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Sunday Reflections: When You’re a Teen and a Friend Threatens Suicide

Trigger Warning: Suicide, Suicidal Ideation

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We spent all of 2016 talking about teens and mental health and it occurs to me, we never talked about what happens when you are a teenager and your friend threatens to commit suicide. This point became painfully clear to me this past Friday night when this very event happened to The Teen.

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The #MHYALit Discussion Hub – Mental Health in Young Adult Literature

At about 3 a.m. I received a text from The Teen – I’m in another state at the moment – where she said, “Mommy, I need you. I don’t know what to do.” A friend of her was texting her that they were going to commit suicide because the world would be better off without them. I jumped up immediately and called my daughter because I understood that this was an emergency, for both her and her friend. So I called and my daughter could barely talk through the crying. She really didn’t know much about this person except for their name and phone number, they just met this year at school and they are friends in the way that many teens are in 2017. They hang out at school and text, but they don’t they’ve never been to each other’s homes and they don’t really know much about each other.

So, not knowing how to get a hold of the parents, I did the only thing I could think to do and I called the local police and reported that a teenager was considering suicide and asked them to make sure this person was okay. This bit was tricky because we couldn’t answer any of their questions. A name and number is all we could provide.

I will be honest and tell you that I was motivated not only for concern for this teen and his well being, but for my own. I knew and understood that if we did nothing and it turned out that this teen did end up harmed in some way, my daughter would never be okay. I have mentioned here before that almost two years ago my high school best friend died by suicide and it will never not haunt me. Unlike my daughter I had no idea, but I still wrestle with guilt and wondering what signs I missed. I want more than anything to spare her this burden. So I did the only thing I could think to do.

My daughter has grown up in a home where we talk about mental health issues and she knows that they are real and serious, but not shameful. I myself struggle with depression and anxiety issues. I myself have had some periods of suicidal ideation. She is aware of all of this. So when this friend reached out to her, she understood what was happening, she just didn’t know what to do. And to be honest, I didn’t either. When I am in my darkest places, I tend to shut down and turn inward. But I recognized that this teen was issuing a cry for help, we just didn’t know how, exactly, to help them. And I reminded her again and again that she, a mere teenager herself, was not equipped to help him.

Afterwards, we talked a lot about what it means to be a friend to someone struggling with a mental health issues. We talked about responsibility and saving, and how in the end, we are not and can not be responsible for another person’s mental health and happiness. It’s a harsh truth that I have come to understand for myself, I and I alone am responsible for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t cherish the support of others (because I genuinely do) and that we shouldn’t give it to others when we can (because we can and should), but at the end of the day no one else can save or heal me. I needed her to understand that although she can and should be a good friend to this person, that if something ever does happen to them it is not her fault.

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So here’s the take away of what I told her and think we should tell all teens regarding a friend who expresses suicidal ideation. Please keep in mind, I am not a legal or medical professional and this is what I did and some research (links at the bottoms) indicate that I did a pretty decent job of handling the situation.

1. Tell an adult immediately. Even if you promised not to tell, tell someone.

2. Always, if it is an emergency, call 911 immediately. If you have reason to suspect someone has just done something that is life threatening, call 911.

3. The adult should contact the parent of the individual if they know how. Otherwise, they should contact the police in the area where the teen expressing suicidal ideation resides. Let them know that you have a child who has been in contact with someone who has expressed that they may commit suicide and ask that they do a safety check.

4. Have as much information as you know ready about the individual when you contact the police. Name, number, address, parents, etc.

5. Afterwards, remind the teen that telling an adult was the right thing to do. Help them understand that telling an adult was the right thing even if it has negative consequences (for example, their friend may get in trouble with their parents). It is possible that this person will be upset and angry, it may even end the friendship. Do not feel guilty. You are doing what you can to help someone who has just expressed that their life is in jeopardy, that is never wrong.

6. Let your teen know that if the friendship does continue moving forward, it’s okay to set boundaries for yourself. For example, while being an engaged and supportive friend is encouraged, they are not allowed to put you in this position again or use guilt against you. Being in a friendship with a person who struggles with depression and anxiety is hard, and I can look at a lot of my past relationships and see ways in which I have harmed my past friends – it’s part of the illness that can take a while to figure out and learn to better navigate – but the person on the other side of the friendship 100% gets to have their own personal boundaries to maintain their own emotional health and well being. Always, always talk with teens about healthy relationships and personal boundaries.

More Resources:

Suicide Prevention: How to Help Someone who is Suicidal

My Friend Is Talking About Suicide. What Should I Do? – KidsHealth

Helping a Friend Who is Talking About Suicide | Psychology Today

#MHYALit: Seven Responses for Those Left Behind, a guest post by author Kat Colmer

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Today we are honored to host author Kat Colmer as part of the #MHYALit Discussion. See all of the posts in our Mental Health in Young Adult Literature series here or by clicking on the #MHYALit tag below.

