By Khalida Sarwari
Professional help, good communication and attentive ears were among recommendations a panel of mental health experts offered Monday to Fremont Unified School District parents concerned about the well being of their children.
The presentations were organized by El Camino Hospital.
Glenn Teeter, a clinical psychologist who gave the evening’s first presentation, focused on suicide prevention and student wellness. The senior program therapist of El Camino Hospital’s ASPIRE program informed an audience of 100-plus parents at Cupertino High School that suicide is one of the leading causes of death for people in the 10- to 24-year-old age group. Yet suicide is preventable, Teeter said.
“If you are noticing warning signs or you hear something that sounds troubling, recognizing that something is wrong is the first step,” he said.
Teeter cited various factors that could lead to teen depression, such as bullying, physical and sexual abuse, family violence, sexuality, interpersonal losses and academic stresses.
In fighting those pressures, he emphasized the importance of social connectivity, sleep, exercise, a healthy diet, mindfulness and professional help. Teeter recommended that parents tap into a wide network of people who can help, from pediatricians and primary care doctors to school counselors, teachers and professional therapists.
“Support from friends and family is not enough to combat serious mental health concerns,” he said.
Dr. Kelly Troiano, a pediatrician at El Camino Hospital and physician at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, shared a personal story about how she handled her severely depressed sixth-grader following the death of her ex-husband by suicide. For her family, it was a three-year journey, she said, advising the audience, “you don’t want to wait until you get to the point where it becomes a real issue.”
Troiano explained what pediatricians can to screen for signs such as mood swings or disorders and how parents can time their appointments with their children’s pediatrician to get the best outcomes from their visits.
She also offered lessons she learned from her own struggles. Being present can go a long way with kids and teens, she said, as does acknowledging and respecting their feelings even when you don’t understand them, listening actively and taking them seriously.
“There can be some positives that come out of this as long as you get the right kind of help,” Troiano said, ending her presentation with an update about her son, now a high school freshman who’s in his school’s fencing club, loves science and aspires to work for Tesla.
“We’re in a much better place than we were three years ago,” she said, telling parents, “Don’t despair, it gets better. You will get something better at the end of it all. Just hang in there.”
Yvonne Fernandez, a homemaker from Sunnyvale and mother of five, including a freshman at Homestead High School, said she found the presentations beneficial and relevant, especially since suicides occur at an alarming rate at nearby Gunn High School in Palo Alto.
“My main thing is I’m just glad they’re talking about it,” she said.
Another parent, who identified himself only as Harry, a Cupertino engineer with three kids at Cupertino High School, Lynbrook High School and Joaquin Miller Middle School, said he attended the event because he had concerns about how to communicate with his older ones, both girls.
“I noticed that my kids, when they were in middle school, they used to talk a lot to me, but (now that they’re in) high school they don’t do that as much, so I was kind of like, is there something I’m not doing? How do I kind of reach out to them? I wanted to find out some strategies on how to do that,” he said.
He said he found the presenters’ advice helpful and reassuring.
Jennifer Thrift, a spokeswoman for El Camino Hospital, said this marks the third year the hospital has offered the presentation at a South Bay school. It previously offered them at Monta Vista and Fremont high schools.