Presentation Gives Resources for Teens’ Mental Health
By Lynne Conner, Observer Correspondent
November 18, 2021
ROCKFORD—It has never been easy being a teenager. 
The pressures and influences of social media, school, the COVID-19 pandemic, friends, sports, college applications, extracurricular activities, and family all play a part in a teenager’s overall mental health according to Xavier Whitford, a mental health first aid instructor and founder of the Tommy Corral Memorial Foundation. 
Whitford, who lost her son Tommy Corral to suicide in 2014, gave a presentation on What Parents Need to Know About Teen Mental Health at Boylan Central Catholic High School, Nov. 10. 
Prepare to Prevent Teen Suicide
Most Common Mental Illnesses
in Teens:
– Generalized anxiety disorder
 Social phobias
Risk Factors for Teen Suicide:
 Having a mental health condition: depression, substance abuse disorder,
bipolar disorder or aggression
 Having a serious physical health condition, dealing with chronic pain
 Traumatic brain injury
Warning Signs: -- Talk:
 Talking about wanting to die
 Talking about feeling like there is no reason to live
 Talking about feeling trapped or being a burden to others
 Talking about feeling hopeless or in 
unbearable pain 
 Increased alcohol and drug use
 Isolation or withdrawing from activities
 Sleeping too much or too little
 Bouts of rage or aggression
 Loss of interest in favorite activities
 Irritability and agitation
 Acting outside of normal character
 Depression and anxiety
Compiled by: Lynne Conner
“Having a mental illness doesn’t mean that a teen is weak or crazy or anything like that. Mental health issues should be treated the same as physical illnesses.
“When our kids have an illness like diabetes or asthma, we take them to the doctor who gives them medication or a treatment plan. Mental health is the same way; it’s just as important as physical health,” Whitford said. 
Along with advocating for less stigma around mental health treatment for teens, Whitford’s talk centered on identifying the myths, risk factors and warning signs of teen suicide. 
“Two of the biggest myths surrounding teen suicide are: that most suicides happen without warning and that talking about suicide will encourage it,” she said. “These are both absolutely not true.”
“Teens who are suicidal typically show warning signs to the people they are closest with. So, if parents, friends and grandparents are aware of the warning signs, they can have a deeper conversation with the teen,” Whitford said.
“We also know that if talking about suicide isn’t taboo, teens feel more open to communicate their feelings, share their fears and better process what they’re thinking.
“The first step in suicide prevention is being able to talk about those tough feelings. The reality is, teens are aware of suicide, they understand what it is, and we as parents have to be willing to have those frank conversations with our kids,” Whitford said. 
Biology, genetics and environmental factors all play a role in assessing a teen’s risk for suicide, Whitford added. 
“While depression is the number one leading cause of suicide, a safe, stable environment can’t always protect our kids from developing mental health issues. The difference between normal stress and having a mental disorder is that anxiety and depression are persistent and continual.
“Sadly, around 54 percent of people experiencing mental health issues don’t seek treatment and the reason behind that is the stigma and fear of what others will think,” she said. “The good news is, early intervention, treatment and education are crucial in managing and overcoming mental health issues.”
Dan and Carol Bingley have two children attending Boylan and were surprised at some of the statistics Whitford shared on teen suicide. 
“I didn’t realize how many teens have thought about suicide; the numbers were a lot higher than I expected,” Dan said. 
“I think it’s important to continually reach out to our kids, have those heart to heart talks and make sure they are managing stress appropriately,” Carol said.
Whitford outlined the warning signs of teen suicide and offered parents community resources for suicide prevention (see sidebars). “Some teens view suicide as a way to stop the pain they’re in, but what they don’t realize is that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” she said.
ACT for Suicide Intervention
ASK: “I notice you have been feeling down, have you ever thought about suicide?” Asking this question removes the taboo on the topic of suicide, helping the person to feel more open to sharing their thoughts. 
CARE: Consider the person’s feelings and listen to them. Take care to stay with them until they feel better.
TELL: Tell someone! Call one of the numbers for suicide prevention even if the person says they feel better. 
Local Mental Health Resources:
– NAMI Northern Illinois—
– CONTACT Northern Illinois—1-815-233-4357 (24 hours a day)
Compiled by: Lynne Conner
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