks:

directed, harm, suicidal self directed harm or non suicidal

Jake Sparks:

and what that that does is it actually frees us up to see the

Jake Sparks:

child to see what's actually going on. So as soon as we say,

Jake Sparks:

Oh, it's just for attention, well, they don't really want to

Jake Sparks:

die. And we're just dismissive. I always tell parents like, well

Jake Sparks:

think about that for a second. If you're if I'm a child, I'm a

Jake Sparks:

15 year old, scared to go to middle school. And the way for

Jake Sparks:

me to, if I did just want attention, the way for me, I

Jake Sparks:

have no other avenues of getting that emotional need met, that I

Jake Sparks:

have to scream from the rooftops. "Everyone look at how,

Jake Sparks:

how much pain I'm in, look at how distressed I'm in?" That's a

Jake Sparks:

that's a pretty powerful statement

Megan Dean:

Yeah

Jake Sparks:

It's, it's perfectly natural and normal for

Jake Sparks:

a human to want love and care and attention. It's actually

Jake Sparks:

necessary. So we can't just dismiss it in terms of oh, they

Jake Sparks:

just want attention. Because those are actual real valid

Jake Sparks:

means. It's, it's an effective way to get that. And we can't

Jake Sparks:

just dismiss it. Does that make sense?

Megan Dean:

Yeah, totally. And, you know, you hear oftentimes,

Megan Dean:

you know, after things have happened with kids is, you know,

Megan Dean:

Oh, we did see some warning signs. Oh, wait, we did see

Megan Dean:

cries for help. And I think they are dismissed. And that's kind

Megan Dean:

of to your point of that people dismiss that without really

Megan Dean:

taking it as seriously as maybe we should. Yeah, so

Jake Sparks:

Or it wasn't a "genuine attempt." Because if

Jake Sparks:

you really wanted to, she would had done this, and like, Okay,

Jake Sparks:

you're totally missing the point here, we need to get to what's

Jake Sparks:

this underlying need? Why is this child in so much pain and

Jake Sparks:

distress? But you asked, well, if I'm a parent, how do I start

Jake Sparks:

to talk to my kids? If you're seeing a perpetual problem that

Jake Sparks:

keeps coming up? Then you know that that's serving a function

Jake Sparks:

somewhere, there's something adaptive, and actually something

Jake Sparks:

as crazy as it sounds stabilizing about that? Right?

Jake Sparks:

So a lot of times when we work with clients that are they've

Jake Sparks:

been having suicidal thoughts for five years, like, oh, ever

Jake Sparks:

since fifth grade, I've just always thought this. And then

Jake Sparks:

they do therapy and they get better and they start their

Jake Sparks:

depression really wanes, and they find passions and their

Jake Sparks:

hobbies and they're excited about life. And then they're

Jake Sparks:

like, Oh, crap, for the first time in my life, I've I'm going

Jake Sparks:

to be alive till I'm 20 I've never thought that I would be

Jake Sparks:

alive to but now that I am and I what do I want to do when I grow

Jake Sparks:

up? And who do I want to be? And how do I want to vote? And all

Jake Sparks:

of these things all this Then they're having to confront all

Jake Sparks:

those that's really hard and stressful. But staying in this

Jake Sparks:

place of suicidal thoughts and actions prevents all of that

Jake Sparks:

from ever taking place. So in that kind of warped sense, it's

Jake Sparks:

actually a very stabilizing force in someone's life, if that

Jake Sparks:

makes any sense.

Megan Dean:

Yeah,

Megan Dean:

no, it definitely makes sense. Yeah, definitely. So okay, so

Megan Dean:

you mentioned depression. And when one question I have as a

Megan Dean:

parent, and just, you know, people that I know is like, do

Megan Dean:

you have to have depression, before you get to the point of

Megan Dean:

suicidality, suicidal ideation?

