Conversations with the Expert: Mental Health in Teenagers

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Transcript:

Scooter:

So hey, welcome. We’re so glad that you decided to join us today on our Uplink on the Road webinar. My name is Scooter Kellum, I am the youth ministry strategist state missionary at the Alabama State Board of Missions. And we’re so glad that you decided to be a part of what we’re doing. This is a part of Uplink on the Road, which is our resourcing… I mean, not On the Road, we’re online, right, online training. And so what we’ve done is we are trying to resource and we do a lot of blogs, our Facebook page and things like that, and then on our website, you can see blogs that we put out monthly. But then one of the things that Jon wanted to do is doing some webinars and doing some things like this. I’m happy to introduce to you, Jon LaMarque. He is gonna tell you a little bit more about himself, but from our standpoint, he is our catalyst for Uplink Online. He helps us by partnering with us and giving us good resources and scheduling blogs and getting all that together and kind of showing the vision of what our online presence looks like for training and resources. And so we’re so glad that he is a part of our team and what we’re doing. And so Jon, tell ’em a little bit about yourself, tell them about what we’re doing, and then let’s go ahead and you lead us into Dr. Saunders.

Jon LaMarque:

Yeah absolutely, so I am John LaMarque and I am serving at First Baptist in Haleyville, Northwest Alabama and I’ve been here almost nine years. Love students, love teenagers, and I just want to see them excel spiritually and thrive. And so one of those ideas that I had was to bring on somebody that knew a lot about mental health just with everything going on in our world and our culture. We see that the toll that mental health has on our teenagers and so I want to introduce to you Dr. Saunders, and he’s gonna tell you a little bit about himself, and then we have some questions that we’re gonna ask him, and he’s going to help equip us with how we can help teenagers spiritually and mentally.

Dr. Al Saunders:

All right, well I’m Dr. Al Saunders and feel free to call me Al if you like that better. I am a psychologist in Birmingham with a group called Wellspring Christian Clinic. We’ve been here since 2003. Let’s see. I’m married, four kids, and they’re all perfectly functional, ha ha. No, having four kids is my greatest qualification, I was telling Jon earlier. My kids range from 20 all the way down to 12. I still have nightmares about the elementary school years. I’m almost done with that, but I’m one of those crazy people that prefers the teenage years. The older my children got, the more I was enjoying it. Here at Wellspring, there are 18 of us all jammed in this building. Five men and, I guess it would be, 13 women ranging from psychologists to counselors, the majority of us are counselors. We have one psychiatrist. So kind of having that many people, we’ve been able to kind of have a broad spectrum of things that we do. I personally work with a lot of adults and teenagers with anxiety and depression, anger, acting out stuff, a lot of marital therapy. So that’s kind of what I spend most of my days doing, which sounds like fun, right?

Jon LaMarque:

It sounds like a lot of fun. So I guess the first question, we’ll start off broad, and then we’ll kind of narrow in.

Being around so many counselors and working with so many people, especially teenagers, what do you think are some of the biggest mental health challenges that they face today?

Dr. Al Saunders:

The easy answer to that is anxiety, and it’s the right answer too. I’ve been working 25 years now and I have seen anxiety just explode. It seems to me, and I think research would probably hold this up to, for centuries probably anxiety in teenagers was fairly stable. And now it’s just, I think probably, I guess in… Let me pull that statistic for you here. I think Myspace was the first social media in 2004 and then Facebook, 2008, Instagram, 2013, and then somewhere in there your iPhone, I think around ’07. I’m glad that I lived before that and now see the other side of it. Anxiety has exploded. We can talk about pandemics all day long, but anxiety is really an epidemic amongst our teenagers. Twenty five percent, probably more than that, if you walked into any high school, anyone age 13 to 18, about 25% of those people have an anxiety disorder and that number is going up about 4% a year. I’m no mathematician, but those are massive numbers. And I don’t really see it changing much. So if you said to me, “What’s the biggest “mental health challenge right now for teenagers?” In my opinion, it’s anxiety. And then you’ve got things like depression, obviously, we’re going to talk about that some today too. All of the sexual issues, if you guys have been aware of the news, all the stuff going on with gender dysphoria, and then drug and alcohol abuse, pornography addiction, just this general loss of identity. In my opinion, a lot of those are rooted in anxiety. It seems to be that’s the core concern and from that, like the leading cause of depression in teenagers is anxiety. It certainly leads to many of those other problems as well. So that would be my… I don’t know that wasn’t a very quick answer, but yeah. Anxiety and depression are number one and two.