The release of Thirteen Reasons Why on Netflix earlier this year has thrust the issue of teen suicide into the mainstream. Whatever your viewpoint is on the show itself, any discussion around the issue should be encouraged, and although the main focus should remain on the prevention of teen suicide, there is another side to the conversation that is addressed less often—the effect of death by suicide of a loved one on those left behind.

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The main character of The Third Kiss, a young adult paranormal romance, is very much affected and shaped by the suicide of his father. Learning to live with the loss following the suicide of a loved one is far from easy, and those left behind are in need of understanding and support to process and move forward from what may easily be one of the most traumatic events of their lives.

Jonas, the hero of The Third Kiss, reacts mainly with anger and avoidance to his father’s death by suicide. His feelings are a response to the pain he doesn’t want to feel. They deeply influence his actions to the point where he almost loses the one person that’s most important to him. His emotions are a sample of the kaleidoscope of reactions that people experience.Read on for an explanation to these, as well as other common responses to the suicide death of someone important to us:

Sadness

The hallmark of grief, this emotional reaction is likely to involve a deeply personal experience of anguish, heartache and despair. Put simply, it hurts to lose someone we love. How this presents will depend on the person; there may be tears, or they may not cry at all. They may mourn openly, or they may mourn only in private. They may be a dark ball of melancholy, or a streak of agitated energy. Every one of these responses is normal.

Guilt

This is overwhelmingly the most common response. What if… If only… I should have seen it… I should have said something… Guilt shouts all these scenarios loudly, underscoring the belief that a loved one needed our help and we didn’t see it, or didn’t do anything to help.

Anger

A difficult, but completely normal, reaction to the loss of someone you love ending their life. This can be anger at the person who has died: ‘So selfish! How could he do this to us?’, or anger at others: ‘Why didn’t you do something?’ In some cases, anger can turn to rage, often expressed as physical violence directed at objects.

Denial

A normal stages of grief, denial is our way of protecting ourselves. Disbelief that something so tragic has occurred is frequently expressed by those who are left behind, often describing a feeling that their loved one will ‘walk into the room any minute’ or ‘she’ll be there when I get home, on the computer like she always is.’

Anxiety

An unexpected loss, particularly when a loved one has chosen to leave us, rocks and shatters your world. What you assumed was solid, safe, and reliable turns out to be a lie. This is frightening, because it makes you question the reliability of all your other assumptions about life. Add this to trying to process significant events when your brain in overloaded with emotion, and the world becomes a confusing place that is difficult to untangle and trust.

Avoidance

Pain hurts. All these emotions are distressing to experience. Avoidance is one way we protect ourselves from discomfort. A person may avoid talking about the loss or the person or the circumstances surrounding their death, sometimes for years to come.

Yearning

The wish for something different. The overwhelming longing that things had gone another way, that a different choice was made, but mostly that the one we’ve lost was still here.

These responses are not exhaustive, but are ones to look out for when supporting somebody who has lost a loved one through suicide. If you, or anyone you know, has lost someone close, make sure to seek help when feeling down. Reach out to a friend, a trusted adult, or find a health professional you feel comfortable talking to.

 

About The Third Kiss:

Love curses don’t exist. At least that’s what Jonas, master of the meaningless hookup, tells himself when a letter warns him he’s an Eros Guardian cursed to endure a test of true love or forever be alone. His levelheaded longtime friend Cora figures it’s a revenge prank by an ex. The way Jonas stamps each girlfriend with a weeklong use-by date, it serves him right.

But when an impulsive kiss between the two friends reveals potential for more, Cora becomes the target of the Groth Maar: demons sent to wipe out the Eros Guardian line. And suddenly the curse becomes dangerously real.

Breaking the curse means Jonas’s biggest challenge yet. Failure guarantees Cora’s death. But success may cost him his own life…and the loss of his carefully guarded heart to the one girl far too sensible to fall for him.

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Entangled Publishing

About the Author:

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Kat Colmer is a Sydney-based Young and New Adult author who writes coming-of-age stories with humor and heart. The recipient of several writing awards, she has won the Romance Writers of Australia First Kiss contest, as well as the Romance Writers of America On the Far Side contest for her debut Young Adult Paranormal Romance.

Kat has a Master of Education in Teacher Librarianship and loves working with teens and young adults. When not writing, teaching, or reading the latest in YA fiction, Kat spends time with her husband and two children.

Website | Instagram |  Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Entangled Publishing

Thank you to PsychWriter Tamar Sloan for contributing her psychology expertise in the writing of this article. Find out more at https://psychwriter.com.au

Sunday Reflections: When the Opioid Crisis Hits the Library

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Like many libraries across the country, we talk frequently at mine about the opioid crisis happening across the U.S. and in our local communities. We have had a couple of people OD in our library and we have had to call the squad, but not nearly as much as other libraries have. We have also had to call the police for suspected dealing.

