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How saying ‘thank you’ can help prevent teen suicide

“Thank you” — I know the importance of those two words. I’ve taught them to my daughter as a way to show gratitude and manners. I try to use them everyday to express appreciation and acknowledgement. But today I learned those two little words can save a life.

Today on our radio show, Bruce and I carved out a big chunk of time to discuss the critical topic of mental health — specifically, teen suicide. It’s not an easy topic to talk about. It is both difficult and uncomfortable to talk about kids dying. It’s especially difficult and uncomfortable to talk about kids killing themselves, but we have to talk about it because it’s happening at an alarming rate.

Did you know the leading cause of death for kids 10-14 years old in Arizona is suicide? Let that sink in. More and more 12-year-olds are thinking life is so bad, so dark, so painful they think the only way to make it stop is to end it all.

For years we’ve told kids, if you know of someone who is talking about harming themselves or if you are thinking about suicide, tell a trusted adult. It’s a good message and it’s one that is finally breaking through. They ARE telling educators, parents, coaches and other trusted adults. Here’s the thing, though — many of these adults don’t know what to do when these courageous kids seek help. I’ve got to admit, I wouldn’t know what to do, but thanks to our discussion today with Dr. Aaron Krasnow, clinical psychologist and associate vice president of health and counseling services at Arizona State University, I now do. And it all comes down to those two important words: THANK YOU!

When someone trusts you enough to share they are struggling, tell them thank you. Say “thank you for telling me.” Dr. Krasnow says this is a critical piece that people are leaving out of that moment. Too often we go into crisis mode and want to fix everything, but he says by acknowledging what they’ve said is important enough to deserve your thanks tells them you are going to act like a person and you’re not going to snap into a role or a mode. You are going to listen and you are going to help them. It’s a hard conversation and one most of us are not prepared to have, so here are some steps Dr. Krasnow gave us to help you navigate the conversation moving forward:

1. Say “thank you for telling me.”

2. Let them know you want to help them.

3. Tell them you believe in them.

4. Tell them you know where to get them help.

5. Tell them you’re in this together, and they are not alone.

So while we all can acknowledge there’s nothing simple about suicide, I learned today the power that exists in those two simple words: THANK YOU!

Editor’s note: If you or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call Teen Lifeline at 800-248-8336 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 24/7 at 800-273-8255. 

Bruce St. James & Pamela Hughes