Discussing mental health, including depression and suicide can be taboo; However, we know that it is far too important and prevalent among young people to ignore. Being a teenager is not always easy-going and fun, it can be difficult and painful for so many teens and their peers and without adequate support and healthy coping skills it can also be lonely and isolating. In this section you will learn about depression, healthy coping, communication, signs of suicide and how/where to get help and much more.
Depression & Suicide
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Depression, suicide, mental health … words that most of us have a hard time comprehending, let alone discussing and seeking support for. Hopefully with more honest conversation, we can learn to understand how undiagnosed, untreated and mistreated depression really impacts our community and our young people. In fact, studies show that approximately two out of three people who commit suicide suffer from major depression first.
- Major depression is a common mental disorder affecting adolescents in the United States.
- A major depressive episode is defined as: a period of two weeks or longer during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, and self-image.
- In 2014, an estimated 2.8 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
It’s hard to say whether teenage depression is more prevalent today or that we are just becoming more aware of it. The fact is depression strikes teenagers more often than you think and unfortunately, only one in five depressed teens either seek out help or are offered help from a parent, teacher of other caregivers. While it is easy for adults to ask for and receive help, most teens are in a much more precarious position and find it difficult to obtain help when it is needed. Because of this it is critical that we all recognize the warning signs:
• Sadness or hopelessness
• Irritability, anger, or hostility
• Tearfulness or frequent crying
• Withdrawal from friends and family
• Loss of interest in activities
• Changes in eating and sleeping habits
• Restlessness and agitation
• Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
• Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
• Fatigue or lack of energy
• Difficulty concentrating
• Thoughts of death or suicide
- Females are 50 percent less likely than males to use mental health services.
- 12–15 year-olds are 90 percent more likely than 8–11 year-olds to use mental health services.
If you suspect that a young person (or quite frankly, anyone) is suffering from depression, speak up and ask for help immediately. It’s important not to make assumptions as to whether the problem is depression or not, as the above behaviors are still signs of a bigger or deeper problem. Sharing your concerns with your teenager is important; however, choose your words carefully and make sure to state your concerns in a loving and non-judgmental manner. Let them know what specific signs of depression you’ve noticed and why they worry you and that you want to help see them safe and healthy.
Initiating conversation will hopefully allow your child to share what they are experiencing and feeling. Often times a depressed child will have a hard time opening up or they may be ashamed or afraid of being misunderstood. If your child states that there is nothing wrong, it is important for you to trust your instincts and make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible. Depressed teenagers may be at risk of suicide, even if signs and symptoms don’t appear to be severe. Talking about the problem and offering support can go a long way in getting your teen’s life back on track.
For additional support or information:National Suicide HotlineSuicide Prevention
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In recognition of World Suicide Prevention Day, the Youth Project wanted to acknowledge teens and adults who are struggling with depression and suicidal ideation, as well as those who have been affected by suicide, and suicide survivors. We are here for you, we support you.
Mental health, depression and suicide are topics most people are uncomfortable discussing but with education and compassion, we can create a safe environment for those struggling.
Some quick stats:
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in the US for ages 10 -24
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in the US for ages 45-59
- Veterans comprise 22.2% of suicides
- There is one death by suicide in the US every 13 minutes
- Depression affects 20-25% of Americans ages 18+ in a given year
- Suicide takes the lives of over 40,000 Americans every year
- Only half of all Americans experiencing an episode of major depression receive treatment
- 80% -90% of people that seek treatment for depression are treated successfully using therapy and/or medication
- An estimated quarter million people each year become suicide survivors
- There is one suicide for every estimated 8 – 25 suicide attempts
- There is one suicide for every estimated 4 suicide attempts in the elderly
How can you help?
Know the signs and the resources available to you.
People who kill themselves exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do. The more warning signs, the greater the risk.
If a person talks about:
- Killing themselves
- Having no reason to live
- Being a burden to others
- Feeling trapped
- Unbearable pain
A person’s suicide risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased, especially if it’s related to a painful event, loss, or change.