YA titles dealing with the topic of addiction

YA titles dealing with the topic of addiction

As a librarian, I have been trying to use my research ninja skills to find some concrete statistics about how bad, exactly, the epidemic is, but good stats are surprisingly hard to find. A law enforcement officer in another Ohio community I used to live said that community has about 10 overdoses (without death) a day. I hear the one I work in has one a day. Several counties in Ohio have high national ranking for how bad the crisis is in that area.

Opioid Epidemic: A State by State Look at a National Crisis

Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures – American Society of Addiction

About the Epidemic | HHS.gov

Understanding the Epidemic | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center

Responding to the Opioid Morbidity and Mortality Crisis – FDA

Ohio has also been in the news as many communities wrestle with how to respond to the crisis. A local sheriff refuses to allow his men to carry and administer a life saving drug while in Philadelphia these librarians carry and administer that very same drug. Part of the debate surrounding who, if anyone, should be saved, is this idea that drug addiction is a moral personal failing as opposed to a disease. Whether or not you think we should work to save the lives of and treat or incarcerate the victims of overdoses depends on your view of what, exactly, addiction is and how it happens.

The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment

Big mystery: What causes addiction? | NBC News

Addiction vs Physical Dependence – Important distinction – NAABT

My community has put together a task force who recently did a series of community training sessions about the topic of the opioid crisis and its impact on our local community. While at this training I met the parents of a young man in his twenties who had died from an overdose. He was a college educated man who wore a suit every day to his very successful job. He looked nothing like the pictures of what an addict looks like that the officers were sharing and they were there in part to dispel that myth. As the opioid crisis worsens, our understanding of seems to shift.

real talk addiction brochure 2

real talk addiction brochure 1

At the training I learned a variety of equally horrifying and interesting facts. Much of the drug trafficking in our community occurs via bicycle because it is easier to evade the police. Some drugs are made in Gatorade and water bottles which can explode if touched so we should teach our children not to be good environmental citizens and pick up said bottles to place them in the trash but to avoid them and call the police, just in case. Something like 95% of all local crime can be linked back to the opioid epidemic as people become violent, or engage in various petty crimes to steal money to fuel their addiction. This epidemic is severely impacting and taxing local communities at all levels, whether it be emergency responders or its impact on our children.

The opioid crisis is straining the nation’s foster-care systems

It’s important for us to remember that there are real people being impacted by the opioid crisis. One of my regular teens recently shared that she watched her mother overdose on the front lawn. She called for help and her mother was then in a treatment center. This was my teen, a girl I have watched grow up, sharing this heartbreaking story of watching her mother overdose on the lawn.

This is a great YA title on addiction (alcohol addiction)

This is a great YA title on addiction (alcohol addiction)

We talk frequently about the best policies and procedures going forward for our library in the midst of this epidemic. A library I worked at previously recently put in a sharps disposal box in the restrooms as an employee had been stabbed by a needle and they wanted to prevent it from happening in the future. We have discussed things likes narcan (we do not have this on hand primarily due to cost and concerns about life saving responsibilities), when to call the police, how to respond if we see someone using or dealing, how to dispose of drugs we find left in the bathroom and more. It’s an ongoing discussion, and one I have never had in my twenty-three plus years of working in libraries. And yet here we are.

Like many libraries and many people, I find myself wrestling with this information on a daily basis. I certainly don’t have any answers, but I think we should be talking about it more. I can’t help but think of what happens to this generation of children moving forward. When we start using words like crisis and epidemic, it’s past time to start acting.

Social Justice and Mental Health: Accessibility to Treatment in YA Literature, a guest post by Alyssa Chrisman

Today we are honored to present to you a Mental Health in YA Literature guest post that looks at the accessibility to treatment in YA literature. You can read all the #MHYALit posts here or by clicking on the tag below.

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When I was 12-years-old, I went to therapy for the first time. Seventh grade is a notoriously tumultuous year, and although I hardly remember the sessions now, I believe they were helpful in a way I didn’t quite understand then. As I have aged, I have weaved in and out of multiple types of mental health treatment as needed. Even in moments where it seemed like recovery was not possible, books like Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story inspired me to speak up and ask for help. Now that I am an adult studying YAL, I have immense gratitude for the positive impact books like that had on my life and am an advocate for diverse YA books featuring mental health topics. As Teen Librarian Toolbox’s 2016 #MHYAL (Mental Health in Young Adult Literature) project illustrates, issues of mental health are prevalent in YAL, especially in recent publications. Most mental illnesses are represented somewhere within this body of texts, but one important aspect is often overlooked: teenage accessibility to affordable and quality care. I was, and am, lucky to have access to mental health treatment through affordable medication and quality therapists, yet that is not the case for many Americans. By considering the intersectionality of mental health and social justice in quality YAL texts, practitioners can help teens think critically about issues affecting their worlds.