Jon LaMarque:

Well then let’s focus on those two. What is anxiety? What is depression? What’s the difference between the two?

Dr. Al Saunders:

Yeah, that’s a good question. As far as anxiety, let me… To define that, let me kind of start, step back a little bit and tell you what it isn’t because you hear things like fear and anxiety and worry and how are those all different? Fear is definitely… Let’s start with fear. Fear is a normal, but unpleasant emotion. Fear is very specific, it’s very useful. I know some people think, “Oh no, it’s not!” Well they’re probably talking about anxiety. God designed my body with the fight/flight response so that when I fear something, it turns me into super Al. And here’s sort of just the way of thinking about it. If I walk out to my car today, and we’re in Alabama so we can talk about snakes, and out of the bushes beside my car a snake jumps out, well my brain identifies that as a major threat to me and I have a fear response. I would be afraid, I’m not a snake handler by nature. But that fear would be really useful, I would jump higher than normal, I would escape, or maybe I’d fight back, I don’t know. But my fear would be very specifically focused. Compare that to anxiety. Anxiety would be more of a general feeling of apprehension where, let’s say, for the next week or two, every time I go out to my car I’m looking around wondering if there’s a snake. And there may not be another snake that I see in the whole two week period, but I am always on the go, my fight/flight response is always on. And so anxiety is more of a diffuse, generalized, non-specific thing with a fight/flight response is always on and that’s very bad for my body. And anxiety is just this weird, it’s like I have a threat to my sense of self. You hear a lot of teenagers talking about they don’t know who they are or they wonder if they have what it takes or am I safe, am I loved? Those are not right in your face, kind of fear things. Those are more general things that I’m mulling over in my mind all day, going to sleep at night, thinking about whether I don’t measure up or I’m not accepted or not loved. So that’s the way I would separate fear and anxiety. And then we got worry which is a totally different thing. Worry is a behavior. So worry’s not an emotion. And I always think of worry, is this sort of a mental form of trying to reach out and control events. Worry does me no good, but I might spend a lot of mental energy of that behavior of worrying, trying to prevent or lessen my anxiety. In defining anxiety, that would be kind of where I feel like I needed to say all that stuff. Let me say one more thing about that. Occasional anxiety is not unusual and it’s not really even treatment worthy, but if a kid’s feelings of anxiety are extreme and they’re lasting more than a month and they’re really causing them to suffer in a lot of different areas, school, social relationships, athletics, whatever, that’s when you’re starting to think, “Okay, this may be a disorder, an anxiety disorder.” I know you guys are probably all familiar with things like panic attacks and generalized anxiety which is sort of just chronic worry, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias of dogs and bridges and elevators. Those are all different disorders or labels or diagnoses that we give someone who has an anxiety disorder. The only difference is what is the thing that they fear or that they feel threatened by. And I probably should have said this before, this might be a good thing for everyone to kind of think about. Anxiety is always, always, always rooted in perception. So God’s designed my body to fear things that I think are scary. So if I think that black pens… This is a black pen. If I think that black pens are dangerous, if that’s my view, then when you present a black pen to me, I’m going to move away, I’m gonna dodge it, I’m gonna try and get away from it. As long as I believe that black pens are dangerous then I will have anxiety or fear around it and I’ll avoid it. So one thing that I’m doing in my work with people, I try to understand what is behind… They come in reporting anxiety about this or that and we try to understand what is the threat that they perceive. So I talk a lot about the glasses that we look at life through and if my view is that something is dangerous then my body is going to respond with a fight/flight response. I hope that makes sense. Jon, you let me know if I’ve talked too technically.

