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    How You Can Help Prevent Suicide

    “What in the world do you have to be depressed about?”

    “Did something happen to make you sad?”

    “Just snap out of it.”

    Susan* has heard all of these statements her entire life from friends and family as she battled clinical depression.

    “Growing up I was a very shy person in a family of extroverts,” says Susan. “My siblings all love being social and funny. I’m the one who just wants to stay home and read. Throughout my childhood I was very moody.”

    It wasn’t until law school when she was waking up in the middle of the night with her jaw clenched that she decided to talk with a counselor. During her first session, the counselor asked, “At what point in your life did you determine it was your job to be the savior to everyone?”

    “It was at that moment that it hit me,” Susan recalls. “Up to that point, I was the person everybody came to with their problems. I learned I needed some serious boundaries in order to stop letting people walk all over me. I also learned I was clinically depressed.”

    Susan knew she had much to be thankful for, but that didn’t stop her from feeling horrible on a daily basis.

    “Living with depression is like this fog that minimizes joys and magnifies hurts and criticism,” Susan shares. “People who don’t have depression see the world in color. People with depression see the world in black and white. I have dealt with suicidal thoughts for 20 years.”

    Susan recalled a time three months before her wedding. She was driving home from work, planning her suicide in her mind. She wanted the pain to be over. Clearly, she did not follow through with her plan. Susan’s fiance was out of town on business, and she could not think of one other person who would know what to do. She got the help she needed to get through that moment, but every day is still a battle. 

    “In listening to people talk about the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, I think people don’t understand that when you suffer from depression, it’s like every day on this earth is a living hell,” Susan says. “My depression is so severe, it often interferes with my ability to function. For me, and I think many others dealing with depression, the thought of not having to deal with the pain anymore is very appealing.”

    When asked what people say as they try to help, Susan shared that it isn’t helpful to tell a depressed person to just snap out of it, pop a pill or ask if they had a fight with their spouse. 

    “It is helpful to ask, ‘What can I do?’ or to send a text to check in or call and ask how things are going,” Susan says. “Both my husband and I suffer from depression. He knows that when I am having a hard time, the best thing he can do is give me space and let me be quiet. I know that when he is struggling, the thing that helps him most is to get out and do something.”

    Talking to a friend or family member about their suicidal thoughts and feelings can feel awkward. But if you're unsure whether someone is suicidal, the best way to find out is to ask. You can't make a person suicidal by showing that you care. Giving a suicidal person the opportunity to express his or her feelings, however, can provide relief from loneliness and pent-up negative feelings, and may prevent a suicide attempt.

    If you want to be helpful to a person who you believe may be having suicidal thoughts, here are some things you should do:

    • Be yourself. Let the person know you care and that he/she is not alone. The right words are often unimportant. If you are concerned, your voice and manner will show it.

    • Listen. Let the suicidal person unload despair or vent anger. No matter how negative the conversation seems, its existence is a positive sign.

    • Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm and accepting. Your friend or family member is doing the right thing by talking about his/her feelings.

    • Offer hope. Reassure the person that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary. Let the person know that his or her life is important to you.

    • Take the person seriously. If the person says things like, “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on,” ask: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” You are not putting ideas in their head, you are showing that you are concerned, that you take them seriously, and that it’s OK for them to share their pain with you.

    • Ask them how you can be helpful. They may not be able to immediately answer this question, but asking it encourages them to think about it.

    Here are some things you should not do. DO NOT:

    • Argue with the suicidal person. Avoid saying things like: "You have so much to live for," "Your suicide will hurt your family," or “Look on the bright side.”

    • Act shocked, lecture on the value of life or say that suicide is wrong.

    • Promise confidentiality. Refuse to be sworn to secrecy. A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise to keep your discussions secret, you may have to break your word.

    • Offer ways to fix their problems, give advice, or make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It is not about how bad the problem is, but how badly it’s hurting your friend or loved one.

    • Blame yourself. You can’t “fix” someone’s depression. Your loved one’s happiness, or lack thereof, is not your responsibility.

    If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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    How to Encourage a Growth Mindset in Kids

    Carol Dweck is a pioneering researcher in the field of motivation. In her book, “Mindset,” she  addresses why people succeed or don’t, and how to foster success through  the power of yet.