Recently, I completed a thesis on representations of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in YAL. I found that most of the protagonists in these texts are privileged in some way. They often have supportive families (at least by the end of the novel) and appear to be in the middle-upper class. Because of these privileges, the protagonists of most of these novels are able to receive the medical care they need in the form of therapy, medication, and even hospitalization. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the protagonists in these texts are also racially privileged through their whiteness. While mental illness affects people across all genders, races, ages, and class levels equally, a recent study showed that “young people in general aren’t likely to see mental health specialists. But the numbers fell further when racial and ethnic backgrounds were factored in. About 5.7 percent of white children and young adults were likely to see a mental health specialist in a given year, compared with about 2.3 percent for black or Hispanic young people” (Luthra). Young adults of oppressed racial and class backgrounds have multiple factors working against them when trying to receive adequate psychological care. They have issues that affect all minors, such as getting parental or adult support, but they also have to overcome systemic problems more likely to negatively affect them, such as a lack of quality health insurance coverage and a high cost of care. By only featuring characters who are white, are economically advantaged, and have a fair amount of parental support, YAL as a whole is not providing literature that accurately represents many teenagers’ lives and is missing out on a significant opportunity.

I believe that mental health representation in YAL is critical, and practitioners who work with young readers should make these texts accessible. However, I argue that practitioners, especially librarians and teachers, also have a responsibility to recognize aspects of privilege within the texts they suggest and to identify what may be lacking. Mental health representation is important, but a person is never just their mental illness. Intersectionality is realistic, and the protagonist’s race, sexuality, and class can affect them just as much as their mental illness or other disability. By looking at what types of identities are lacking in this YAL, we can construct our conversations with teenagers in more meaningful ways. Recognizing a lack of class issues in these novels can help teenagers understand social justice in the context of mental health. I recommend pairing two novels, both featuring protagonists with OCD, together to open up discussion of these issues: Matt de la Peña’s Ball Don’t Lie (2005) and Tamara Ireland Stone’s Every Last Word (2015). Warning: plot spoilers ahead!

balldontlieBall Don’t Lie is written in third-person and tells the story of Sticky, a white teenager in the foster system, who spends his days at school, playing basketball at the local community center, and with his girlfriend, An-thu. A diagnosis of OCD (nor a suspicion of its existence) is not mentioned at all in the novel itself. However, readers familiar with OCD can assume that Sticky’s repetitive actions, such as unplugging and replugging his headphones until it feels just right, would be interpreted as compulsions by a medical professional (de la Peña 231). Most importantly, “obsessive-compulsive disorder” is the second tag for the book, alleviating readers from the inappropriate job of having to diagnose Sticky by doing it for us. At the climax of the novel, Sticky’s compulsions result in him getting shot in the hand. He wants to get An-thu a piece of jewelry for her birthday, but he cannot afford it. Although he initially intends to steal it from the store, he decides to steal money from a person on the street instead. When he starts compulsively counting the four hundred dollars over and over, “he freezes. He can’t move. He hasn’t counted right. He hasn’t stacked the bills right. He hasn’t done anything the way it needs to be done, and his body won’t let him move on to the next step” (258).  He continues to count, and the person he robbed catches up to him and shoots him in the hand. He is hospitalized for his injury, but his compulsions go unnoticed and untreated. The reason for this is not explicitly stated, but an assumption could be made that Sticky’s lack of adequate adult support, as well as his lack of class privilege and impoverished community, contribute. Sticky has a happy ending when he physically recovers from the injury, but it is difficult not to imagine these compulsions continuing to affect him as he transitions to playing basketball for a university.

everylastwordSam, the protagonist of Every Last Word, tells her story in first person and has been diagnosed with OCD prior to the start of the novel. She takes medication and has a therapist, a prominent character in the book. From the beginning, it is evident that she also has support from her mother. In the prologue, Sam is cutting flowers with her friends when she starts to worry that she may cut one of her friends with the scissors, a type of obsession that is manifested in some people with OCD. She escapes to the kitchen where her mother helps her work through the obsession, all while keeping what is happening private from Sam’s friends. Once Sam has calmed down, her mom assures her that she loves her and says, “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s okay. It doesn’t mean anything about you. Got it? Now tell me.” Sam thinks, “The two of us have been here before. It hasn’t happened in a long time, not like this, but Mom slips right into her assigned role as if it’s second nature. She’s well trained” (7). Sam’s mom then leads Sam through exposure therapy by having her hold a pair of scissors. In the author’s note, Stone reveals: “While there are hints in the text itself, it is important to me that readers understand that prior to this scene, (1) Sue [Sam’s therapist] has led Sam through exposure therapy sessions in her office, (2) Sue has formally trained Sam’s mother, so she can provide the 24/7 support Sam might require, and (3) Sue and Sam’s mother operate as a team and are in constant communication about managing Sam’s disorder” (357). Interestingly, Sam’s family appears very little throughout the rest of the novel (although her therapist plays a larger role). However, this interaction between Sam and her mom in the prologue, as well as the additional information provided in the author’s note, shows that Sam’s mom is positioned as a character who loves Sam and gives her the tools and experiences she needs to recover safely. This type of support system between parent and therapist is ideal for a young adult working through the struggles of OCD. Sam is privileged in that she has accessibility to quality care in multiple aspects of her life, which greatly contributes to her recovery.