Jon LaMarque:

No, that totally made sense. What are some signs or, I guess, triggers that we can see in teenagers that we should be on the lookout for?

Dr. Al Saunders:

Well, definitely like we talked about, recurring worries, irritability, definitely things like falling grades in school or avoidance of any activity, even avoiding going over to grandpa’s house. Kids will sometimes not want to go out to the football game or certainly poor concentration, substance abuse, and then all the physical stuff like stomachaches, headaches, fatigue. Those would be the main things that I think you would notice. Kids are pretty good about hiding it though and they’re desperately searching for something to medicate it so that’s where alcohol and drugs come in. But I think mostly you’re gonna see avoidance and a decrease in their performance socially, academically, all that kind of stuff.

Jon LaMarque:

So it’s not always obvious, but when it is, it’s usually an avoidance.

Dr. Al Saunders:

Yeah. It’s not always obvious. It always amazes me, kids that I see out in the community, and I had no idea they were anxious, but they come in and they’re just eaten up with anxiety. To me, and this is not a textbook answer, but there are three main things that are causing a rise of anxiety, the high pressure to be successful, the constant negative news, the big issues of the world that teenagers are dealing with now politically, even tear us up, and then social media. And I was talking about how 21% of teenagers feel worse about themselves because of social media. It’s here to stay, there’s nothing we can do about it really. I think as a parent trying to put nice healthy boundaries on that is obviously a good thing, but that’s probably another talk for another day. I’m not surprised that teenagers are more anxious now than they used to be, but I don’t think the problem is going anywhere, which is sad. Which kind of segues nicely into depression, if you wanted to go there, Jon, I don’t know.

I think a lot of people, talk about what is anxiety, I think depression is often misunderstood. I think everyone uses that term a lot, “I feel so depressed.” But really actual clinical depression, and we probably need to talk about that, it’s much more severe. Feeling depressed and sad is only one symptom of depression, of clinical depression. Really depression would be feeling sad and then for a period of two weeks at least also feeling about four or five of the following things. So feeling sad, changes in your sleep pattern, Oddly enough, this may be strange to some of you, but a teenager is supposed to sleep nine hours a day. I don’t know if that may be earth shattering news to some. So less sleep than that, which they all get almost, has its own problems. We’ll talk about sleep some other time. But when you see your teenager have a major change in their sleep pattern, loss of interest in things they normally enjoy, feeling guilty and worthless, changes in energy, so a decrease in their energy level, and then concentration usually goes down, appetite changes, sometimes they’ll either eat more or they’ll eat less. And then what I call psychomotor, which just means their motor behavior, you either see lethargy or agitation. Either they aren’t moving very fast at all or they’re just super restless and agitated. And then suicide which is the one that everyone worries so much about. So there’s really nine symptoms of depression and any five of those that a teenager feels for more than two weeks, and then you can say, “Wow, that kid’s depressed.” And that’s definitely when someone like me needs to get a call. You guys are on the front lines, but when when a teenager comes to you or a parent comes to you and they’re reporting, not just a few days of depression, but two weeks or more, that’s a real serious problem and we need to evaluate them at that point and try to do something about that. But 20%, you know we talked about 25% of teenagers are anxious, 20% of teenagers are suffering from depression right now.

Jon LaMarque

It’s a high number.

Dr. Al Saunders

Yeah, man. That’s like one out of every five.

Scooter Kellum:

Hey Al, I’m gonna jump in just a second because I think with what you just said with after two weeks they need to be coming to see you. At what point, we’ve got a question from J.B., what line needs to be crossed to where we go from youth pastoring or pastoring or whatever that role is to where we start going, “Okay, now we need to refer.” At what point, not just in the depression itself, but like in all of this, where’s that line for us? Could you guide us a little bit on that?

