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Calvary Lutheran seniors learn strategies for coping with stress

by Anna Campbell | November 10, 2022 at 4:04 a.m.
Anna Campbell/News Tribune photo: CHADS Coalition for Mental Health Program Director Colleen Pace speaks to seniors at Calvary Lutheran High School Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, about how to recognize the signs of suicide and how to get help, particularly after high school. CHADS, which stands for Communities Healing Adolescent Depression and Suicide is named after Chad McCord, who died of suicide at the age of 18 in 2004.

Calvary Lutheran High School seniors on Wednesday learned about how to recognize signs of depression, anxiety and suicide, as well as healthy ways to cope with the stress of post-high-school life.

CHADS Coalition for Mental Health, which stands for Communities Healing Adolescent Depression and Suicide, has visited the students yearly since they were sophomores to share how they can recognize warning signs in themselves and others and how they can take good care of their mental health. CHADS was founded by the parents of Chad McCord, a St. Louis-area resident who died of suicide at the age of 18 in 2004 after battling depression.

McCord had dealt with depression since the third grade, Program Director Colleen Pace said, but he didn't seek help for about a decade. She compared it to having a disease like diabetes and not seeing a doctor for 10 years.

"You'd be really sick," Pace said. "It'd be really hard to get better -- almost impossible, probably. Unfortunately, the same is true for mental illness: The longer it goes undiagnosed and untreated, the harder it is to get better."

Pace urged students not to wait to seek help. At the end of the session, she handed each student a sheet with three options: I need to talk to someone right now about myself or someone else; I need to talk to someone soon; or I don't need to talk to someone.

She took students through the warning signs of depression, anxiety and suicide.

Pace asked the students what signs of depression they could come up with. They told her withdrawing, shift in appetite or sleep, self-harm or substance abuse, sadness and anger.

"A lot of the times, especially with kids your age, depression looks more like anger than it does sadness. People feel frustrated that they're so down. They don't know why they feel the way that they feel," Pace said.

Seniors may deal with stressors like tests, workload and conflicts at home. And while those things can cause nervousness, students should seek help if symptoms of anxiety are persistent and pervasive, Pace said.

"It's normal to be stressed from time to time, but when it interferes with your daily life, that's when we want you to talk to somebody," she said.

Pace said suicide signs can include lack of motivation, giving possessions away, making jokes about suicide -- because humor can be a coping skill -- and dangerous behavior without care for the consequences.

Pace walked students through different ways to deal with some of the common challenges of life after high school like added responsibilities, financial burdens, new day-to-day tasks, navigating residential situations, and having less familiar friends and family around.

Instead of turning to negative coping mechanisms, they can get involved in student or community organizations, exercise and play recreational sports, volunteer, take time to recharge and maintain good boundaries. If they're struggling in the moment, students said they like to pray, practice deep breathing, socialize, leave the situation, or step away to go to the bathroom.

That strategy can be really good, Pace said, because splashing water on your face or putting a wet paper towel or an ice pack on your neck can actually reset your fight-or-flight response and calm you down quickly.

She told students to ACT when they need help: Acknowledge what's going on, show that you Care, and seek Treatment.

Pace also walked the students through a screening with questions about their mental health. A certain number of yes answers indicated they should talk to someone about what they were feeling. Students could also talk to someone if they were worried about a friend.

Counselor Trina Lieb encouraged students to be honest and not feel like they're "snitching" on their friends, because letting someone know that a classmate needs help may save a life.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, are worried about someone you know, or need emotional support, you can call or text 988, a suicide and crisis lifeline available at all times.

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