These two protagonists lead very different lives. Sam has the support of her mother, while Sticky has lived in several foster homes and currently lives with a family who sees him simply as a means of gaining income. Throughout the novel, Sam’s therapist supports her, but Sticky does not receive help—in fact, he is never even diagnosed with OCD. This lack of care is particularly frustrating for readers who hope that he will get help when he is hospitalized for his injuries, but his mental illness is overlooked, potentially a result of his class status. Very few YA novels about mental health discuss issues of class, and even fewer include protagonists from diverse races. As a person who has personally benefited from multiple types of treatment at various stages of my life—and as a person who simply cares about the well being of teenagers— I believe that all people suffering from mental illness should have such an opportunity for recovery. Looking at Ball Don’t Lie and Every Last Word together can help teenagers better understand how social justice issues impact teenagers with mental illness and hopefully even inspire youth-led campaigns and activism for the cause.

What do you think? Are there any other books you would recommend pairing together? Is there an exemplar YA novel that illustrates how class, race, etc. can affect mental health treatment? Leave a comment below!

Works Cited

De la Peña, Matt. Ball Don’t Lie. Ember, 2005.

Luthra, Shefali. “Race, Ethnicity Affect Kids’ Access to Mental Health Care, Study Finds.” Kaiser Health News, 12 Aug. 2016, http://khn.org/news/race-ethnicity-affect- kids-access-to-mental-health-care-study/

Stone, Tamara Ireland. Every Last Word. Hyperion, 2015.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

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Alyssa Chrisman is a 26-year-old living in Columbus, OH. A former secondary English teacher in Memphis, she just received a M.A. in Teaching and Learning from the Ohio State University and is about to start their Ph.D. program in Literature for Children and Young Adults. When she is not doing schoolwork, she is probably spending time with her fiancé and three dogs. Sometimes she updates her Twitter and blog: @radwarriorgirl/(http://www.radwarriorgirl.com).

About the Books

Ball Don’t Lie by Matt da le Pena

Newbery Award-winning author Matt de la Pena’s Ball Don’t Lie about basketball “is a must-read.” [The Bulletin]

Sticky is a beat-around-the-head foster kid with nowhere to call home but the street, and an outer shell so tough that no one will take him in. He started out life so far behind the pack that the finish line seems nearly unreachable. He’s a white boy living and playing in a world where he doesn’t seem to belong.
But Sticky can ball. And basketball might just be his ticket out . . . if he can only realize that he doesn’t have to be the person everyone else expects him to be.
Matt de la Peña’s breakout urban masterpiece, Ball Don’t Lie takes place where the street and the court meet and where a boy can be anything if he puts his mind to it.

[STAR] “[An] inspiring story. Sticky is a true original, and de la Peña has skillfully brought him to life.”-School Library Journal, Starred

Riveting…Teens will be strongly affected by the unforgettable, distinctly male voice; the thrilling, unusually detailed basketball action; and the questions about race, love, self-worth, and what it means to build a life without advantages.”-Booklist

Stunningly realistic, this book will hook older readers, especially urban teen males.”-VOYA

“The characters live and breath…This is a must-read.“-The Bulletin

“De la Peña does an excellent job of combining the streets with the sport. Gritty and mesmerizing.“-Kirkus Reviews

“I have never before seen blacktop ball depicted so well. In this novel, you will find its flash, its power, and its elegance without chains. This is powerful stuff.”-Antawn Jamison, forward for the Los Angeles Clippers

From the very first sentence, this book grabbed me and didn’t let go. The deeper I got into it, the more I felt like Sticky’s story was my story. His heart, his handle, the guys in the gym, his potential pitfalls, his dreams. All of it. In a weird sense, this is my life.”-Grayson Boucher (“The Professor”) of tha AND 1 Mix Tape Tour

“Truly authentic in its examination of both the game I love and the invariable missteps toward manhood. You cannot fail to be moved by the eloquence and truth of this story.“-Rick Fox, former forward for the Los Angeles Lakers

An ALA Best Book for Young Adults

An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers

(Ember, 2005)

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear. (Disney Hyperion, 2015)

Resources: #MHYALit – Teens and Addiction Brochure

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Earlier this month, I shared two brochures that I created for my library regarding sexual violence and suicide for teens. At that time I was researching and attending some local training about the current opioid epidemic. As promised, I created a brochure and am sharing it with you today. The contact information is local information and the titles are titles that I have in my collection, they are by no means comprehensive.

real talk addiction brochure 1

real talk addiction brochure 2

Resources: #SVYALit and #MHYALit – Teens and Suicide, Teens and Sexual Violence Brochures

Due in part to the discussions I have been having surrounding the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, I made an informational brochure on the topics of suicide and sexual violence for the teens at my library. I am posting them here for you and you can use them if you would like. A few notes though.