Dr. Al Saunders

Well, depression’s easier to see because when a kid’s really depressed, everything kind of starts to shut down. With anxiety they can hide it sometimes; with depression, they just become almost non-functional. Grades slip big time, they’re isolated, their hygiene often changes. They quit fiddling with their hair so much and making it look nice or girls maybe quit wearing makeup, boys quit working out, sometimes they run away from home, that’s kind of extreme, but certainly substance abuse. For you guys at home, I have an acronym for you that might be helpful. Write on your page, SIGECAPS. So S-I-G-E-C-A-P-S, SIGECAPS. I’ll real quickly, this will be helpful for you. The S stands for sleep. The I stands for interest, so decrease in interest. The G stands for guilt, just guilt and worthlessness, ’cause SIWECAPS doesn’t sound as good as SIGECAPS So G stands for guilt and worthlessness. The E stands for energy. The C stands for concentration. The A stands for appetite. The P is that psychomotor word I was using, so lethargic or agitated. And then the last S stands for suicide. And so what you don’t see in there in that SIGECAPS is sad mood because you don’t really need to remember that. The acronym, if they’re not sad or irritable, then we wouldn’t even be talking about it. So if they’re sad and irritable and they display about five or more of those SIGECAPS things, then we got a kid who’s probably depressed.

Scooter, I hope I answered your question. With anxiety, again, it’s just when they’re functioning is changing in a significant way. And I never underestimate… I tell parents this all the time, don’t ever underestimate your ability to be as effective as a professional person until it gets super serious. And so you guys in youth ministry, man, y’all are doing so good, so much more good, than you even realize. And it goes way beyond the spiritual, just the relationships that you guys are providing for these kids, it really goes a long way of connection a healthy connection. But there is a point where we need to make that phone call, try to get them some help, and it’s really when they’re functioning, when it’s significantly hurting their performance in some area, or certainly when their safety is jeopardized.

Jon LaMarque:

So what can we do for the stigma that comes along with this? I know that in our culture, especially Christian culture, it is, “Well, I have faith in Jesus so I shouldn’t struggle “with mental health issues.” With that mindset, it’s harder to get them help so how would you respond to that?

Dr. Al Saunders

It’s funny Jon, ’cause I’ve seen this changin’ a lot. That’s an issue for old guys like me and you. I shouldn’t throw you under the bus, you’re not very old. There seems to be less of a problem in today’s culture than 10 to 20 years ago. One of the positives of social media, and this always amazes me, teenagers are extremely transparent on there. They regularly post their personal struggles for all the world to read. So although there’s still somewhat of a stigma for adults to acknowledge that they need a therapist, it’s almost readily accepted, it’s almost cool in some places, in some cities, for a teenager to ask for professional help. Here in Birmingham… Excuse me, here in Birmingham, a bunch of my daughter’s friends, easily eight out of 10 of them see the same therapist. That never would’ve happened when I was a kid, but it’s almost cool. I don’t know what it’s like in Haleyville or some other towns, but here in Birmingham, it’s not a big deal. Now, it’s not cool for the boys. That’s probably my main issue, my main struggle with teenage boys. They come in, they feel like, “Well, if I’ve seen Dr. Saunders, that means I’m crazy.” So I have to help ’em clear that up pretty quickly that they’re not crazy and I’m here to kind of mentor them a little bit. Obviously I do a little more than that, but I try to downplay that because it’s still not cool to guys. But from a Christian point of view is what you’re asking.

Jon LaMarque:

Could be obstacles with parents, like “If I let my kid go here, is that gonna show “that I’ve done something wrong “or they don’t believe or what?”

