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Can’t Cope?

Last year, 45,000 Americans were lost to suicide. Peer explores how teens can cope in a healthy ways. By Dr. Tim Elmore
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The numbers were just released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), and American life expectancy has dropped for the first time since World War I. In fact, it’s dropped for the last three years. When I first read this, I was stunned. Seriously? Aren’t science and medicine making advances to increase life expectancy? Absolutely. The trouble is—suicide rates are up, and that increase is among the top two reasons for the decline in life spans. This is not just sad; it’s tragic.

Over the past year, 45,000 Americans were lost to suicide. The demographics are what make this statistic most disheartening. It’s often victims we wouldn’t predict:

  1. Middle school and high school students
  2. Military personnel
  3. Student athletes
  4. University students

A new survey funded by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention discovered that 94 percent of us believe suicide is preventable. Scientists have established that the destructive urge to commit suicide is fleeting. If we could find ways to identify what we’re feeling and why, we might be able to combat these thoughts of:

  • Loneliness
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Being bullied
  • Feeling anxious or depressed
  • Hopelessness

To be clear, as students, some of you may suffer from extreme mental health issues and need both counseling and medication. However, many of you may need to learn how to navigate the stresses in life that come to all of us. In her research on “grit,” Dr. Angela Duckworth suggests that millions of teens haven’t developed the grit or resilience that our grandparents’ generation had decades ago. For many, even the smallest of setbacks makes them spiral downward emotionally—a bad grade, a breakup, an injury, a bully or getting cut from the team or the cast. Believe it or not, I’ve seen these very obstacles cause suicidal thoughts in students.

We must find ways to help you as teenagers to navigate these obstacles by becoming “fountains” who flow upward and outward, not “drains” who spiral inward and downward.

Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Quite predictably, many teens today migrate toward coping mechanisms that utilize technology. Our smartphones, video games and streamed content are a quick fix to distract us from our problems. They bring comfort. Unfortunately, we frequently fail to consider the negative impact of those mechanisms. Some common ones are:

  1. Scrolling on smartphones. Sadly, this can cause even more anxiety: FOMO
  2. Vaping. Sadly, this can be addictive rather than liberating or strengthening.
  3. Posting selfies. Unfortunately, these are only distracting and may make us narcissistic.
  4. Binge-watching videos. Regrettably, this just artificially medicates our problems.

Healthy Coping Mechanisms You Can Use

Are there coping skills we can employ to combat these emotions? When therapists use the term “coping skills,” it’s a positive term. Coping skills are healthy habits to navigate stressful situations. They require hard work, but these skills are hopeful and helpful. They’ll enable you to be a fountain, not a drain:

1. Meditation and Breathing

Often, stopping to breathe slowly and deliberately can untangle an anxious mind. Meditating on positive truths, scripture or good memories can reduce anxiety. It enables us to focus on constructive thoughts, even our own growth, and see a larger picture. Many today call this mindfulness, and I find it very helpful.

2. Call a Trusted Friend

We should all have at least one person in our lives who we can call to gain a listening ear, an empathetic heart and a change in perspective. John Crosby said, “Mentors are a brain to pick, a shoulder to cry on and a kick in the seat of the pants.” I know many students who recovered from hopelessness by instantly calling a friend.

3. Serving Others Meaningfully

Any act of service to others gets your mind off of yourself. While I know the problem may not be this simple, the truth is adding value to someone else cultivates the best in all of us. This has been proven over and over again. I am most prone to feel melancholy when I focus on myself.  Looking outward almost always helps restore hope.

4. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This term, CBT, has surfaced as a helpful coping tool for anyone who feels hopeless or anxious. It represents logical thinking, instead of emotional reasoning. Suicidal thoughts come from cognitive distortions. CBT forces us to challenge hopeless voices in our heads and exchange those voices for positive reasoning and true self-affirmations.

I encourage you to look these up and study them. Our focus must embody good “Habitudes®,” so we may become “fountains”—not “drains.”


For further study on how to practically become a “fountain” instead of a “drain,” check out “Habitudes for Life-Giving Leaders: The Art of Transformational Leadership.” This book utilizes the power of images and metaphors to discuss life and leadership topics.

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