One, these contain titles that I currently have in my library on the subjects. I have been working on my next book order and I am working to make sure to include highly recommended titles and titles that feature diverse MC or are Own Voices on these subjects in my next book order.

Two, I think you can easily make corrections or additions by downloading book covers you have in your collection and overlaying them in a graphics program if you wish.

Three, we checked multiple times because I’m me for typos, so I hope there aren’t any.

I am also working on one to address the current drug/opioid crisis that we are witnessing nationwide and in the county that I serve, but that one is taking a little more time. I could quickly pull information off of TLT to make these two given some of our past projects, but I am just mow starting to really dive into the facts and figures of the opioid crisis.

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real talk sexual violence brochure page 2

real talk sucide brochure page 1

real talk suicide brochure page 2

 

#MHYALit at Teen Lit Con

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This past weekend TLTer Amanda MacGregor presented a session at Teen Lit Con on Mental Health in YA Lit. She references and draws on the work that we have done here for the past year and a half discussing mental health in YA lit as part of the #MHYALit Project. You can read a recap of her presentation here at the link below. It contains slide recaps and a list of recommended books.

Twin Cities Teen Lit Con 2017: Mental Health in YA Literature Presentation

In Our Mailbox: More Thoughts on 13 Reason Why, Teens and Libraries

Trigger Warning: Discussion of Sexual Violence and Suicide

So I received a message in my email asking my thoughts on 13 Reasons Why and programming. At the same time, Heather Booth was thinking about doing a book discussion and she tweeted out asking people their thoughts, so we called and talked about it. Here’s what I’m currently thinking about 13 Reasons Why, libraries, teens and programming.

13reasonswhy

1. The Contagion Effect

In my previous post I alluded to the fact that for reasons that we don’t quite understand, when a school had one suicide they will often have a few more. The term I was looking for at the time is the Contagion Effect. Alexandra Duncan wrote an amazing thread on the teenage brain, mental health and the contagion effect with links to good resources and I highly recommend that everyone read it. When we talk about teens and 13 Reasons Why I think it is important that we keep this information in mind.

2. We Are Not Concerned with Teenage Intelligence, but with Mental Health

Some of the conversation I have seen regarding 13 Reasons Why suggests that this is adults once again not respecting the intelligence or depth of teens, and I think that is not what is happening here. This is about recognizing, as Alexandra Duncan mentions above, that mental health is different then intelligence. People who struggle with mental health issues, depending on what those issues are and where they are at in their treatment, can respond differently to the same input as a person who does not struggle with mental health issues. There are definite times when that mental illness works really hard to trick us into thinking things about ourselves, our worth, that are a skewed distortion of the truth and it’s easy to see how people in vulnerable situations may react differently to the graphic conversations and depictions of suicide depicted in 13 Reasons Why. It’s not about not respecting teens, it’s about respecting teens who may be struggling with mental illness and understanding how triggering this can be to some of them. It’s also about respecting experts who have dedicated their lives to learning about their field of study, remember it’s not just random adults and parents who are concerned with the on screen depiction but mental health experts with knowledge and experience.

3. Speaking of Experts

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I have no problem with the idea of having book discussions or programs on controversial materials or subjects, I just recommend thinking about how we approach those. For example, I have worked at libraries where we have had programs on teen dating violence and domestic violence. The difference is that I had an expert come in and do those programs, and I would recommend the same when talking about 13 Reasons Why which involves mental health and suicide. This isn’t just a program, it’s a program about a topic that is literally life and death and it’s important that we acknowledge the weight of that and respect it. Having an expert on hand to facilitate your program/discussion and to answer any questions is important to make sure that teens are getting the most correct information available to them. If our goal is to serve teens and recognize this important discussion that they are having, then let’s serve them well and make sure they are getting the best information out there on such an important and sensitive topic.

4. Remember, Programming is Opt In

The truth about any book discussion or program in a public library is that it is opt in. This means that our patrons make the choice to come. As long as our marketing is truthful and fully informs our audience of the content of the program and the sensitive nature of the topics, I do think if done well that we can talk about sensitive and controversial things. We put the program together and invite the public, each individual decides whether or not they want to come. Our library system is in its second year of hosting the Great Discussions program, which can in fact contain some controversial topics and discussions. The key is making sure in our marketing to fully inform our prospective audience of what those topics are.