Jake Sparks:

Yeah,

Jake Sparks:

Yeah, great question. So I don't know the statistics off the top

Jake Sparks:

of my head, the majority of those who experienced suicidal

Jake Sparks:

thoughts, and engage in suicidal self injurious behavior are

Jake Sparks:

likely to have some form of depression. However, that's not

Jake Sparks:

always the case. So there are some other issues that might

Jake Sparks:

come up, that would lead to suicide. So I'm thinking either

Jake Sparks:

severe mental illness, so some type of psychosis or

Jake Sparks:

schizophrenia or something like that, where it's like, they

Jake Sparks:

seemed fine. And all sudden, this just comes up out of the

Jake Sparks:

blue. So that could be there. Sometimes we see a lot with,

Jake Sparks:

there's been a trauma, it's like, they were fine, something

Jake Sparks:

awful happens. And then, ever since that moment, it just the

Jake Sparks:

switch flips, and all of a sudden, they start to feel so

Jake Sparks:

disconnected from their body and maybe want or start thinking

Jake Sparks:

about suicide. It's a little bit of chicken or the egg, because

Jake Sparks:

you might say, well, doesn't that person also technically

Jake Sparks:

qualify as depressed? as well? Maybe yes, maybe no. But the you

Jake Sparks:

don't have to necessarily have this long track record of months

Jake Sparks:

and months and months of being depressed to finally culminate

Jake Sparks:

in suicidal ideation. It can happen more quickly, although

Jake Sparks:

that's, I think, a little bit more, a little bit more rare.

Megan Dean:

Okay. Okay.

Jake Sparks:

There's also people who are very impulsive. So

Jake Sparks:

again, maybe attached to some other mental health issues,

Jake Sparks:

bipolar, or some other cognitive or executive functioning delay,

Jake Sparks:

where they seem pretty normal, and they're actually happy and

Jake Sparks:

don't meet criteria for depression. But all of a sudden,

Jake Sparks:

they get an argument with a partner or something negative

Jake Sparks:

happens, and they can be really impulsive, and they can go to

Jake Sparks:

that dark place, almost like a switch is flipped. Does that

Jake Sparks:

make sense? So, so it's not always depression, but I would

Jake Sparks:

say most of the time, okay. That's what we're looking at.

Jake Sparks:

Okay.

Megan Dean:

All right. That makes sense. So, what are some

Megan Dean:

of those, you're mentioning these like warning signs and

Megan Dean:

things like that, that we should be looking for as parents and

Megan Dean:

caregivers. And so what's like the warning sign that you need

Megan Dean:

to get help now? Like, you need to reach out for crisis help.

Megan Dean:

When it when it comes to suicide?

Jake Sparks:

Yeah, so my preference is that we intervene

Jake Sparks:

early. We talk a lot about is, well, let's identify the risk

Jake Sparks:

factors and the protective factors. And the theory is the

Jake Sparks:

more of the risk factors, the greater likelihood and the more

Jake Sparks:

protective factors, the lower your likelihood. So some things

Jake Sparks:

I brought some notes here, just to make sure I get it all. So

Jake Sparks:

some some common risk factors for individuals. So if you've

Jake Sparks:

made a prior attempt, so history of suicidal self directed

Jake Sparks:

violence or self injury, again, overall mental health. If you

Jake Sparks:

have a history of mental health substances, that's the other

Jake Sparks:

one, I was going to say sometimes suicide can be

Jake Sparks:

attached to a substance. If had they not been on that substance

Jake Sparks:

substance. Those ideations or behaviors wouldn't have

Jake Sparks:

happened. So what's the substance use? What's that like?

Jake Sparks:

Is there...How are they doing in their social role? So for

Jake Sparks:

adolescents, it's typically are they going to school? Are they

Jake Sparks:

successful school? Are they not? So those are things? How...how

Jake Sparks:

much access do they have to lethal means. And then, as a

Jake Sparks:

clinician, I always want to know what type of adverse childhood

Jake Sparks:

experiences has gone on? We talked, you here on the podcast,

Jake Sparks:

we talk a lot about co-regulation, and their ability

Jake Sparks:

to our ability to co-regulate with a safe caregiver drives our

Jake Sparks:

ability to self regulate throughout our life. And if we

Jake Sparks:

have these interruptions in early childhood or throughout

Jake Sparks:

childhood, our ability to self regulate will be greatly

Jake Sparks:

diminished. And if you can't self regulate, that might be a

Jake Sparks:

correlate with suicidal ideation. So those are some

Jake Sparks:

individual factors that we just know, risk factors that

Jake Sparks:

chronically can build up. So if those are present, and then I

Jake Sparks:

started to see a major change in behavior, I might think that

Jake Sparks:

made There's an increase in intensity of the suicidal

Jake Sparks:

ideation or behavior. So all of a sudden, they start giving away

Jake Sparks:

their possessions, or they start to kind of give these pseudo

Jake Sparks:

goodbyes or, well, I don't know, nothing really matters that

Jake Sparks:

might give me pause. If there's a antecedent event. So an

Jake Sparks:

argument or a breakup, something like that, right, that can

Jake Sparks:

really tip the scales. We also know if there's a family history

Jake Sparks:

of suicide. And then high conflict, high, high stress,

Jake Sparks:

chaotic relationships, where co-regulation can't happen.

Jake Sparks:

Those are all really big risk factors I'd want to look at.

Megan Dean:

Okay, that makes sense. As far as you know, how

Megan Dean:

to respond to my child when they are, with empathy? I know we

Megan Dean:

talked about empathy a lot in the last episode as well. How do

Megan Dean:

you respond with empathy to your child if they're having those

Megan Dean:

suicidal thoughts?

Jake Sparks:

One of the things as a, as a therapist if a client

Jake Sparks:

comes in to my office, and it seems sometimes it seems like

Jake Sparks:

it's always as, as a therapist, I'm, maybe I don't ever want to

Jake Sparks:

be caught off guard, obviously. So when a client comes in, and

Jake Sparks:

they say, I've been having, here's the thoughts I've been

Jake Sparks:

having, and here's the actions I've taken. My first inclination

Jake Sparks:

is, I always want to say something like, gosh, thank you

Jake Sparks:

so much for telling me. I'm so glad. I hate that you're going

Jake Sparks:

through this. But I'm so glad to know it. It could have been easy

Jake Sparks:

to not tell me and I'm so glad that didn't happen. What I

Jake Sparks:

noticed, so when I do that, so it does two things. One is it

Jake Sparks:

helps the client or the child be like, okay, the he's, there's

Jake Sparks:

some security here, he's got, I'm not going to overwhelm him.

Jake Sparks:

Does that make sense? I mean, he's not afraid of me. Now. He's

Jake Sparks:

not. He's like, Oh, he's glad to know this. That's a little bit

Jake Sparks:

weird. But okay, and we'll see where this goes. So I kind of

Jake Sparks:

starts to instill like, Okay, we got this. Oh, this is an issue

Jake Sparks:

we can handle. The thing that I like, saying it for me is it

Jake Sparks:

reminds me, I got this is, this is something we can handle. Even

Jake Sparks:

therapists are not impervious to emotions and fear. And there's

Jake Sparks:

all these things. And that's something no therapist wants to

Jake Sparks:

hear. But yet, it's the thing that we most want to hear. Like,

Jake Sparks:

it's if it's real for you, I want to know it. Right? So if

Jake Sparks:

you're going through hell, I need to be there with you. So

Jake Sparks:

please include me in on this. So that's always the first. Maybe

Jake Sparks:

not those exact words. But that first sentence is like, Thank

Jake Sparks:

you for telling me. What else can you tell me? Can I ask some

Jake Sparks:

questions? And then I would start tease, you know, starting

Jake Sparks:

to tease that apart to our safety, safety assessment and

Jake Sparks:

safety planning that we can do as trained professionals. If I

Jake Sparks:

was a parent, I would want to reinforce that same idea of

Jake Sparks:

thank you so much for telling me what else is real for you? How

Jake Sparks:

else can we talk? What else can you share? In general, if you're

Jake Sparks:

having that talk, I hope that your your, your family is

Jake Sparks:

already receiving some mental health services. If not, this is

Jake Sparks:

certainly the time to reach out and get those services

Jake Sparks:

accommodated for in general, we kind of look at this hierarchy,

Jake Sparks:

as we talked about. I'll go back to some terms if that's okay.

Megan Dean:

Yeah,

Jake Sparks:

Because this is where sometimes we get lost. So

Jake Sparks:

a lot of times parents will couch this as "it's

Jake Sparks:

suicidality." And I really don't like that term suicidality,

Jake Sparks:

because it's kind of this catch all. Yeah, like, I don't know.

