In March, teen suicide prevention expert and youth motivational speaker Jeff Yalden spoke in northwest Missouri, delivering messages of comfort and hope to two communities reeling from the losses of two irreplaceable young people by suicide.
Yalden said then that Missouri was going through a tough time with teen suicides.
And now, another young person in Barnard recently made the forever decision to take his own life – and he was a recent graduate from one of the very schools Yalden visited – South Nodaway High School.
After he got an email about this, Yalden confirmed this with Nick Wray, the guidance counselor there.
“My heart just broke,” Yalden said, adding that the young man graduated in 2017, and was a senior when Yalden spoke there in March.
“He didn’t really hang out with kids his age. All his friends were all older than him. I don’t know the details, so it’s not fair to speculate – but what upsets me so much about this is that I spent 24 hours there,” he said.
One of Yalden’s regrets is that while he was in Barnard, he dealt with the junior class for the most part, because the junior class was hurting from the loss of their classmate, Bailee, who ended her life on February 5.
Yalden was upset because he repeats this message as much as possible, and yet it sometimes seems to fall on deaf ears: If you need to talk to someone, don’t be afraid to open your heart.
“Listen: We all have 100 percent potential, but if you are unwilling to ask for help in life, 100 percent shrinks down to 50 percent,” he said.
It’s important to figure out what you can do alone and what you need help with.
“If you can’t do it on your own, you have to delegate and ask for help. What saddens me is that the message is so strong when I say it: Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Yet he finds out months later that yet another young life has been snuffed out by suicide.
“Anyone can tell you that when you graduate, you have to go into the real world. It’s adulting and responsibilities, and no longer do you have the everyday structure and routine of going to school, doing your homework, going to sleep and going back to school.”
He said that in school, everything is kind of done for you. But after you graduate, what are you doing?
“Are you working? Are you in college? And then if you are hanging out with people older than you – and I don’t know about those influences – but are you ready to be 17-18 years old and hearing about the responsibilities and adulting of someone 20, 23, 24 – hearing about how tough college is, or the working world – or paying these bills? That’s speculation.”
Yalden’s intention is never to come off as insensitive. He has helped folks deal with loss for more than two decades. But he said that as parents, we need to do a better job of being present in our kids’ lives – teaching them about adulting and responsibilities.
“Nick was telling me that this young man was kind of a loner, and that’s another thing that scares me. If our kids are loners, why are they loners? Are we missing something?”
Every suicide is different, according to Yalden. Every suicide carries different emotions as it permeates throughout the school. In this case, the student had already graduated and gone out into the world.
“Bailee was the one that I went out there for. She was a very popular young lady, a junior and very well known. This young man was a loner, and because he graduated already, it has a different effect. It’s not in the school. It’s outside the school, but the shock is within the school.”
To the students, families, teachers and the school community in Barnard, Jeff sends his deepest condolences.
“My friends, I’m sorry. I wish there was more I could say or do. I want you to understand that what you are dealing with today is all over the world, and no matter how painful it is, I understand. I have been there.”
When we are young, we can’t see the wisdom in the phrase, this too shall pass.
“I want you to do a couple of different things:
- Breathe through it.
- I want you to know that our struggles – what we go through every single day – shapes us and builds our character. It defines our courage and builds our self-esteem. There is nothing that you can’t go through.
It WILL be OK in time.”
Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.
“Know that you have trusted people in your life; people that you respect – people whose opinions you value. Don’t ever be afraid to go to them.
Yalden said that if a person is unwilling to ask for that help, then all too often the pressure mounts and puts them in a state of mind where they are unable to make healthy decisions.
“If you know someone that is hurting – emotionally hurting – and they don’t know who to go to, they are not in their right frame of mind and can’t really think and make sound decisions for themselves. You as the friend, family member, boyfriend/girlfriend, parent – YOU have a responsibility to reach out and do the right thing because you are able to think more clearly than that person.”
We all need to do a better job of supporting and encouraging each other.
“I think we need to do a better job educating young people – letting them know that life is a struggle – to dot your I’s and cross your t’s and to move forward every single day,” Yalden said.
But the other side of that coin is the possibility that we might scare our kids too much in trying to teach them that they need to be great and perfect.
“Life is not about perfection. Life is about progress. Life is about patience in the process,” he said. “The more we are willing to talk about it, the more we are going to be able to do.”
Yalden said mental illness is no longer a family issue. This is an economic issue.
“If we are unwilling in our families and our schools to talk about mental illness and the attention that it needs, then we are not going to be able to make any headway. Whether it’s mental illness, depression, anxiety or suicide (yes, that word) – if we are unwilling to talk about it – we are going to continue dealing with this.
We need to get comfortable being uncomfortable talking about it. We all have a responsibility to save lives – to reach out and let people know that what they are going through is temporary. Suicide is forever.
To find out more about Yalden’s speaking programs, including suicide prevention, mental health, teen coaching and more, go HERE.
To book Jeff now for your school or event, call 800-948-9289.
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