Teaching teens to recognize when friends are spiraling out of emotional control

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - After a school shooting, someone inevitably will reveal he or she knew or suspected that something was wrong with the shooter. Sometimes, no one spoke up before blood was shed.

Mental health professionals say in light the recent mass killings at a Florida high school, the conversation needs to be about friends speaking up.

Some teens count on friends - more than they do their parents - to talk about what bothers them.

If a young person is thinking about violence, chances are friends will be the first line of defense in terms of being the closest in proximity to spot warning signs.

Should teenagers learn how to recognize when a friend or peer is in trouble?

"They do need to recognize and take very seriously if they have a friend who has talked about suicide or doing violence," said Kathy Rogers of Mental Health America of Central Carolinas. "Talk to them, be open to talking to their friend and also referring those to an adult who might be an authority figure in their family, family member, teacher, other friends to talk it through."

WBTV asked some parents in Charlotte if they talk with their teens about this issue.

One woman said "I do. It's very scary. Yeah, I do talk to them about that."

"I don't know that I've really had that conversation but it's funny that you ask because I think this morning I was thinking about kind of broaching that conversation with both of my children," Lisa Herran said. "Not only from the warning signs of their friends but kind of preparedness for situation."

What exactly does Herran plan to tell her kids?

"Just let them know that anyone that seems really depressed, alone - let your teachers know  - not necessarily how they have to interpret that those signs may mean but hey let your teacher know," she said. "If you notice a child that seems a little off or that seems really angry at everybody a lot or have made threats and you have to take those very seriously."

Darren Chance says he and his wife have talked with their two teens about it.

"Especially decision making. What decisions are your friends making in terms of – is it a now decision? Is it a long term decision? What kind of impact is it going to have on your future for both here and now" he said.

Another man said the conversation in his family is not about recognizing friends who are troubled.

"No, not necessarily. The big thing is when something happens to be situationally aware of what's going on because in those things you know seconds matter," he said. So if something happens the very thing you need to do is take shelter and that's the biggest thing because you can't really ever tell who is going to be the person that's going to go off the deep end and start shooting.."

He added, "there's no clear set signs as warning signs. It's more of preparing them for reaction."

Rogers, the Executive Director of Mental Health America of Central Carolinas, says "we do have a crisis with teens and adolescence as many as one in five suffering depression, having thoughts of suicide, or self-harm so it is a crisis in our community."

Rogers says someone needs to intervene and it can be a peer or a friend but young people often don't have the tools.

Some of the warning signs of a young person in trouble, Rogers says includes "often they will drop out of school, stop going to class. If they're involved in extracurricular activities they may discontinue those. Many of them express their feelings in a more open way - social media."

Mental health specialists say friends can spot those quickly.

Rogers says her organization, Mental Health America of Central Carolinas, has an online screening tool on their website.

"It's called Question, Persuade and Refer – and it does talk about what you're asking – what should we be looking for in a friend when they made certain comments and not being able to be afraid to ask them," Rogers said. "And it's kind of a first step. It's not meant to be to diagnose but it can help you recognize what you're struggling with or what your friend is struggling with. And it's something you can take to a parent or someone because you're concerned."

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