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means
- Acting recklessly
- Withdrawing from activities
- Isolating from family and friends
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
- Giving away prized possessions
People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods.
- Loss of interest
If you are worried about someone, there is always help!
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1 (800) 273-8255
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How do young people respond to divorce?
In general, the ways in which young people deal with divorce are the same as dealing with the loss of a loved one. It is common for a young person to feel as though the family has died, the marriage has died, and life as they have known it has passed on.
Most common reactions young people have to divorce:
- Feeling angry and disillusioned.
- Feeling abandoned. Thinking that the parent is leaving him/her, not the spouse.
- Trying to take control over the family.
- Showing extreme behavior.
- Becoming moralistic, or becoming involved in high-risk behaviors such as drug use, shoplifting, ditching school, etc.
- Trying to act extremely good in an effort to bring the family back together.
- Trying to cut one or both parents out of his or her life.
- Feeling as if he or she will never be able to have a long-term relationship.
- Feeling an overwhelming sense of responsibility.
- Worrying about financial matters.
- Feeling ashamed.
- Feeling depressed. (Link to symptoms of depression)
What can parents do?
- Thoroughly think through the implications that divorce will have on your family before making a quick decision.
- Do not involve your child in arguments with your spouse.
- Communicate to your child that they are not to blame for the divorce.
- Keep routines and don’t change rules. The need for consistency is key!
- Do not use your child as a replacement for a partner. Talking about adult problems with young people is overwhelming.
- Remember the other pressures that your children face on a day-to-day basis. Give attention to those problems as well.
- Talk to them about the changes that may need to take place due to the divorce without complaining about the other spouse or giving more information than you need to.
- Ask your child, “How do you feel about what is going on?”- “What can I do for you?” Let your child respond and do not judge their feelings. Listen!
- Assure your child that your love for them remains.
- Don’t make it difficult for your child to have a relationship with his or her grandparents, aunts and uncles. Assure your child that he/she will see his/her extended family.
- Participate in family counseling. Even if you have already made the decision to get divorced, counseling with the entire family is very effective.
What can you do?
- Understand that you are not to blame for the divorce.
- Try not to hide your feeling from your parents. Be open and honest about your feelings and fears.
- If you have younger siblings, make yourself available to them.
- Give each of your parents the “Bill of Rights.” If they violate your rights, let them know.
- Seek support from other family members (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings).
- Try going to a support group. Dealing with divorce is hard, to say the least. (Link to Children of Divorced Parents meeting schedule)
- Understand that this is a tough time for your parents. Things will not always be the way they are. Give your parents and yourself time to adjust.
- Seek the help of a professional counselor.
We know how hard it is to communicate clearly, when your emotions get in the way … so try and follow the Bill of Rights, to help bridge the communication gap between you and your parents. This is a good step in creating and maintaining boundaries and open discussion about your feelings as it relates to the change in your family.
Bill of Rights
- I love both of you and I need you both.
- I will not be your messenger. If you have something to say to each other, you will need to talk one on one.
- If you have something negative to say about each other, don’t say it around me.
- I am not a spy. Don’t question me about what is happening at each other’s house.
- I will not take sides.
- Don’t think that you are the only ones who are affected by the divorce.
- Remember the things that are important to me.
- I like spending time with each of you. Don’t make me feel bad if I seem to prefer one of you over the other.
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The community of Santa Clarita was recently stirred from a quiet suburban slumber, with news that a young girl was found unconscious near one of the local high schools. Rumors started to spread quickly and “love and prayers” were delivered immediately via social media to the family. Nobody was really talking about the “what” that caused this girl to be found unconscious, just an overwhelming sense of compassion extended to a fellow neighbor. That is lovely to witness.