Jake Sparks:

And don't make me even think about it. It's just something

Jake Sparks:

out there. And we'll just call it suicidality. I actually want

Jake Sparks:

to think about the specifics. Like the devil is in the details

Jake Sparks:

to some degree, so I always separate in well, they're

Jake Sparks:

suicidal ideations and suicidal behaviors.

Megan Dean:

Okay.

Jake Sparks:

And somewhere in there, there's suicidal urges.

Megan Dean:

Okay.

Jake Sparks:

Okay. So a client can come and say, I have these

Jake Sparks:

thoughts that keep coming to me. I don't want to act on them. I

Jake Sparks:

haven't been acting on them. But here are the thoughts that I

Jake Sparks:

think I think if I could just do X, Y, and Z, and that thought

Jake Sparks:

plays out in my head. So we, we kind of see how far we are on

Jake Sparks:

that continuum. Okay. So you have the thoughts, but you've

Jake Sparks:

not done any preparatory actions you haven't thought about? You

Jake Sparks:

know, I'll ask have you thought about how you might play this

Jake Sparks:

out? Like, oh, no, I just think about what it would be like to

Jake Sparks:

not have to be in so much pain.

Megan Dean:

Right. Right.

Jake Sparks:

So that's kind of one continuum, then I want to

Jake Sparks:

start asking, Well, tell me about the urges Do you have? Or

Jake Sparks:

if they're like, yes, here's my thoughts. Here's how I would do

Jake Sparks:

it. Okay, have you had urges? Have you had impulses? Well, I

Jake Sparks:

almost did something yesterday, but I stopped myself, like,

Jake Sparks:

okay, let's talk through that. And then the last kind of far

Jake Sparks:

end of the continuum was the what we call suicidal behaviors.

Jake Sparks:

And this could include things like preparatory behaviors, so

Jake Sparks:

things that you might do in advance to put their put some

Jake Sparks:

affairs in order or to collect or gather materials, whatever

Jake Sparks:

that might be. So as those are kind of how we think about risk

Jake Sparks:

if you're on one end, just having the thought, no urges, no

Jake Sparks:

behaviors. You're on the continuum. But you're this and

Jake Sparks:

the farther down you go, the higher the risk and the more

Jake Sparks:

immediate intervention that's necessary,

Megan Dean:

Right? And as a parent, you're like, anywhere

Megan Dean:

along that spectrum or that continuum is scary, and you want

Megan Dean:

to get help right away. So I, you know, as a parent, being in

Megan Dean:

that myself, sometimes it you know, it just, it's hard for a

Megan Dean:

parent to be like, okay, so you're just in the beginning of

Megan Dean:

it. All right. We're okay. But you really have to take action

Megan Dean:

still..

Jake Sparks:

Yeah. So yeah. When something's what I recommend,

Jake Sparks:

sometimes it's so so I'll get asked like, what do I need to

Jake Sparks:

take? Take my daughter to the ER?

Megan Dean:

Yes.

Jake Sparks:

What? So? Again, if my thought is if you have to ask

Jake Sparks:

and the answer is probably yes. But what because what we don't

Jake Sparks:

want to do, I've seen parents, I'm against someone receiving

Jake Sparks:

intervention they don't need, it's so important that we are

Jake Sparks:

the we take it seriously, and how we respond as caregivers

Jake Sparks:

will directly impact how the child interprets the events.

Jake Sparks:

Does that make sense?

Megan Dean:

Yeah.

Jake Sparks:

So I've had parents that like, oh, we kind of just

Jake Sparks:

bumped along, and we kind of just kept going business as

Jake Sparks:

usual, like, Oh, thanks for telling me. But let's get your

Jake Sparks:

math homework done tonight. And we'll talk again tomorrow. And

Jake Sparks:

it's like, it's not that bad. And, and things just keep going

Jake Sparks:

on. I've seen other parents say, we didn't actually come to find

Jake Sparks:

out need to go to the ER. But having this kind of blow up,

Jake Sparks:

made all of us look at it. And we actually kind of needed for

Jake Sparks:

it to blow up because we were just in this rut of same old,

Jake Sparks:

same old, and we needed something big and drastic to

Jake Sparks:

happen to our family. So that we could all wake up and take it

Jake Sparks:

take it more seriously and see where we are. Most parents are

Jake Sparks:

not trained mental health professionals. So it is always a

Jake Sparks:

little bit of a guessing game. And this is not something that

Jake Sparks:

you want to, to guess at.