    She tells the story of a Chicago school where students had to pass a series of courses in order to graduate. If they did not successfully pass the courses they were given the grade of “not yet.” Dweck thought that was brilliant. 

    “If you get a failing grade, you feel like a failure,” she says, “But if you receive a not yet, it means you are on a growth track.”

    In an effort to more fully understand how children cope with challenge and difficulty, Dweck gave a group of 10 year olds math problems that were slightly too hard for them. Some of the children said things like, “I love a challenge,” or “I was hoping this would be informative.” Dweck says they had a growth mindset because they innately understood their abilities could be developed. 

    Another group of students thought their inability to solve the problems was tragic. They believed their intelligence was up for judgment and they failed. In fact, Dweck shared that in one study the young students said they would cheat the next time instead of studying more if they failed. They also looked for someone who did worse than they did to make themselves feel better. Dweck refers to these students as having a fixed mindset - believing that personal qualities are carved in stone, which creates an urgency to prove one’s self over and over. 

    In a TED talk about mindset, Dweck asks, “How are we raising our children? Are we raising them for now instead of not yet? Are A’s so important to them that they have no idea how to dream big dreams? Are they carrying the need for constant validation with them into their future lives?”

    Dweck contends that choosing to praise wisely would be helpful to children. Instead of praising intelligence or talent, praise progress, effort, strategies and improvement. This helps build children who are hardy and resilient.

    She also points out that equality occurs when teachers create a growth mindset in their classrooms. For example, in one year, a kindergarten class in Harlem scored in the 95th percentile on the National Achievement Test. Many of those kids could not hold a pencil when they arrived in school. Also in one year, fourth grade students in the South Bronx who were way behind became the number one fourth grade class in New York on the state’s math test. And, in a year to a year and a half, Native American students on a reservation went from the bottom of their district to the top - and that district included affluent sections of Seattle, Washington. Dweck believes this happened because the meaning of effort and difficulty were transformed. Before it made them feel dumb, but now effort and difficulty enable their neurons to make stronger connections.

    “We can change students mindsets,” Dweck says. Every time children push out of their comfort zone the neurons in their brain form new stronger connections. Students who weren’t taught this growth mindset continued to show declining grades, but those who were taught the growth mindset strategy saw their grades improve.

    Dweck received a letter from a 13-year-old boy which said, “Dear Professor Dweck, I appreciate that your writing is based on solid scientific research. That’s why I decided to put it into practice. I put more effort into my school work, into my relationship with my family and into my relationship with kids at school and I experienced great improvement in all of these areas. I now realize I wasted most of my life.”

    Are we raising children in the environment of yet?

    Once we know that people are capable of such growth, it becomes a human right for children to live in places filled with yet. Let’s not waste the time we have with the kids in our sphere of influence. Let’s teach them the importance of mindset, praise their efforts and give them amazing opportunities to grow and become the resilient children we all know they have the potential to be.

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    Thoughts on Dealing With Grief and Loss

    Dan Summerlin loved sports and had started a softball team at his church, First Christian Church. While he was playing on the FCC team, his arm broke while he was throwing the ball from shortstop to home. Little did Dan and his wife Scottie know that his arm breaking would lead to the discovery that Dan had cancer. 

    From his diagnosis in May of 2016 until the day he left this earth on July 30, 2017, Dan Summerlin lived life largely. In spite of treatments and all that goes along with that, Dan did like he always had done: he lived. And when he was no longer with us, we grieved.

    On the one-year anniversary of Dan’s death, Scottie shared some thoughts that are worth passing on about grief and what she has learned in the past 365 days.

    “First, in my opinion, this can be a messy age in life,” says Scottie. “Many people are dealing with marriage troubles, parents passing, children leaving the nest, health problems, career crises, financial strife; you name it. All of these things cause grief and it’s not a competition. There’s no prize for the most pain. Starting over at any age is hard. And scary. Change is challenging.”

    Immersed in grief work through reading, counseling and talking with others facing major life changes, Scottie has put every type-A bone in her body to work in order to move forward. It’s her only choice. She is acutely aware that Dan is never coming home again.