Dr. Al Saunders

Yeah, I think it’s more of the first thing, Jon, that they feel like it’s embarrassing, their kid’s in therapy or their kid takes medicine. I don’t know, culture’s changin’ so fast. I don’t hear a ton of people saying that Christians shouldn’t be sad. That was a big deal when I was growing up. If you are really a Christian, then you shouldn’t struggle with depression. I sort of see depression, I guess I would call it, a result of sin. But I’m a psychologist, so I’m kind of used to… It doesn’t have the stigma to me as much anymore. But I think parents are kind of embarrassed sometimes more so that their kid is struggling than that their kid isn’t a strong Christian. I don’t know. Do you see that in your…

Jon LaMarque:

With a few yeah. What would be the best tactic, strategy, to get them to see they can’t come to a pastor, they need somebody more professional.

Dr. Al Saunders

I think it just becomes… Like what I would tell the kid is, “Hey man, this anxiety is preventing you “from playing sports” or “This is killing your grades. “When you can’t go into a classroom “and focus like everyone else is able to do on the test “because you’re too nervous about something, “man, I want to really help you be successful in school “or just being able to do your best. “I want to take away the chain around your ankle “that’s holding you back.” I definitely paint it as we’re gonna get in there, we’re gonna solve this problem, and then you’re gonna go back and enjoy your teenage life. Not like you’re locked in with me forever.

Jon LaMarque:

Yeah. So as a student pastor, we’ve also seen ways that teenagers try to cope when they deal with anxiety or depression. And think two of the biggest ways are substance abuse like nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, and cutting. So could you address those two issues?

Dr. Al Saunders:

Yep. Let’s talk about marijuana first. I’ll tell you what, the thing I hear a lot nowadays is that marijuana is fine, it’s natural, half the States have approved it, it can’t be bad for me if so many people are coming on board with it. I think the propaganda out there is that marijuana is some kind of health thing. That couldn’t be further from the truth. From a mental health point of view, tons of studies are showing that depression, it increases the risk of depression, marijuana increases the risk of depression, anxiety, suicide planning, and then the big one is psychosis. So what that would mean would be like hallucinations, delusions, you think about schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in its extreme forms. What people don’t realize is that if a kid has some genetic predisposition to that in his family, let’s say his mom or dad suffers from depression or bipolar disorder for example, marijuana is jacking up the the odds that they’re gonna have trouble with that themselves. It almost unlocks it for some reason. The details of why that’s happening are not clear, but the results are very clear. And it is addictive. I found a number somewhere, one in six people who start using marijuana before the age of 18 are becoming addicted. That’s a very high number, one in six. These kids, I think they think that they can just use it for now and that when they get older it won’t be a part of their life. That really isn’t what I see. It becomes a behavioral pattern, almost like an easy button from the Staples commercial. Is this website sponsored by Staples? I just gave a free ad. Marijuana is the easy button. If they’re stressed, if they’re having trouble at school, if they go to party and they don’t feel like they can dance well enough, hey you just go out back and smoke some marijuana or drink some beer and get back in there. And so what ends up happening is I get these 25 to 35 year old people in my office who don’t know how to cope with stress because they always just hit the easy button when they were in high school. High school is supposed to be stressful a little bit. It shouldn’t be like the adult world, but it’s almost like stress training ground. High school is supposed to be an introduction to stress. But drugs and alcohol, for sure, it lets them bypass that and start coping with a mechanism that ends up having serious problems. Like listen to this. People who use marijuana are more likely to have relationship problems, worse educational outcomes, lower career achievement, and reduced life satisfaction. Those are horror words to an adult. But to a teenager, they don’t care about that. If it’s not about this weekend, they’re not that concerned which is a major problem. But teenagers don’t typically think that long-term out so it’s a challenge. They see an immediate result, feeling more relaxed, and they think, “Well that’s good.” There’s even an eight point IQ loss, I don’t know if you guys knew that, permanent IQ loss of eight points if you smoke marijuana at a young age. I mean that’s very serious. So anyway, I’m not sure I answered your question, Jon. I kind of got excited about talking about how marijuana has a lot of downside. And one more thing, let me say one more thing. The marijuana that people are smoking today is about three times more powerful than the marijuana that they were smoking 25 years ago. The THC level in marijuana now is so high. It’s not… Well, it was never great, but it’s a major, major problem. Anyway, back to your question there, Jon . I get excited about these topics.