Megan Dean:

Right.

Jake Sparks:

So if you're concerned, and you're asking the

Jake Sparks:

question, you should take immediate action. Maybe this is

Jake Sparks:

a great time to identify the help that you can have. So the

Jake Sparks:

new 988 number, super helpful, they can call and kind of walk

Jake Sparks:

the parent through or even the adolescent through some steps

Jake Sparks:

and give us some clear direction. Parents should be

Jake Sparks:

aware of other local agencies. So if I have a client or a

Jake Sparks:

child, if I'm the parent of a teen that's sometimes ends up on

Jake Sparks:

this continuum, I would know what am I local resources? How

Jake Sparks:

do I connect to someone, hopefully, you're already

Jake Sparks:

working with a mental health professional.

Megan Dean:

Right.

Jake Sparks:

We want to almost prepare for the worst and hope

Jake Sparks:

we never need that. But that's not the time to man, we never

Jake Sparks:

confronted this reality.

Megan Dean:

Right.

Jake Sparks:

We want to make sure we have a clear plan and

Jake Sparks:

how the process works.

Megan Dean:

Definitely. And now nowadays, there's even those

Megan Dean:

mental health urgent cares that are popping up.

Jake Sparks:

Yeah.

Megan Dean:

They're becoming more and more common. So at

Megan Dean:

least it's a place you can go a lot more accessible, which is

Megan Dean:

nice. So I know there's some of those places that then you know,

Megan Dean:

you then get continued care after that. But it's a great

Megan Dean:

place to go. If you're a parent, and you're not sure what to do.

Megan Dean:

But you hear these things need to take action right away.

Jake Sparks:

Yep, absolutely.

Megan Dean:

So. So you mentioned family a lot. I've heard that.

Jake Sparks:

Yeah.

Megan Dean:

The family system a lot.

Jake Sparks:

Yeah.

Megan Dean:

So tell me a little bit about why it's so important,

Megan Dean:

especially in this situation to have that family support system?

Jake Sparks:

Yeah. Great. Great, great question. So one of the

Jake Sparks:

things I'm always telling parents is, first of all, being

Jake Sparks:

a parent is hard.

Megan Dean:

Yes

Jake Sparks:

Hats off to every parent. I always want to be

Jake Sparks:

sensitive. But so sometimes, if I have the rela--I can kind of

Jake Sparks:

joke with them. And say, I don't know whether or not your

Jake Sparks:

parenting is part of the problem.

Megan Dean:

Yeah

Jake Sparks:

It might be. Let's just acknowledge the fact that

Megan Dean:

Oh,

Megan Dean:

it might be, it might not be, but let's just put that out

Megan Dean:

there. However, I do know that your parenting is 100% a part of

Megan Dean:

the solution.

Megan Dean:

Nice.

Jake Sparks:

So one way or the other, we need you, you need to

Jake Sparks:

be involved.

Megan Dean:

Yeah.

Megan Dean:

yeah. No parent is perfect, either. And, you know, we can't

Megan Dean:

even co regulate ourselves all the time, like we've talked

Megan Dean:

about. So, yeah, it's definitely a family system.

Jake Sparks:

Yeah. And that's it, you bring up another great

Jake Sparks:

point is it is not possible for a dysregulated parent, to

Jake Sparks:

provide a co-regulatory experience for their child. So

Jake Sparks:

at the same time, I cannot imagine something more

Jake Sparks:

deregulating than your child experiencing suicidal thoughts

Jake Sparks:

or suicidal behaviors.

Jake Sparks:

Exactly, yeah.

Jake Sparks:

So at the moment when your child needs you the most is probably

Jake Sparks:

when you're the least equipped to be there. And so that's

Jake Sparks:

really why it's so important to get that family help and that

Jake Sparks:

family support.

