HOUSTON (FOX 26) - The rate of teenagers taking their own lives has reached an all-time high. The youth suicide rate is the highest it's been since the government started collecting statistics in 1960. That's why FOX 26 is raising awareness about ways that are proven to lower the risk, through our special series "Dark Secrets, Teens in Crisis". We're focusing on how ONE person can make all the difference in a child's life.
Adults can reach out to children and teens, even if you don't know they're hurting. We talked with several teens who say a mentor has made all the difference in their lives, including John Chance. "It was absolutely terrifying to be at the high school," exclaims John. He's in college now, but recalls all too clearly about announcement, after announcement, of teen suicides, his own classmates. He was going to school in The Woodlands, which falls under the highest number of suicides in Montgomery County. "I really just remember feeling very fearful and just very watchful over everyone around me, and thinking, you know - who else is struggling, who else is going through this and not saying anything," questions John.
To make matters worse, John struggled with his own suicidal thoughts. He wants you to know one of the main reasons he's alive today is thanks to his mentor, Pastor Calvin Pearson, who met with him weekly, in a small church group. "I didn't come away after meeting with John and go, man that was a great session with John, I feel so good! Man, I'm just making a big difference. Sometimes I'd question, why is John bothering to meet with me? I didn't know the effect I was having - which is huge! It's so important for adults to say - I will take time, I give you that time," encourages Pastor Pearson.
John's life's story is now being featured in an online TV series called Breaking Strongholds. "It's really special, because not only is it an accurate portrayal of what mental health is like, and what the reality of that is, but it's also offering hope to people who have that - hope of rehabilitation - letting them know it's going to get better, it doesn't last forever, and offering resources for people struggling with that right now," explains John. He warns others that it's too hard to get through depression alone. "That was the number one factor in me getting better, having a mentor like Calvin, also having a best friend that was willing to pick up calls at two in the morning," states John.
Carla McDougal and Robin Murray with Reflective Life Ministries are thrilled to see how their project is becoming a launch pad to fuel serious conversations and help provide resources for problems, like suicidal thoughts. Carla is the Executive Producer for the upcoming show, called Breaking Strongholds. "We've just been overwhelmed and amazed! It's like we're given a voice for people to feel safe to share their stories, to share the struggles, to realize they're not alone, and even for parents to have a place to say, my child has dealt with this as well," says Carla.
Robin is a writer for the streaming series. "Breaking Strongholds is going to be a seven part series, a television series for streaming sources, and it's addressing several issues, the overall theme being spiritual warfare. When they see the film, and they see themselves reflected in the film, and hopefully they're touched at that emotional core and they can connect and say, yes, that's me - I need to get help. Then we have an online resource set up called 'Stronger Alliance', where they can reach out and start to get real help," explains Robin.
Carla and Robin are also spreading hope, through a Suicide Task Force in Montgomery County with Judge Wayne Mack. As mentioned earlier, Montgomery County leads all 254 counties in Texas with the highest teen suicide rate.
Lead Student Pastor Jason Ulmer at WoodsEdge Community Church mentors students in this county. He encourages adults to slow down and listen to young people. Here's how he helps mentor them: "We try to change the way that students think about the world that they live in and that every single one of them has absolute incredible potential and value, not only their story, but their brokenness is beautiful and matters. Don't run and hide those things, but embrace - this is part of who I am and who God made me to be," says Pastor Ulmer. He further explains his role in Breaking Strongholds. "In the film series, with the episode about a young man (John) struggling with suicide, he'll be brought to our student ministry. He'll hear a sermon that I'll preach, and then afterwards, he's going to open up and share about what he's been struggling with and we're going to look at the (Biblical) word and he's going to feel convicted, because it's going to look at truth. As we have seen so many times with our students this year, he's going to choose to get baptized. When we do this for students, they come up out of that water, knowing that they don't have to be afraid of their brokenness anymore. They've got hope. It is wonderful to witness and an honor to be a part of the church," says Pastor Ulmer.
Jacob Johns also understands how important it is to have a mentor. This, after he tried to take his life four times. He says he didn't have anyone to talk to. That is, until he was sitting all alone in PE at Conroe High School and Coach Tarell Williams took notice, then did something about it. "I'm just trying to be alone. So he kept on coming closer and closer, and it was just like, I don't want you to be here, What are you doing," questioned John. That's when the coach found something in common for them to talk about, including his own tough childhood. "I come from a background with my childhood, filled with domestic violence and poverty and those types of things, and I identified with the feelings that he was showing me, not so much telling me, it's not so much what you say, it's what you DON'T say," states Coach Williams. The mentorship has been a real lifeline for Jacob the past few years. "Nothing was important in my life anymore and to see him come into my life, it really helped me a lot," says Jacob.
Breaking Strongholds is expected to be streaming by January 2020. Their resources for mental health can be found through the website www.strongeralliance.com This website will feature many different resources, or click here for specific information about suicide prevention:
Breaking Strongholds is also connecting organizations of like-minded non-profit ministries. They'll feature some of these local organizations in the series and show how they can help. These include:
Cassidy Joined for Hope
Mosaics of Mercy
Amos House of Faith
Trinity Reins Equestrian Ranch
CareForce Ministries https://www.careforce.us
If you or a loved one is feeling distressed, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741-741.