Jon LaMarque:

No, it’s cool. I definitely see just with culture and we just got done doing a Bible study on cultural issues and we talked about substances and just the general attitude towards teenagers, especially toward marijuana, is it’s not really that bad anymore. It’s just a thing people do to feel good. So just hearin’ those statistics and just what happens when the brain, and mentally happens, is crazy to me.

Dr. Al Saunders

Well like, Jon, when these kids are smoking and vaping, you can tell ’em all day long that they’re going to develop lung cancer, but they don’t seem to care. That’s not a deterrent to a teenager ’cause all they’re concerned about is looking cool and hanging out at the ball game.

Jon LaMarque:

So how would you… What would you… What would you suggest? What’s the best way to minister to those people or to counsel them if they don’t even have the desire to want to quit?

Dr. Al Saunders:

I know, it’s a big challenge. I kind of always think that the first thing we have to understand is why they’re doing it. I hope I don’t dive in too deep of a technical hole here, but as a psychologist I would say that none of my behaviors are random. So let me explain what I mean. Everything that I do, I do it for a reason that makes sense to me, that’s what I mean by that. So why is a kid deciding to go smoke marijuana or to smoke cigarettes or to drink when they know that if they get caught they’re gonna get in trouble, they know that they do it for long enough, they’re gonna die of lung cancer or heart disease. Why would they do that? And I think as a parent, as a youth minister, as a psychologist, we gotta do a really good job of listening. I think teenagers are kind of sick of hearing all the great answers that we have as old people to their problems. It seems we make a lot more progress when we respectfully listen and help them understand that we’re interested in knowing why they do what they do. And then you’re able to persuade. That’s all I’ve got, when someone’s in my office, they’re in there for an hour and then they go and I may not see them for weeks. When they’re alone with their friends, I have zero power over them unless I am someone who has influence, unless I have been able to get in with them, build some sort of relationship, and that gives me the power to persuade. But I got to listen first to get to that which is where you guys all come in ’cause y’all can spend hours with these kids and I can’t. So anyway, that’s my first thought, Jon. These teenagers are living for the moment, they’re rarely concerned about the future, so the key is I gotta get in there and listen and try to understand why they do what they do. And then the second thing is really kind of a more practical step. Somebody else said this to me one time, it’s always stuck in my head. We gotta offer teenagers a greater yes. Instead of saying, no, no, no, I gotta offer a teenager a greater yes. So like the easy example is athletics. There’s a lot of kids who would normally use drugs or alcohol but they know that drug testing is coming up and if they’re positive, they’re not going to get to play Friday night. So something more, we have to help these kids understand there’s something more important than the pleasure of the moment that they can connect with, and that’s gonna vary from kid to kid. If all I’ve got is punishment when I catch ’em, then they’re gonna figure out a way around that to be able to do it when I don’t catch ’em. And they’ve got all day to think about that and strategize and I don’t. ‘Cause we’re all busy, we’re doing adult things. These kids sit around and they chat with their friends about “How did you do this?” They’re one step ahead of us. So something to pursue that is greater than the momentary thrill or pleasure. Even sex, not to go down another… What is our answer to kids when they say, “Why shouldn’t I have sex?” Telling them that God says that’s wrong, that that’s sin. If they believe in God, if that’s special to them, then they’ll go, “Wow, I don’t want to do that.” But there’s so many positive reasons on why kids shouldn’t have sex as a high school kid. But I know we’re not here to talk about that today. We’ll do another webinar on that.

Jon LaMarque:

Yeah, we could tell talk about this for a long time. What about self harm? What about cutting? Like how can we as student ministers minister to them?

