Broaching a hard subject

DeWayne Bartels
Deb Rada explains the A,C and T of mental health problems. The letters stand for acknowledge, care and tell.

The children winced as they moved their pencils to their left hands to write their first name. Most had trouble trying to even figure out how to hold the pencil.

Deb Rada smiled slightly as she watched the middle school students struggle.

“How did that feel?” Rada asked.

“It made me angry,” one boy said. “It was weird,” a girl added.

Those were just the kind of responses Rada, a prevention specialist with Mental Health America of Illinois Valley, wanted.

“I had you do that because what we are going to talk about is uncomfortable for a lot of people, just like writing with your opposite hand,” Rada said. “We are going to talk about suicide.”

Rada pointed out to the 12 students at summer camp at Peoria’s Friendship House on July 23 that suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth their age only behind accidents and homicide. The room got quiet and a few eyebrows were raised as Rada told them that.

“That is just not a good number,” Rada said.

A slight girl with blond hair raised her hand tentatively.

“My sister’s friend was bullied at school and he hung himself,” she said. “It made me sad.”

Rada put her hand on the little girl’s shoulder.

This short incident illustrated why Rada speaks to middle school students. Even pre-teens are being exposed to suicide.

“Too many times this is a subject people don’t want to talk about,” she had said prior to the children’s arrival.

Rada asked the children if they knew what depression was.

“It’s like a feeling of sorrow,” one boy offered.

“That’s right,” Rada said. “But, there’s really good news about depression. Kids your age who get treatment for depression go on to live full lives. There is a rainbow at the end of things.”

When she asked what might be signs of depression a number of small hands shot up. They offered up anger, ignoring friends, dropping out of school, failing grades and being moody.

Rada moved to a white board where she wrote the letter A C and T.

A stood for acknowledge, or recognizing there is a problem and that a friend may hurt themselves.

C, Rada told them, stood for care, or staying with a friend and being supportive if they appear to be suicidal.

T, stands for tell.

“This is a tough one. People tell you not to gossip,” Rada said. “But, in this case it is best to tell.”

A number of young heads nodded in agreement.