Megan Dean:

And like, would you even go as far as to recommend

Megan Dean:

for the parents to go and get mental health, you know,

Megan Dean:

counseling and therapy themselves?

Jake Sparks:

Yeah, so my bias is that most of us could use a

Jake Sparks:

little bit more therapy in our lives, just in general. So as a

Jake Sparks:

blanket statement. Yes. I can't diagnose via podcast for every

Jake Sparks:

single family. But yeah, yeah, absolutely. This is a great

Jake Sparks:

opportunity for the parents. Again, maybe you maybe you were

Jake Sparks:

part of the problem, maybe you have been missing. Missing

Jake Sparks:

something. And there's, you have a hole in your own parenting

Jake Sparks:

style that's going to perpetuate unless you fix it. Or maybe not,

Jake Sparks:

maybe you are the perfect parent. But maybe you do exist.

Jake Sparks:

But going through this experience, in and of itself can

Jake Sparks:

be painful and traumatic enough that you'll need some help and

Jake Sparks:

support.

Megan Dean:

Yeah that's I was gonna say it's just the

Megan Dean:

experience itself can can, you know, make you want and need to

Megan Dean:

get therapy yourself? Yeah, to be able to just handle the

Megan Dean:

stress and the the the emotions that come along with all of

Megan Dean:

this. So

Jake Sparks:

yeah,

Jake Sparks:

yeah, it's also worth noting that I've never met a parent who

Jake Sparks:

wasn't also parented.

Megan Dean:

Right?

Jake Sparks:

And so many of us parent our children however we

Jake Sparks:

were parented.

Megan Dean:

Right?

Jake Sparks:

Whether we want to or not, or in reaction, so. So

Jake Sparks:

again, yeah, I just love that family. Like, let's see what's

Jake Sparks:

understand. Let's see what's happening as a system as a

Jake Sparks:

whole. Because we're all going to be a part of it. And it's

Jake Sparks:

going to require the whole family.

Megan Dean:

Yeah.

Jake Sparks:

Even questions that sometimes like, okay, so if my

Jake Sparks:

15 year old child is experiencing this, but I have

Jake Sparks:

this 11 year old.

Megan Dean:

Yeah,

Jake Sparks:

year? Like, they feel it and they know

Jake Sparks:

something's up. So there's a lot of those family dynamics. So

Jake Sparks:

even if they weren't a problem to begin with, they gonna need

Jake Sparks:

some, some direct attention.

Megan Dean:

Yeah, I was gonna say that with families who have

Megan Dean:

multiple siblings, you know, in the household. There's a lot of

Megan Dean:

impact on the whole family in this situation. So even that

Megan Dean:

younger older sibling can really, you know, need some

Megan Dean:

counseling themselves.

Jake Sparks:

Yeah.

Megan Dean:

To help them through the whole family through this

Megan Dean:

situation. So yeah, yeah, it's definitely important. So here's

Megan Dean:

the question. So what if you go to your child to talk about the

Megan Dean:

feelings that they're having, and they push you away? Like,

Megan Dean:

they don't want to talk about it? Then what do you do?

Megan Dean:

so totally. Maybe that's expected? Maybe it's not, but

Jake Sparks:

Yeah,

Jake Sparks:

it's, I think, fairly common. So what I always say as a parent,

Jake Sparks:

your job is to do what is developmentally appropriate for

Jake Sparks:

your child, independent of what that child's preferences are.

Jake Sparks:

Okay. So sometimes when we're the most distressed or the most

Jake Sparks:

hurting, we're least able to care for ourselves is the times

Jake Sparks:

we most don't want anyone to help us.