Dr. Al Saunders:

Let’s see, where are my statistics on cutting? I have a sheet somewhere, hold on. When you hear that a teenager is cutting, that’s very distressing. And the first thing that people think is suicide, this kid’s trying to kill themselves, that isn’t really their main motivation. But think of cutting as a soothing technique or I’ve heard lots of kids say that they feel dead on the inside and when they cut themselves and they bleed, it makes them feel alive. Kind of gives me the willies, I don’t like the sound of that. There is some legit science behind the release of endorphins, and y’all have probably all heard this before, but when your body gets hurt, even if it’s a self-inflicted hurt, the body releases endorphins that are kind of a calming agent. So unfortunately they have learned that if they cut themselves, they get a little bit of some weird natural relief from the body. That ain’t what we want because the last thing we want to do is reinforce a harmful behavior. Jon, as far as what I would say, “How do we deal with that?” Again, going back to what I said about marijuana, make sure that we’re doing a lot of listening so that we understand what are the stressors that they perceive, what are the threats in their world, and why do they make this choice to cut themselves when there could have been other choices, which we’ll get into in just a second. The first thing, I call it safety first, the first thing I want to do when I hear that someone’s doing some cutting is I want to make sure that we do our best to get everything sharp out of their access and that we try to make their environment safer. So if there’s something going on at home that is really driving that or if there’s some kind of situation, we want to try to make that safer, try to prevent them from having access to sharp things. But you’d be shocked, it’s almost impossible to remove everything sharp from a person’s life. Teenagers are very creative, but you want to do the best you can. Second thing is ask them directly, and you want to do it respectfully and obviously from a place of love and concern, but I think be clear, ask, “Did you make those cuts “on your arm on purpose? “Are you hurting yourself?” Those are fair questions and I think kids respect that. If you’ve built the relationship, then you can you can ask that question. And then you get into stuff like, we were talking about listening, so acknowledging their pain, connecting with them. Let’s talk for a second about other options. If we see cutting as a coping mechanism, think about all the other things that are great coping mechanisms, exercise, talking with friends, playing music, if they’re into piano or drums or guitar. Man, I got a list that’s like 50 things long and I won’t read all this to you if I can find it. Where is that list? Sorry about that. This is not good television. Anyway, it’s stuff like taking a walk, taking a hot shower, calling a friend, doing something athletic, writing in a journal. I had one kid who would even take a pen, and you gotta have more than one piece of paper ’cause it’ll rip, but they would take the pen and draw very aggressively. There can be all kinds of things that are other coping mechanisms that can really be helpful. But I think the most important one is getting it out. Certainly, if the kid is a Christian, prayer is excellent, meditation like where they’re relaxing, not the weird stuff; but Jesus meditated. So helping them have a Bible verse that really is impactful to them and just teaching them how to breathe and sit there. And that only works for some kids, I understand that, but it’s very effective because anything that reduces that stress. Because once you see cutting as a coping mechanism, just like marijuana, we can find other means to create, to achieve the same purpose. And as far as when to refer to a professional person, if you see blood, I think it’s probably time to send them to someone. One more thing that’s kind of interesting, a professional person is a little bit of a consequence. If you’re cutting, and because your parents know that you’re cutting, now you gotta go talk to the counselor. That’s kind of a deterrent, so that’s an extra thing.

Jon LaMarque:

Could you get us that list when you find it? I can post it online for everybody. You don’t have to read it out, but I can just post it when we’re done.

Dr. Al Saunders:

Yeah, actually it was behind my computer. This is like over a page long, single single-spaced. I’ll send it to you.

Jon LaMarque:

We can have it available to everybody.

Dr. Al Saunders:

Yeah, I hit the highlights of the ones I like. Oh, one that I see here is massaging the area that you want to harm. One person uses ice, they squeeze ice, and I don’t really like that one because that causes pain. I try to get away from the idea of, “I’m stressed so I’m gonna to cause my body pain.” That’s kind of just another mechanism, even though ice isn’t gonna hurt you. I’ll shoot that to you.

Jon LaMarque:

Sounds good. Well we spent, it feels like we just started our conversation, but we could spend an hour on every one of these questions that I asked and we just don’t have enough time. But thank you for your time. I think Scooter’s gonna wrap this up. Maybe there’s enough time for one question?