But it needs to be said: this was an attempted suicide by a 15 year old girl, who sadly knew no other way to ease her pain but to numb it forever. She hanged herself off the S in the locally recognized SAUGUS sign behind Saugus High School. And when a concerned teacher valiantly appeared from the hillside to save her life – she fought him off; she didn’t want to be saved. She resisted his help when he offered her life. Let that simmer for a bit.
This post is not to judge, debate or accuse the school, the family or the young girl of any wrong doing… instead it’s to rip the band-aid off the taboo topic of suicide. The purpose of this article is to get the conversation going, to talk openly and honestly about an issue that persists amongst so many young people today, even in Awesometown. And before the naysayers get up in arms at the mere whisper of the “S” word … we know that having honest and candid dialogue about suicide, does not give permission to or incite suicide hysteria with those listening or participating in the conversation. On the contrary, being able to speak freely only promotes healthy discussion and resolutions, ultimately creating a safe place to share pain and anguish; it could just save a teenagers life.
The Santa Clarita Valley Youth Project works with so many teenagers who experience feelings of depression and/or suicidal ideation (a common medical term for thoughts about suicide, which may be as detailed as a formulated plan, without the suicidal act itself. Although most people who undergo suicidal ideation do not commit suicide, some go on to make suicide attempts). Many of our students express feelings of deep despair, isolation, anger, sorrow, helplessness, being overwhelmed, an inability to cope, and yes, suicide. Our kids want help – they want support – they need to know they are not alone and that their life has value. But it’s not enough to just tell them that – we need to lead by example by talking, sharing, validating, listening. Excusing their feelings away by blaming puberty or age, isn’t responsible. Diminishing the importance of their feelings by saying “oh, your fine, it’s no big deal, you’ll get over it”, is not responsible. And, you are right, it IS attention seeking – it IS a cry for help when someone talks about wanting to die and it is our job, your job, to take every threat (or casual comment) seriously; treat it with compassion and urgency.
So let’s start with what depression is and how it looks different between adults and adolescents. (Please note: The Youth Project is NOT the authority in the area of depression and suicide; we are merely a non-judgmental place for teens to discuss their feelings and provide them with healthy coping mechanisms. However, the staff are mandated reporters, so if a client expresses a desire to harm themselves or others, or shares thoughts about suicide – we are obligated to report to the necessary authorities. We immediately assess the situation and take the appropriate steps to ensure the safety of the teen, which does include suicide contracts, collaborating with school administrators and parents, making referrals with other agencies dealing with mental health issues and possible hospitalization, should that be necessary. Sadly, we have more experience in this area than we would like …
WARNING: IF YOU ARE FEELING SUICIDAL, PLEASE CALL THE 24 HOUR NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Each of the following excerpts are taken from highly reputable sources and links to continue reading are located at the end of each paragraph.
Depression is a common mental disorder that presents with depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration. These problems can become chronic or recurrent and lead to substantial impairments in an individual’s ability to take care of his or her everyday responsibilities. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide, a tragic fatality associated with the loss of about 850,000 lives every year.
The difference between teenage and adult depression (excerpt from The Help Guide)
Depression in teens can look very different from depression in adults. The following symptoms of depression are more common in teenagers than in their adult counterparts:
- Irritable or angry mood – As noted above, irritability, rather than sadness, is often the predominant mood in depressed teens. A depressed teenager may be grumpy, hostile, easily frustrated, or prone to angry outbursts.
- Unexplained aches and pains – Depressed teens frequently complain about physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches. If a thorough physical exam does not reveal a medical cause, these aches and pains may indicate depression.
- Extreme sensitivity to criticism – Depressed teens are plagued by feelings of worthlessness, making them extremely vulnerable to criticism, rejection, and failure. This is a particular problem for “over-achievers.”
- Withdrawing from some, but not all people – While adults tend to isolate themselves when depressed, teenagers usually keep up at least some friendships. However, teens with depression may socialize less than before, pull away from their parents, or start hanging out with a different crowd.
