Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Notes From My Knapsack 6-21-18

Notes From My Knapsack 6-21-18

Jeff Gill


Depression, Anxiety, and Community



If I were to tell you that 30% of our school children had head lice, you'd definitely read the rest of this column.


I did say "if" and I am glad this is well into the summer so no one can glance across this and get the wrong idea. They don't.


But if I said 30% or more of Granville Schools kids had head lice, I think I'm not getting too far out on a limb to say that the school administration would have a head lice task force, and also the families and parent associations and community as a whole would be responding in a variety of ways (the CVS would be selling out of certain products, I'm sure). Our local culture would respond somehow: maybe head shaving would come into fashion, or folks would compare recipes of mayonnaise and olive oil hair treatments and buy shower caps with hip, cool logos and colors. It would be the talk of Broadway.


A district in Connecticut has been in the news lately, Wilton High School. You can look up more online by searching them, but the upshot is that a survey done their found high levels of sadness, anxiety, and depression, at or higher than those found in . . . wait for it . . . war zones or inner city schools with major social and economic issues.


And Wilton, Connecticut sounds an awful lot like Granville.


Meanwhile, we hear from the CDC that the national suicide rate is up some 30%, with Ohio up around 36%. Suicide is the tenth most common cause of death in the United States, and on the increase; among young people it's more like second place.


Granville Schools have been putting a priority on mental and social health in recent years; they have a Wellness Committee, and the school counselors at all levels, but especially in the high school, have been working on promoting mental health and positive coping skills for years. Alongside of county initiatives like "Our Futures" which is sponsored by the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Licking & Knox Counties, and Licking Memorial Health Systems, the school staff and teachers are all aware of the pressure our students are under. Some self-imposed, not a little of it imposed by our general expectations as a community. We're a high achieving kind of place, and we have many unspoken as well as obvious expectations about doing well, and doing better than that.


Wilton took it on themselves to look honestly at the levels of anxiety and stress in their high school, and found out that 30% of their students had head lice. Wait, no, strike that.


If that many students had lead lice, we'd all know pretty much exactly what to do. If our youth have documentable, measurable levels of anxiety and stress well above the norm, there's no simple prescription shampoo or designer shower camp we can purchase. It takes – as does fighting head lice, actually, or bed bugs – changes in behavior, in assumptions, in actions.


As a community, I'd love to give us a place to talk about some of those changes and adjustments we need. And for those who find the pressures of life and the impact of depression hurting more and more, as well as for those who love them, there's help a phone call away: the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255, and our local 2-1-1 operated by Pathways is there to advise or help.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's not sure you caught it the first time, so: the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Or you can email him for the number at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter. Or call 2-1-1!



Faith Works 6-16-18

Faith Works 6-16-18

Jeff Gill


Everything to live for



National Suicide Prevention Lifeline



You'll see that number again. It's not the only option, but it's the most immediately accessible one, whether you're reading this in print, on a computer, or off of your phone. You may even be able to click directly on it.


Locally, we have 2-1-1. Basically, the same deal, shorter string of numbers, but trained and prepared counselors at Pathways here in Newark. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline folks have much the same skills and experience, and if that's where you'd rather call, try 1-800-273-8255 but just 2-1-1 will do.


What won't do is silence. Evasion. Denial. I am a pastor and also a mediator with lots of community involvement in responding to abuse and neglect of children and also homelessness . . . so I'm familiar with denial. Avoiding inevitable problems past the point of common sense or sweet reason. Not confronting real issues while you still can change something. Everyone can play.


But silence and stigma and nervousness around saying something offensive or just being wrong has helped get us to where the national suicide rate is up 30% in the United States, says the CDC, and in Ohio it's closer to 36%. Around four a day in our state alone. It's the tenth most frequent cause of death, and rising; it's the second most likely reason for the death of a young person.


We've tried not talking about it. Hiding the supposedly shameful fact of a family member dying by their own hand. We worry about talking about the wrong things, and I do believe that discussion in media or general conversation about details of the "how" can be dangerously counterproductive, but trying to hide the reality of suicide does not seem to reduce the frequency of the impulse.


There's much more known about depression and anxiety and other illnesses which can trigger both those issues and create hallucinations or confusion which hitch up to the deep sorrow and driving hopelessness to pull the sufferer into a deeper hole.


Celebrities and neighbors alike are said to be "the last person you would have thought" or "they had everything to live for." So often, after the shock wears off, over time the friends and family start to realize there were signs, dark hints, blatant statements that everyone else laughed off nervously. Even so, to ask "are you thinking about hurting yourself?" seems wrong, forward, pushy.


To inquire "have you taken steps to plan doing that?" I think we flinch from for fear someone we know might say "actually, yes" because then we aren't sure what to do next.


This is where the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is not just for a depressed person to call for a friendly voice to help talk them into a better viewpoint, although at 1-800-273-8255 they're willing to do just that. But you can call that same number to say "I have this friend, and…"


Will they wonder if you're not talking about yourself? Actually, they've heard it all. "Calling for a friend" does happen, but that's cool, too; and lots of actual friends call because they're not sure how to talk to their actual friend who is actually giving away their most precious possessions, and someone read online somewhere that this might be a sign of . . . maybe? You know? So should I . . . ?


It's all good. If you have questions, make the call. They're happy to help, or give you other guidance in your community, whatever direction the conversation takes you.


In religious circles, there has been a general assumption in the past that suicide was a unique challenge to faith, and a completed suicide an offense against God. While it certainly is not what any loving Lord I can conceive of would want for any of us, we're all sinners (says my Christian background, anyhow), and I'm generally reluctant to start ranking sin. Sin is bad, holiness is good, and God wants the good for us. Suicide is not good.


But for someone to be considering suicide doesn't mean they're considering a greater slight against a good God than any other of our many ways to rebel against the Lord's plan, and yes, I think that includes eating that second cream-filled. We all kick against the Lord's best for us in many ways. We all need guidance and mentorship and help to find the path to holiness. That includes medical assistance if we've broken an arm, counseling if our heart is well and truly broken, medications if our thinking is busted.


Or calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's helped people make just that call many times. Tell him how you've been helped by such a call or contact at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.