5. What’s the Very Least a Library Should Do Regarding 13 Reasons Why

The popularity of the Netflix series has brought the topics of sexual violence, bullying, mental health and suicide to the forefront of teen discussion. Not only are teens talking about it, but parents, teachers and community members are as well. So this is where we put on our information specialist hats and be pro-active rather than reactive. At the very least, take a moment to review your library policy and inform staff what they are legally and morally required to do if they have a conversation with a teen who they suspect is in some type of harm or danger or at risk for committing suicide. This is an important conversation for librarians to be having with their administration.

Second, think of having some type of resource ready should questions come up. Make sure you have access to a couple of articles regarding the book and show, have a list of some companion reads, and – MOST IMPORTANTLY – make sure you have a list of local and national resources available. There is a National Suicide Prevention Hotline (shown below) and you may want to put up signs in the library letting that information be known. Locally you may also have some resources that you want to know about to share with patrons.

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And finally, a word about streaming the Netflix show in the library. Netflix contracts do not legally allow for the public sharing or streaming of Netflix content, with the exception of The 13th which has been given special permissions for public streaming. In addition, this show is rated M for mature, and if you haven’t watched it yet you should know that is has graphic language, graphic rape scenes, and a graphic depiction of suicide.

And I want to reiterate my previous concern that while it may be great that this book and this show are out there getting teens to talk about very real and important topics that affect them, not all teens have someone to talk to about these topics. And I would caution librarians to think long and hard about what types of conversations they want to have about teens regarding these topics. Know the law, know what your administration will and won’t support, know when and who to refer to, and remind teens that although we may be valued and trusted adults who are experts on the topic of librarianship, we are not experts on the topic of mental health but we will help them find the answer to their questions.

What about sharing our personal stories? I think that is a personal decision that each librarian has to make. And again, each library culture and admin is different so you’ll want to keep in mind what type of boundaries your admin wants you to have with your teens.

Sunday Reflections: Thinking About Mental Health, a #MHYALit Post by Ally Watkins

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. For today’s Sunday Reflections my friend and frequent #MHYALit (Mental Health in YA Lit) contributor Ally Watkins shares a thoughtful piece about her own personal experiences. You can read all of the #MHYALit posts here, or click on the tag #MHYALit.

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I had my first panic attack when I was in the fifth grade. I was sitting at my desk in my classroom doing a worksheet, and everything was fine. Until suddenly, everything wasn’t fine. The lights were too much, the work was too much, the people were too much, and then I was sobbing. It was terrifying and humiliating. None of the adults present had any idea what was happening to me, other than thinking I was maybe getting sick. I don’t remember if my parents were even told about the incident. I wouldn’t fully understand what had happened for nearly 15 years.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Here’s something to be aware of: if you work with children and teens, you are going to come into contact with kids that have mental illnesses.  According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 teens live with a mental health condition, with half of those developing it by age 14. The CDC reports that among children aged 3-17, 3% suffer from anxiety and 2.1% suffer from depression. (Both sites have more information and reading available.)

Serving Teens in Libraries Infographic

If you teach a class or do a class visit, multiple kids in those desks are dealing with these issues. If you have a large program, several of your attendees are living with mental illness. These kids may have had panic attacks like I did, or they may be despondent, or they may be overwhelmed and falling behind in school because of their health. They may not have any idea what’s happening to them.

Kids’ brains aren’t fully developed. They’re not making fully-informed rational decisions on the best of days, in the best of circumstances. And consider this: kids with mental health problems are constantly inundated by messages from their own brain that don’t line up with reality. A teenager with depression may believe that no one cares about them or that life isn’t worth living, even though that is patently untrue. A tween with anxiety may be in a constant state of panic, even if the stimuli in their environment don’t merit that visceral response. These things are hard enough to manage as an adult with a biologically more well-developed sense of reason and some years of experience under your belt. But take a minute to imagine how terrifying the world must seem to a child or a teenager whose perception is skewed by illness. Especially if that illness is undiagnosed.

Work In Progress – Adolescent Brains Are A Work In Progress

Inside The Teenage Brain | FRONTLINE

I wrote a post in the fall called How To Help which highlights a few practical ways that we can provide for kids dealing with mental illness. We’re not doctors. We can’t diagnose or treat, and we shouldn’t try to. But as librarians and/or as educators, we need to be aware of what’s happening in our kids’ lives and be sensitive to that. We can work to fight stigma and we can help spread the idea that mental illness, like any other illness, isn’t anything to be ashamed of. We need to work to create safe, inclusive environments for all of the children and teens that we serve.

I don’t know what I needed that day in the 5th grade. But what I do know is that it can never hurt to have more adults understanding what the kids in their schools and libraries are dealing with. Educate yourself.