Recognizing Adolescent Depression
Adolescent depression is increasing at an alarming rate. Recent surveys indicate that as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression. This is a serious problem that calls for prompt, appropriate treatment. Depression can take several forms, including bipolar disorder (formally called manic-depression), which is a condition that alternates between periods of euphoria and depression.
Depression can be difficult to diagnose in teens because adults may expect teens to act moody. Also, adolescents do not always understand or express their feelings very well. They may not be aware of the symptoms of depression and may not seek help.
If you’re unsure if an adolescent in your life is depressed or just “being a teenager,” consider how long the symptoms have been present, how severe they are, and how different the teen is acting from his or her usual self. While some “growing pains” are to be expected as teenagers grapple with the challenges of growing up, dramatic, long-lasting changes in personality, mood, or behavior are red flags of a deeper problem.
These symptoms may indicate depression, particularly when they last for more than two weeks:
- Poor performance in school
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Sadness and hopelessness
- Lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation
- Anger and rage
- Overreaction to criticism
- Feelings of being unable to satisfy ideals
- Poor self-esteem or guilt
- Indecision, lack of concentration or forgetfulness
- Restlessness and agitation
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Substance abuse
- Problems with authority
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
About Teen Suicide
The reasons behind a teen’s suicide or attempted suicide can be complex. Although suicide is relatively rare among children, the rate of suicides and suicide attempts increases tremendously during adolescence and has nearly tripled since the 1960’s.
Each year, almost 5,000 young people, ages 15 to 24, kill themselves, making it the third leading cause of death in adolescents and the second leading cause of death among college-age youth, after accidents and homicide deaths (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s also thought that at least 25 attempts are made for every completed teen suicide.
REPEAT: Teens who are seriously depressed often think, speak, or make “attention-getting” attempts at suicide. An alarming and increasing number of teenagers attempt and succeed at suicide, so suicidal thoughts or behaviors should always be taken very seriously.
Suicide warning signs in depressed teens
- Talking or joking about committing suicide.
- Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out.”
- Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying (“If I died, people might love me more”).
- Writing stories and poems about death, dying, or suicide.
- Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury.
- Giving away prized possessions.
- Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for good.
- Seeking out weapons, pills, or other ways to kill themselves.
The warning signs of suicidal feelings, thoughts, or behaviors may resemble other medical conditions or psychiatric problems. Always consult your child’s physician for a diagnosis.
WARNING: IF YOU ARE FEELING SUICIDAL, PLEASE CALL THE 24 HOUR NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
On behalf of the staff at the Youth Project, we’d like to extend open arms to the young girl and her family from Saugus High School. You are not alone; there are people in your corner to help you in your recovery. We are here when you are ready.
And for anyone else that is feeling lonely, depressed or want someone to talk with, call the Youth Project (661.257.YOUTH (9688) – we can help or direct you to the appropriate agency.
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What is stress?
Stress can be defined by the reaction our body and mind has to life changes (www.lifespan.org). Teen years are a time of lots of change so we can expect lots of stress! Some stress is unavoidable: a teacher surprising you with another project or a pop quiz, a car accident, or trying to look a certain way to fit in at school. But some stress we can avoid like staying up all night to finish a paper, being late for school or leaving your books at home. The key is to find out how to reduce our stress and how to handle it in a healthy manner. So if we can’t avoid stress all together, why should we even talk about it? Well, a little stress can be healthy (it keeps us on our toes!) but too much stress can be dangerous. It could lead to depression, anxiety, or even suicide.
What can you do to reduce your stress?
In order to reduce the amount of stress we feel, we have to identify who or what makes us stressed. Once we figure that out, we can figure out how to avoid these situations or how to deal with them when they are unavoidable. The first thing to do is start to notice when you feel stressed. Write these times down in a journal to keep track of them. At the end of the day, week or month, look through your journal and look for patterns. Are you stressed because of homework? Learn how to plan ahead instead of procrastinating (waiting until the last minute!). Stressed because you’re always rushing to school? Set your alarm 10 minutes earlier in the morning and get your books together the night before. No time to rest or have fun? Schedule breaks in your day for “me” time and do whatever makes you feel better. Planning and preparation might be simple solutions to reduce your stress levels.