    “What’s helped me most is trying to be understanding of others,” Scottie shares. “When someone cuts you off in traffic or can’t remember your name in the grocery store, or isn’t friendly to you, they might be grieving a loss of some kind. You don’t know what they’re dealing with. Grief is overwhelming. You’re very distracted. It takes months for your brain to get back to normal.”

    Somehow it nevers seems like the right time to have the hard conversations.

    “Have you talked with your spouse about what you would want if something ever happens to you?” Summerlin asks. “Spend some time doing it. People who lose their spouses tend to really struggle if they never talked about their wishes.

    “Do you have a will? Do you have a plan for your children? When something happens to a loved one, the people left behind are in no condition to make hard decisions. You can never have enough health, disability and life insurance. No one ever thinks something is going to happen to them. But if it does, it’s often too late to change policies. Money in no way buys happiness. But not having to worry about how you’re going to pay next month’s bills is a huge stress reliever.”

    Summerlin reminds us that people in pain are emotionally reactive. 

    “They can’t help it, so please be forgiving of them and decisions they make that you may not agree with,” Summerlin says. “Until you’ve walked in their shoes, you truly don’t understand their struggle.”

    If you have people in your life struggling with the loss of a loved one, give them your permission to move on so when that person is ready, he or she can give themselves permission to move on. The timing and what moving on looks like is different for everyone.

    Staying stuck in grief with the pain of the past is no way to live. Everyone deserves to look forward to the future with the ability to find some joy, peace and comfort each day.

    “Today I am thankful for Dan Summerlin for so many reasons,” Scottie says. “He was a wonderful man, husband and father. Was he perfect? No. Did we have the perfect marriage? No. We had real 15-year marriage struggles just like everyone else. But what I can say is we both always wanted what was best for each other. Now we were both strong-willed, so we could for sure disagree on what was ‘best,’ but I always knew no matter what, we loved each other and we would work it out.

    “The one advantage of anticipated death is the ability to plan. Dan and I were able to have all the conversations needed and he certainly set us up for success in his passing. He left the boys and me with a strong foundation of love and support. We could not be more grateful for our friends, family, school, church and community. They have helped us each day: before and after the cancer.

    “There was very little I didn’t know about Dan. I’m thankful for that. I have no regrets with him. He swept me off my feet from the first night I met him and I loved and adored him, as I held his hand as he took his last breath. I’m looking outside this morning, remembering what the sun looked like coming through the windows at the moment he passed. Honestly, yesterday felt more like the one-year anniversary to me since last year, July 30th was on a Sunday.”

    Summerlin shared that after Dan passed, she found the sweetest, yet most heartbreaking note that she thinks he meant to give to her before he died. He wrote it in the last few weeks when his faculties were leaving him. She wanted him to write letters to the boys, but he wrote one to her instead. 

    “Because he knew the best way for the boys to be happy was for me to be happy,” Scottie says. “And he gave me his blessing one last time, in writing, for me to move forward and find joy. And that’s what I try to do each day. Happiness is 100 percent a choice. No one or nothing can make us fulfilled. We have to choose it for ourselves.”

    After Dan's passing, Scottie started a support group for Widowed Moms Raising Children. The group, called Turning the Pages Together, is open to all women in the active stages of parenting, from birth through college and beyond. They meet twice a month, once during the day and once at night, at First Christian Church in downtown Chattanooga on McCallie Avenue.  For more information, contact Scottie Summerlin at [email protected], the organizer, Lisa Hale Gilvin, at [email protected] or go to http://firstchristian-chat.com/what-we-do/.

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    Can Your Kids Ask You About Sex?

    Research says that young people who "sext" are more likely to have sex, and that dating violence is on the rise. 

    So, picture this scenario: Your child sits down at the dinner table and asks, “What is sexting? What is sex?” or “How do babies get inside their mommy’s tummy?” 

    In response, would you:

    A. Laugh and change the subject?

    B. Get irritated and tell your child that those questions are not appropriate at the dinner table?

    C. Thank your child for asking such a great question and either seek to answer it or tell them that you will talk with them about it after dinner?

    Just thinking about answering these questions has and will cause anxiety for many parents. When asked about talking with her children about sex, one mother replied, “My parents didn’t talk with me about it. I think I would just die if I had to talk with my son about it. He’ll figure it out.”

    Let's consider that statement for a moment.