 

#MHYALit: A Letter to My Teen Self, by author Sara Wolf

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As part of our ongoing discussion of teens and mental health, we are honored to host author Sara Wolf, who has written a beautiful letter to her teen self. You can find all the #MHYALit posts here.

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Dear Teen Me,

In the grand scheme of things, you’re a bit of a shit, aren’t you? You refuse to like anything everybody else does (the Beatles are intolerable), you ripped the boy who tried to kiss you for the first time a new butthole, and worst of all, you wear your hair down all the time like a hippie Rapunzel. Newsflash: living in Hawaii isn’t exactly conducive to not-ponytails. Stop asking why your neck is sweaty all the time.

Stop asking why the boys aren’t good enough for you. Stop mooning over the Senior who left last year. You weren’t in love with him, you just wanted to jump his bones. You don’t know what that means yet, but you will, someday; nothing is wrong with you. You’re not slow, or weird. Contrary to what society tells you, it’s okay not to want a wiener in your face all the time. Your friends aren’t more mature or experienced than you – they’re different. And that’s fine. The boy who tried to kiss you is different, too. Don’t be too hard on him. You’re far more than he can handle – he is only human. You’re an inferno and he only knows how to hold an ember.

You are afraid of sex, and growing up, and it’s alright. Here’s the thing: it’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to be weak, and I know you hate hearing that, but I’m here to make you hate me. You already hate me, old and comfortable and soft. But I’m smiling at you all the same. It’s okay to be afraid, to shake at the idea of someone touching you. You can barely touch yourself without shaking.

It’s okay.

Take your time.

The burning in your heart is the urge to die. You’re bored and tired and you want to try dying just to feel something, anything. Dying is a challenge and you haven’t had one in so long, not since that Senior went away but he never really talked to you, did he? He touched your hand once and that was enough for you to write a psalm about him. You wanted a challenge from him, but he never followed through. You want a challenge from someone, anyone. Whose brain can match yours? Who is witty and perilously sharp and striding the same knife-edge you are at all times? Whose brain and soul are on fire the same way yours is? Who would even have the courage to set themselves on fire like you? No one. You are special.

I won’t say you aren’t, because I’d be lying. You are the most special thing in the world, to me. I love you. But you’re a little shit and you know it. You wear it proudly, because being a little shit is better than being like everyone else – complacent and quiet and non-confrontational. You are a sword among daggers, a horse among sheep. You fit in, but you don’t belong. Not yet. There are no challenges, no open fields to run in or heads to chop off. Where are your magic powers? You want to be a witch, a magician, you want to be dead. Anything, something other than normal.

So you write.

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And you write, because at sixteen you figured out magic wasn’t real but it needed to be, you had to make it real or you’d lose your mind, your reason for living. This world can be so much more, and you know it. You know it as you sit through those yawn-inducing pep rallies and chemistry classes. You can make the world better, if they’d only give you the chance.

I’ll give you a hint, padawan; no one will give you the chance. You have to make it for yourself, take it, grasp it like Icarus gunning for the sun. You are the end and the beginning, the only existence we’ll have in this world. So keep writing. Keep doing fanfic. Keep crying at night to songs you don’t understand yet. Keep telling yourself there’s a challenge waiting for you out there, because there is. He has a name and a face and he’ll light you up from the inside out. Keep living; because as long as you’re alive, you can make magic.

Keep burning.  

Keep making magic.

Meet Author Sara Wolf

Sara Wolf is a twenty-something author who adores baking, screaming at her cats, and screaming at herself while she types hilarious things. When she was a kid, she was too busy eating dirt to write her first terrible book. Twenty years later, she picked up a keyboard and started mashing her fists on it and created the monster known as the Lovely Vicious series. She lives in San Diego with two cats, a crippling-yet-refreshing sense of self-doubt, and not enough fruit tarts ever.

About Love Me Never (Lovely Vicious #1)

Don’t love your enemy. Declare war on him.

Seventeen-year-old Isis Blake hasn’t fallen in love in three years, nine weeks, and five days, and after what happened last time, she intends to keep it that way. Since then she’s lost eighty-five pounds, gotten four streaks of purple in her hair, and moved to Buttcrack-of-Nowhere, Ohio, to help her mom escape a bad relationship.

All the girls in her new school want one thing—Jack Hunter, the Ice Prince of East Summit High. Hot as an Armani ad, smart enough to get into Yale, and colder than the Arctic, Jack Hunter’s never gone out with anyone. Sure, people have seen him downtown with beautiful women, but he’s never given high school girls the time of day. Until Isis punches him in the face.

Jack’s met his match. Suddenly everything is a game.

The goal: Make the other beg for mercy.
The game board: East Summit High.
The reward: Something neither of them expected. (Entangled Teen, 2015)