When will we admit our system is broken?

June 20, 2022  |  By Dr. Jennifer Fraser

youth suicide - When will we admit our system is broken?

If you have not read blogs in the series, How I Became an Unlikely Whistlebloweryou can read them here.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. It’s time to admit the official social systems under which we operate are insane. When will we admit that our system is broken? The statistic for me that finally and wholly made me admit the painful truth was that youth suicide – imagine 10 to 24 year olds – is becoming more and more frequent. Youth suicide has increased 57% from 2000 to 2018. If our system was healthy and up-to-date on science, we would not have that heart-breaking statistic.

When will we admit our system is broken?

Our system is constructed on out-dated myths. For instance, we endlessly focus on child bullying, but refuse to admit adults teach bullying to children. Bullying is learned behavior. We don’t like to talk about adult bullying and we work double time to cover it up when it is exposed.

In August 2019, I gave a TEDx Talk about the “Neuroscience of Bullying” (sorry the audio is awful, not my fault). I told the story of how my son was one of many victims of teachers who were abusive. The students reported the abuse and then got re-victimized by those who uphold the broken system. When will we admit our system is broken and backward?

I know from extensive research that all forms of abuse are incredibly damaging to the brain.

In the TEDx Talk, I shared that in November of 2019 one of my students killed herself. I had been in close touch with her, emails back and forth. Like my son and the other students, she had reported being abused by a teacher. She was desperate for someone to clarify to her what was happening. While my son and the others were abused psychologically and physically, this girl was being groomed by a teacher she had trusted. Once again, those who uphold the broken system lurched into action and instead of effectively protecting her, it exposed her further to the abusive teacher. Over and over again.

She literally lost her mind.

I asked highly-awarded neuroscientist Dr. Michael Merzenich if a young suicidal brain could be compared to an aged brain that had succumbed to dementia. His response was “absolutely.” Sit with that for a moment. It matters because Dr. Merzenich is known to scientists as “The Father of Neuroplasticity.” For forty plus years, he has documented in his lab that the brain has the capacity to change. All of us across the lifespan can change our brains. We can recover a suicidal brain back to organic health. How many children and youth know this life-saving fact?

If someone has a suicidal brain, it can change, repair, recover.

I made this eye-opening discovery the central core of my new book The Bullied Brain: Heal Your Scars and Restore Your Health. I want every young person from 10 to 24 to know that if they have suicidal ideation, its origin is in the brain and the brain like other organs of the body can repair. They need to get the help of a professional who is knowledgeable about brain health and how to restore it. If they had a broken leg, heart murmur, torn ACL, digestive issues, surely they’d get expert medical help. The same needs to happen if their brain is acting in a disordered way.

A society that has an increase of youth suicide by 57% must admit that it is broken.

It must do something different. Here is what I recommend.

  1. Hold adults who bully and abuse children accountable.
  2. From an early age, teach children how to protect themselves against adults who are abusive.
  3. Teach children starting early how to have an effective working vocabulary to recognize and report abusive adults.
  4. Beginning in elementary school, teach children that suicide means that the brain has become unwell and they need to get expert support to address why it’s unwell, and develop a recovery plan.
  5. As early as possible, educate children about their brains. How to understand their functioning. How to keep them healthy. What to do when brains become unhealthy.

At present, in our broken system, children learn next to nothing about their brains.

How can they possibly recognize a brain that has become ill like a suicidal brain, let alone one suffering from other mental health issues? How can they get the help they need when they have no vocabulary or experience or understanding to articulate what is wrong? The fact that there is still stigma about mental illness means our society is broken and backwards. Time to teach children brain science to empower them. Time to teach them that they can strengthen their brains.

Let’s use science to level the playing field between an adult who abuses and the children he/ she targets.

Let’s teach children brain science so they can sculpt healthy, high-functioning, resilient brains. Let’s teach them how to guard their vulnerable brains from toxic abuse of all forms. This just might fix our broken system.

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