    When young people are left to figure things out for themselves, the results can disastrous. Parents can help their children/teens understand that relationships based on sex aren't healthy or cool by talking openly with them about topics such as sex, love, lust and romance. It's also an opportunity to help your child think about how certain actions now can impact their goals for the future.

    If you are on the fence about talking to your children about sex, sexting and the like, consider the benefits.

    • Children develop an accurate understanding about their bodies, and about sexuality, instead of getting inaccurate information from friends or the media.
    • They learn that talking to you about sex doesn't have to be embarrassing.
    • You equip your child with information they need to make wise choices for the rest of their life.
    • You are teaching them life skills like self-discipline, problem-solving and planning for the future… skills that will help them move toward productive living.

    So, here are some helpful tips for taking the plunge and starting that conversation with your kids:

    • Be an askable parent. Encourage open communication. Tell them it is okay to talk with you. If you don’t know the answer, find the answer together.
    • Don't overreact. The number one complaint from teens is that parents jump to conclusions when they do ask questions. The goal is to keep the dialogue going.
    • Take advantage of teachable moments. The latest sexting research, the pregnancy of a friend and television sitcoms are teachable moments.
    • Listen. Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen as your child shares. It is a great way to learn what they are thinking. Hint: If you want to know what is really going on, do carpool duty and keep your mouth shut.
    • Less is more. State the facts, be honest and keep it simple and age appropriate.
    • Share your expectations and values, too. Whether it is sex, drugs, alcohol or something else, tell your children what you expect. Be clear about your family values.

    The best way to protect young people is to educate them. Are you an askable parent?


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    The Impact of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing on You

    For many years social scientists have been warning society about the cost of family fragmentation. There have been ongoing discussions concerning the impact on children and adults emotionally, educationally, economically, physically and in other areas of life. A 2008 report reveals the economic cost of family fragmentation to taxpayers.

    According to The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing, by the Institute for American Values, The Georgia Family Council, The Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and Families Northwest, divorce and unwed childbearing conservatively cost taxpayers $122 billion annually. The costs are due to:

    • Increased taxpayer expenditures for anti-poverty,
    • Criminal justice and education programs, and
    • Lower levels of tax revenue from those negatively affected by family fragmentation and increased childhood poverty.

    “In 1970 the number of children residing in two-parent families was 85 percent,” said Dr. Ben Scafidi, principal investigator for the report. “In 2005, only 68.3 percent of children reside in two-parent families. This is a dramatic decrease over a short amount of time. Clearly we are seeing the impact.”

    Long-standing research shows the potential risks to children from broken homes include:

    • Poverty,
    • Mental illness,
    • Physical illness,
    • Infant mortality,
    • Lower educational attainment,
    • Juvenile delinquency,
    • Conduct disorders,
    • Adult criminality, and
    • Early unwed parenthood.

    “This report isn’t just about the money; we are talking about real people and real suffering,” said Randy Hicks, president of the Georgia Family Council. “The economic and human costs make family fragmentation a legitimate public concern for all of us. Historically, Americans have resisted the impulse to surrender to negative and hurtful trends. We fight problems like racism, poverty and domestic violence because we understand the stakes are high. And while we’ll never eliminate divorce and unwed childbearing entirely, we can certainly be doing more to help marriages and families succeed.”

    The 2008 report sponsors say this is not a slam toward divorced people or single parents. It is purely providing information that we have never had before, and it could be an opportunity for communities to take grassroots prevention efforts to the next level.

    So what can YOU do?

    • If you have a teen, encourage them to participate in healthy relationship skills class.
    • If you're engaged, participate in skill-building classes that teach you how to have a healthy, long-lasting marriage.
    • If you're in a healthy, long-lasting marriage, encourage newlyweds and offer wisdom along their journey.
    • If you belong to a religious organization, look for ways to engage couples and families in ongoing programming that seeks to meet them where they are and give them skills, hope, words of encouragement and a network from which to draw strength in tough times.
    • If you're in a business setting, make sure your employees know about community resources and encourage them to take advantage what is available.
    • If your marriage is in trouble or distress, seek help.

    It has been said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The report states that a 1 percent reduction in rates of family fragmentation would save taxpayers $1.1 billion annually. This doesn’t even take into account the heartache and emotional upheaval that could potentially be prevented if this report is seen as a call to action to the people of our country.