Megan Dean:

Yeah

Jake Sparks:

Like "leave me alone." I mean, and we, so it's

Jake Sparks:

hard to be respectful, but what we always say so we talked about

Jake Sparks:

this co-regulation. So a caregiver provides experiences

Jake Sparks:

of co-regulation, which from child I I have a very small

Jake Sparks:

children. So I think about this a lot. As a child, we

Jake Sparks:

co-regulate together. And that builds the scaffolding for

Jake Sparks:

future self regulation to take place on. And that's what

Jake Sparks:

actually builds the parts of the brain that's needed for self

Jake Sparks:

regulation is co-regulation. Now, what's hard about this is

Jake Sparks:

when you are most dysregulated is when you are the least

Jake Sparks:

receptive to empathy. You are the least receptive to care,

Jake Sparks:

that's actually a great indicator that you're not

Jake Sparks:

regularly regulating yourself. So I'll have talked with

Jake Sparks:

clients, they'll come into my office, and they'll say, Oh, my

Jake Sparks:

parents just need to leave me alone. I went in my room, and

Jake Sparks:

I'm calming down, I just need to calm down on my own. And I'd

Jake Sparks:

say, okay, that makes sense. But are you actually self

Jake Sparks:

regulating? Or are you becoming more dysregulated? Because if

Jake Sparks:

you are self regulating, you will become more open to your

Jake Sparks:

parents' empathy. So if you go in your room for 30 minutes, and

Jake Sparks:

if you truly self regulated, you would come out and be receptive

Jake Sparks:

to your parents. If you come out of the room, and you're just as

Jake Sparks:

unreceptive as you were before. I mean, then maybe there's some

Jake Sparks:

other relational dynamics of where the relationship but in

Jake Sparks:

general, if you cannot be receptive to empathy from a

Jake Sparks:

caregiver, whomever that is, that's a sign that you're

Jake Sparks:

dysregulated.

Megan Dean:

You're dysregulated, yeah.

Jake Sparks:

And when that's happening, that's actually the

Jake Sparks:

caregivers job. Like I don't ask my three year old, in the middle

Jake Sparks:

of a tantrum, what type of ice cream he wants at that moment, I

Jake Sparks:

just say you don't need, here's what you actually need. I'm

Jake Sparks:

going to parent you. I'm going to give you what you need,

Jake Sparks:

because you're a three year old. And I don't expect....It would

Jake Sparks:

be wrong of me to expect for you to know exactly what you need in

Jake Sparks:

this moment.

Megan Dean:

Yeah, really take control, you have to take

Megan Dean:

control that situation. Yeah.

Jake Sparks:

Yeah, exactly. So it is can be hard of. And that's

Jake Sparks:

why I say it's best if you've had a long, ongoing history of

Jake Sparks:

talking about this. But if some families are like, we've never

Jake Sparks:

talked about emotions, or how we feel, and all sudden, my child

Jake Sparks:

ends up in the ER, and this is the first time I've ever asked

Jake Sparks:

my son, how he feels inside, or how he feels about himself. I've

Jake Sparks:

never had that conversation. And so I'm like, "Well, I can

Jake Sparks:

understand him not opening upimmediately at the first

Jake Sparks:

time." So we want, we want to make sure we rebuild those. But

Jake Sparks:

yeah, sometimes parents get so "I want them to be happy. I

Jake Sparks:

don't want them to feel upset. And if I can just keep their

Jake Sparks:

emotions in check all the time."

Megan Dean:

Yeah, that's a tough job.

Jake Sparks:

You're never gonna be able to do that. You're never

Jake Sparks:

going to be able it's not your job to keep them happy in this

Jake Sparks:

window. It's your job to prepare them for this.

Megan Dean:

That's right.

Jake Sparks:

Because life's gonna give them everything. And

Jake Sparks:

it's your job to always meet them at developmentally with

Jake Sparks:

what they need independent of what their preference is.

Megan Dean:

Yeah,

Megan Dean:

definitely. Yeah. Okay, great. Thanks for answering that. So I

Megan Dean:

think we've covered almost everything on our list of

Megan Dean:

topics, Jake, anything else that you want to share? You know,

Megan Dean:

you're such an expert in this area. Is there anything else

Megan Dean:

that you've seen come up with your clients or parents, that

Megan Dean:

will be really important and helpful to share?

Jake Sparks:

So I would say, so can I share a couple of

Jake Sparks:

statistics? So a couple things to keep in mind. So one in three

Jake Sparks:

young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, experienced mental

Jake Sparks:

behavioral, or emotional health issues in the past year. Suicide

Jake Sparks:

was the leading cause of death for 18 to 25 year olds,

Megan Dean:

Wow.