Scooter Kellum:

Yeah, I think two of these out of the three are good, are really good just resources so we don’t have to dig deep. But what are the best resources to equip parents to even have the conversation with them? How do you equip parents? So I guess that all kind of is right there together. But then I guess the other one is how have you used outside church resources or outside of the church resources, school counselor, things like that, to help families and students? Just looking at… Because really we do need to equip our parents because that’s kind of, to even have the conversation, we live in such a busy world that sometimes it’s hard to even sit and have dinner together which would be a really good time to have those conversations. Typically it’s the youth pastor who’s gonna talk about the birds and the bees with your youth. It’s gonna be us that talk about things with them and so how can we better equip our parents to to do some of those things?

Dr. Al Saunders

I think a couple of thoughts. Educating ourselves as a parent, I need to try to… For me, my wife is the main social media person in our home, I don’t even have social media. That’s an easy cop-out so we need to be more educated about depression, about anxiety, whether that’s books that you read or webinars like this that you listen to. There’s so many resources out there on the internet that you can find about that. But equipping ourselves educationally first about what are these things. This may have been the first time that some of you heard of the word cutting and you may be appalled that teenagers would ever do that or these numbers on marijuana use or whatever, some of these statistics may have shocked you. But really as important as education for us personally, the second thing is relentlessly finding a way to develop a relationship with our teenagers. We’ve got to really see, we’ve got to invest and strategize with our teenagers in the same way that we do with our jobs. Finding a way… A lot of us as parents will try one thing and they said, “I don’t want to do that” and then we just give up and we just go back to the den and they go back to their room. You don’t want to drive them out the door, but you want to relentlessly pursue connection with time, find common ground. It’s hard to have a conversation about depression with a kid that you don’t know very well. So you’ve got to build that first. By the time they’re 18, you’re kind of playing catch up a little bit. You’re kind of in my position. When an 18 year old walks in my office and I don’t know ’em, I have to build a relationship. As a parent, try not to let yourself be intimidated by the stiff arm move that they’re all gonna give you. Because they’d rather go to their friends who… Talk about the blind, leading the blind. So Scooter, I guess those would be the main things. Equipping parents, get smarter about what’s going on in the world and you educate yourself with everything that you can. And number two, continue to pursue your relationship with your kid. Just ’cause you’ve been rejected once by them, stay with it. Because you really are… Parents are the best resource for a kid’s mental health. It’s not even a question. Much better than me or youth ministers, parents are the number one.

Scooter Kellum:

Good deal. Well, I know it’s time for you to go about your day. We were so thankful that you took this time out to be with us. Jon thanks for organizing this and getting it ready. I do want to give you a couple of reminders. I want to thank you first for being here. Pinnaclealabama.org, we’ve got webinars from the past, you can see what’s coming up. And that’s not just in youth ministry, but that’s state board wide. This will be uploaded on that. Also you’ll be receiving an email that will have that on there as well, and we’ll send you this ’cause we have recorded it. So thanks for coming, thanks for being a part. I hope this has been helpful. We are going to type in Dr. Saunders’ email address so that we can get that in there. Oh, there it is, look at that. So you can go and do that and see that. So if you need to reach out to him, he would love to hear from you. And so thanks again for being here today. Let me pray for us as we dismiss and then feel free, you can always call me as well or contact me. So thank you all so much. Father, we love You. We thank You so much for this day. God, we thank you for Dr. Saunders and for him using his expertise to just help us as we minister to a lot of teenagers that are hurting, that are in lots of different places. And God, it’s not too late and there’s not too much, we just got to continue to love them, to care for them, to see what’s going on in their lives so that we can minister to them effectively. Father, I thank You for his wisdom, for his knowledge, and for all the things that he got to talk about with us today and guide us and lead us. Thank You for Jon and for his leadership and for him organizing this. And God, I’m just so thankful for all those who came on today just showing that they care and love teenagers. God, let’s go make disciples as we go throughout our day, loving those who need love the most. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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