How to deal with stress?
Ok, so some stress we can’t avoid. And a little stress is ok. So here are some ways to deal with stress in a healthy way:
- Set realistic goals that you can reach. Remember you can’t control the world, you can only control you and your goals have to reflect this.
- Make small goals for yourself to meet along the way to a big goal. This might help you stop procrastinating!
- Exercise and eat healthy! This can help your body react better to stress.
- Talk to someone you trust when you are feeling overwhelmed. This may help you feel better.
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Why do young people commit suicide?
While there are numerous factors that contribute to a person’s decision to commit suicide, these factors can be broken down into four categories: biological, emotional, intellectual and social.
Depression due to chemical imbalance, physical illness, physical disability, learning disability, chemical changes during puberty, or physical dependency on drugs or alcohol.
Inability to cope with sadness, stress, impulsive behavior, a sense of powerlessness, loss, grief, loneliness, low self-esteem, anger or rage, guilt, hopelessness, a sense of being overwhelmed, anxiety, confusion about sexual identity/orientation, emotional dependency on chemical substances.
Inability to communicate feelings, perfectionism, pressure to achieve or perform, self criticism, unrealistic view of death, revenge, or exaggeration of faults.
Isolation, withdrawal, friendlessness, lack of social skills, unpopularity, feelings of not belonging, embarrassment before peers, labeled as crazy, stupid or different, in trouble at home, school or with the law.
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Everyone who experiences losing someone they love goes through a grief cycle. This cycle can last for several months or several years.
Common responses to losing a loved one include:
- Denial. Help the person accept reality by being truthful.
- Bodily distress. Anxiety can cause physical or emotional symptoms such as loss of appetite, obsessive eating, sleeplessness or nightmares.
- Anger. Outward expressions of hostility, rage, explosive behavior or inward expressions of depression, self-blame or self-destructive ideation.
- Hostile Reactions to the deceased. It is common for family members and friends to have feelings of being deserted, abandoned or rejected.
- Hostile Reactions to others. It is common to blame others such as parents, God or a doctor.
- Guilt/Self Blame
- Bargaining: Buying time to accept the reality of the situation.
- Replacement: Quickly seeking affection from others as a substitute.
- Assumptions of mannerisms: Taking on characteristics of the deceased loved one and sometimes trying to carry out the plans or wishes of the one that died.
- Idealization: The person is obsessed with positive qualities of the deceased.
- Depression: Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, withdrawal and loss of pleasure.
- Anxiety: Preoccupation with physical symptoms.
- Panic: State of confusion and shock. A period of fearfulness exists regarding others.
- Acceptance: Learning to reorganize his/her life without the deceased loved one.
Grief has been described as the combination of sorrow, strong emotion, and the resulting confusion from losing someone important to you. Grieving the loss of a loved one is a process and it is important to understand because the process is key to finding closure.
What does grief look like?
Grief evolves as the grieving process takes place. Just after a death has occurred, it is common for you to feel completely numb. You may feel guilty for not feeling sad or for not feeling any emotions whatsoever. However, you should understand that you are in shock and that the process has just begun. You will feel sad, but right now you are too overwhelmed to feel.
Grief affects you physically. It is common to feel tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, muscle weakness, lack of energy, dry mouth, trouble sleeping and eating and feeling that nothing is real.
If any of these conditions seem overwhelming, seek the advice of a physician.
It is common for you to unconsciously search for your loved one. Forms of searching include dreams that seem incredibly real and hallucinations caused by familiar sounds, smells and sights.
Searching is normal and is an important part of adjusting to your loss.
During the grieving process, your emotions may be intense. Let yourself feel these emotions and try your best to deal with them.
