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Small-town suicide highlights teen mental health issues

Show-Me Life: Here are 10 questions to ask your teen, plus a download to take their mental health temperature.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

May 31, 2024

3 Min Read
Silhouette of a young man sitting with hands clasped and arms on his knees
NOT ALONE: A National 4-H survey finds 7 in 10 teens are struggling with their mental health. Add to that, 45% say that they try to ignore their feelings or spend more time alone when they are dealing with mental health issues. It’s time to tackle mental health for rural youth. BenGoode/Getty Images

Teen suicide shakes rural communities.

People in small towns invested in the life of the young person — whether as a teacher, coach, friend or family member. All were left with questions, concerns and guilt that flooded the streets like a raging river, rattling buildings and sometimes breaking them apart.

In the aftermath, there is a need to deal with the devastation, then determine how to move forward and, more importantly, how to rebuild and safeguard young people.

Over the past month, a colleague and I took a deep dive into how mental health affects farmers and ranchers. We looked at it from a baby boomer and a millennial point of view, offered counselors’ perspectives and provided resources.

However, we never focused on teens. Quite frankly, I didn’t think we needed to. But right before the 2024 class was to celebrate high school graduation in a rural community, I realized my mistake. One of their own was gone.

Troubling numbers for rural youth

According to the National Institute of Health, rural youth suicide rates are nearly double those in urban areas for both males and females.

A survey commissioned by the National 4-H Council and conducted by The Harris Poll questioned more than 1,500 youth between the ages of 13-19 nationwide to gain a deeper understanding of the state of teen mental health and gather youth perspectives.

Related:Suicide and stress impact farmers’ mental health

The survey found:

  • 81% of teens say mental health is a significant issue for young people in the U.S.

  • 55% of teens say they’ve experienced anxiety, 45% excessive stress and 43% depression.

That was hard to read, but not nearly as difficult as what followed. Teens reported feeling more pressure to hide their feelings rather than do drugs.

  • 67% feel pressure to keep feelings to themselves.

  • 67% pretend to feel better to not worry anyone.

  • 65% deal with feelings on their own.

As we wrap Mental Health Month, we did not want to ignore these statistics, but rather offer help for parents of teens.

Getting tough conversation started

Newport Academy is a network of teen mental health treatment centers, which points out that struggling teens are not “broken.” They need to develop life skills and self-understanding to find their place in the world.

Its team of mental health professionals developed these 10 questions to ask as part of a mental health check-in:

  1. What three words best describe how you’re feeling right now?

  2. On a scale of 1 to 10, going from negative to positive, what number best describes your state of mind?

  3. Fill in the blank: Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is …

  4. If your feelings were weather, what kind of day would it be outside?

  5. If your life was a movie, what songs would be on the soundtrack right now?

  6. What would you like to have less of in your life right now?

  7. What would you like to have more of in your life right now?

  8. Tell me about the best thing and the worst thing that happened to you this week.

  9. What’s the hardest part about being you right now?

  10. How can I support you better?

Related:Mental health resources for farmers

Don’t ask them all at once, that can be overwhelming. Choose a few that resonate with your child and your parenting style. The point is to ask the questions and then truly listen to the answer.

There are signs unique to teens that may signal they are struggling. Simply download this Mental Health Temperature Check-in card, including 10 questions to ask your teen.

Take time to share some strategies on how you handle stress. If you’ve been reluctant to recognize the impact of stress on yourself or others, please visit the Farm Progress Mental Health page to start your own journey.

Make the time. Have the conversations. Be present. It’s time to help our rural youth navigate the floodwaters of life.

About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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