Jake Sparks:

It has historically been, and it's even stretching

Jake Sparks:

down into adolescence. 26.9% of teens, ages 12 to 17 have one or

Jake Sparks:

more mental, emotional, developmental, behavioral

Jake Sparks:

problems. So almost 30% of all teens have some sort of

Jake Sparks:

emotional mental health problem. So these rates are going the

Jake Sparks:

wrong direction. So one of the things, if it's up to you to fix

Jake Sparks:

the suicide problem, what's the you have unlimited funds and

Jake Sparks:

resources? How would you do it? The number one thing that I

Jake Sparks:

would do is for parents to stop giving their kids phones at such

Jake Sparks:

an early age.

Jake Sparks:

So as we talked about, it's up to the parent to

Megan Dean:

Yeah.

Megan Dean:

be developmentally attuned to what the child's ready for. And

Megan Dean:

we can see the impacts of social media, particularly on our young

Megan Dean:

women.

Megan Dean:

Oh, yeah.

Jake Sparks:

Compared to our young men is very different. And

Jake Sparks:

I...most parents are wildly uneducated, they might have a

Jake Sparks:

general sense of like, "Oh, they're in their phones haha",

Jake Sparks:

but they don't understand or they underestimate the emotional

Jake Sparks:

impact

Megan Dean:

For sure.

Jake Sparks:

that that can have. So that's what I would recommend

Jake Sparks:

is for just all parents to be aware of and watch out for is

Jake Sparks:

the in the influence of 24/7 social media.

Megan Dean:

Yeah.

Jake Sparks:

24/7 it's like self judgments open all the time. You

Jake Sparks:

can see what everyone else is doing and see all the things

Jake Sparks:

that you're missing out on. You have all there's so much

Jake Sparks:

pressure that's baked into having to maintain that so you

Jake Sparks:

don't get to come home and just turn off.

Megan Dean:

Right?

Jake Sparks:

You come home and you have to turn back on. You

Jake Sparks:

got to be there and be present. There's is such a strong

Jake Sparks:

influence that it's really negatively impacting all of our

Jake Sparks:

mental--

Megan Dean:

For sure

Jake Sparks:

for a variety of reasons.

Megan Dean:

I feel like that's a whole podcast topic in itself,

Megan Dean:

you know, about, you know, cell phones and electronics and just

Megan Dean:

the pervalence of that with kids.

Jake Sparks:

Yeah.

Megan Dean:

You know, personally, my being a parent,

Megan Dean:

I've had to struggle with that as well and really set

Megan Dean:

boundaries there. So it's a big topic for sure

Jake Sparks:

Yeah. So we'll can jump into that next time. But I

Jake Sparks:

think, again, for parents to be willing, able, and willing to go

Jake Sparks:

wherever they need to go to meet their kid. It. It's, we also

Jake Sparks:

know that suicide something that many adolescents struggle with

Jake Sparks:

thoughts, and not every thought turns into a behavior. And so

Jake Sparks:

it's important for parents to remember, my child told me this.

Jake Sparks:

That's an awesome thing. I am so...you should go to bed that

Jake Sparks:

night, feeling great that your child disclosed this really

Jake Sparks:

scary, vulnerable thing to you. You might also go to bed feeling

Jake Sparks:

awful that they're in that place,

Megan Dean:

Yeah,

Jake Sparks:

but wouldn't you rather know it?

Megan Dean:

Open communication.

Jake Sparks:

Yeah.

Megan Dean:

Yeah. So that's important, for sure. Awesome.

Megan Dean:

Well, thanks so much for your time today.

Jake Sparks:

Yeah, great. Great to be here.

Megan Dean:

Yeah, definitely, definitely gave us some

Megan Dean:

actionable items as parents on what to look out for, what to

Megan Dean:

do. You know, how to be more aware just of suicide, in

Megan Dean:

general. And so I think that was really helpful for me as a

Megan Dean:

parent, and hopefully for everybody else. Just wanted to

Megan Dean:

thank you guys for joining us today. And also, please make

Megan Dean:

sure you subscribe to our Roadmap to Joy podcasts, and

Megan Dean:

also follow us on all of our social media. Thanks so much,

Megan Dean:

Jake. Appreciate you.

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