Anger is a common emotion following a death. Sometimes the object of your anger doesn’t seem to make sense, but whatever the case, your anger is very real and the stress that you feel seems unbearable. The best thing to do is to release your anger in a way that will not damage you or the ones you love.
Try exercising, journaling, hitting a pillow, or screaming.
Almost everyone experiences guilt. It is common to say, “I would have,” “I should have,” or “I could have.” We can never take back the mistakes that we make in our lives. Try to focus on the things that you did. Write them down.
If you feel guilty about something you never apologized for, write an apology to your loved one.
Depression is another common response to losing a loved one. While it is normal to feel deeply depressed for the first few weeks, if the depression persists, it is a good idea to seek a counselor for treatment. Many people have found it very helpful to attend a bereavement support group. Most hospitals and churches will have information on these groups.
If you feel suicidal, call a suicide hotline.
When will it end?
Although it does not seem possible now, there will come a time in the future when you can think about your loved one with fond memories, and without any feelings of guilt, anger, or sadness. Give yourself permission to go through the grieving process.
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Many of the symptoms of suicidal feelings are similar to those of depression. If someone has depression that does not mean he/she is a person contemplating suicide, however, individuals who are severly depressed often think of suicide.
Physical/Emotional Warning Signs
Warning signs include:
- Verbal suicide threats “You’d be better off without me!”
- Previous suicide attempts
- Lack of interest in future plans such as school, work, and family or social functions
- Themes of death, or depressions evident in their communication
- Self-destructive acts
- Acute personality changes such as aggressiveness, irritation, or moodiness.
- Changes in sleep, and eating patterns
- Violent behaviors
- Giving away personal or prized possessions.
- Drug use in order to deal realities circumstances
- Unusual neglect of personal appearance
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Feelings of guilt and hopelessness
- Mood swings or drastic behavioral changes
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities such as hobbies, hanging out, etc.
- Loss of concentration
- The feeling that life is no longer worth living.
- The feeling of being all alone
- Themes of death or depression evident in conversation, written expressions, reading materials or artwork
Verbal Warning Signs
- “No one cares!”
- “Life isn’t worthwhile.”
- “People are better off without me.”
- “Everything seems to be wrong.”
- “I won’t see you again.”
- “I won’t be a problem for you much longer.”
- “Nothing matters.”
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Everyone feels down now and then but feeling down does not mean that you are clinically depressed. Suffering from depression is very different than simply “feeling depressed.”
Clinical depression often causes despair and hopelessness so profound that the depressed person loses interest in life, becomes incapable of feeling pleasure and may be unable to get out of bed or eat for days at a time.
Major depression is not necessarily caused by an event or as a result of the state of affairs in someone’s life. Often there is not a definable event that triggers depression. Experts agree, however, that certain people are predisposed to depression due to factors that include family history of mental illness, abuse, chronic illness, loss of a parent, divorce or abandonment. In some cases, depression can be wholly attributed to chemical imbalances. Whether caused by psychological factors, chemical factors, or a combination of the two, the most important thing is to identify the illness and seek treatment.
Beyond the agonizing despair that depression causes, the major risk associated with depression is suicide. Statistics show that within five years of suffering a major depression, and estimated 25% of sufferers try to kill themselves.
This information was reviewed by
Samantha Thomas, LCSW Thomas Conflict Management
The Youth Project prides itself on creating a safe, non-judgmental and confidential setting in which students speak freely and can be assured that the stories they share remain private. However, all students are informed that we are a mandated reporting agency, meaning: if we have reasonable suspicion that a child (under the age of 18) has been mistreated, we are required to file a report with the necessary agencies.
We will report when a student shares information on:
Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Harm to Themselves, Sexual Abuse, Neglect, Harm to Others
All sessions are confidential. However, we are a mandated reporting agency and if a student expresses a desire to harm himself or others or if there is reason to suspect child abuse or neglect, we are obligated to report to the appropriate agency. ALL STUDENTS are reminded of this before every session.***