Let’s Talk: Suicide Prevention and Loss

We all have a part to play in understanding and preventing suicide. Whether or not suicide has impacted your life, each of us can ease one another’s burdens and send an undeniable message that everyone is valued and worthy of love. It’s worth improving our awareness of how to support both those who may be considering suicide and the family members or loved ones of those who have died by suicide. 

To strengthen prevention efforts, we can look at mental health problems as seriously as we consider physical issues. Michael Staley, a psychological autopsy examiner and suicide prevention coordinator for the State of Utah believes that mental health screenings should be just as common as getting our blood pressure checked. And similar to the way CPR training is widespread and required for many jobs to respond to life-or-death situations, so too should suicide prevention training be just as common. Such training would provide valuable skills in many settings, including at work and in schools.

Help prevent suicide by talking about it

Among college students, suicide is the second leading cause of death. It impacts our lives, but it can still be difficult to talk about. However, both Staley and Quintin Hunt, assistant professor of marriage and family therapy at BYU, share that the most important thing we can do to prevent suicide and help people heal from suicide loss is to talk about it. If we feel that something is wrong, we should ask the person we’re worried about if they are considering suicide. 

“If you know somebody who’s going through a hard time or had someone tell you something that sounds suicidal, you can be the difference between life and death for that person. If you leave with a pit in your stomach that tells you ‘Maybe I should do something more’ or ‘Maybe I should ask that one question,’ do it,” says Staley. 

You may be worried about saying the wrong thing, but often doing nothing is worse. Staley recommends practicing asking the difficult question of “Are you considering suicide?” with those around us. If we’ve prepared ourselves, we’ll be empowered if the time ever comes to ask the question in a real-life scenario.

If someone shares that they are considering suicide, let them know that you offer a safe space by reassuring them that they are loved and that you will listen without judgment. Staley explains, “A lot of people feel that they’re going to be abandoned or be stigmatized if they share suicidal thoughts. If you share things like ‘I still care about you, I love you, and I want you to live’ that’s going to create a safe space and help them to recognize their value.” You should then refer them to a suicide hotline, mental health professional, or the emergency room. Follow through and assist them in getting the help they need. 

For every 1 person that dies from suicide, there are 25 people who have made a suicide attempt. If someone shares that they have attempted suicide, reassure them that you are glad they’re here and ask them if they’re still considering taking their life. Let them share their experience with you and get them help if they need it.

Process grief from suicide by talking to other loss survivors 

Hunt shared that an understudied field of research is how suicide loss affects family members and friends. This is important because those who are exposed to suicide are at greater risk of suicide themselves. Hunt shared the following from past research, “One-hundred percent of suicide loss survivors have said that the most useful thing for them in healing has been talking to other suicide loss survivors.” Whether we’ve been impacted by suicide or not, a powerful thing we can do is simply ask suicide loss survivors about the experience in a sensitive and caring way. 

We can all equip ourselves with the emotional and mental capability to talk about suicide. Our care for others will show through our words should we be faced with that situation, but just as importantly, our actions will demonstrate whether we are a safe space for someone to share their struggles. Hunt says, “Regardless of your depth of belief, sexual orientation or gender identity, your political affiliation or marital status, we’re all just people trying to help others recognize their value right here and right now.” 

Learn more about suicide prevention training at https://www.qprinstitute.com.

If you have been personally affected by suicide loss, Hunt, Erin Holmes, professor of family life at BYU, and Rebecca Sanford, associate teaching professor at Thompson Rivers University School of Social Work and Human Services, are studying suicide bereavement. Follow their social media for more information: 

Family eats dinner

6:15 is the Dinner Time Sweet Spot

Summer relaxation ended with Labor Day and the back-to-school season is signaling a return to routine. In parallel, family dinners signal an important transition in our day. Recently published research demonstrates how the placement of our dinner can help us to improve our family life and get more out of our day. 

“The act of dinner actually helps us shift into different activities than we were focused on before dinner. It signals a transition from the day-time schedule of work, school, and activities to evening leisure and togetherness,” says Jocelyn Wikle, assistant professor of family life at BYU, who published the research in Review of Economics of the Household along with Joseph Price, professor of economics at BYU, and Luke Rodgers, assistant professor of economics at Florida State University. 

The research is the first to study whether the timing of family dinners has an impact. Using data from over 41,000 families in the American Time Use Survey (2003-2019), the team determined that the optimal time to eat dinner is 6:15 p.m. Parents who served dinner by 6:15 spent 27% more time reading to their children in the evening, 18% more time playing with their children, 11% more quality time with their children, and 14% more overall time with their children. This effect occurred across all family types.

By having dinner earlier in the evening, you can ensure more time for enjoyable and important evening activities. And if you have a family, that time is important because it “institutes more serious family time and more quality time together. It’s a time when parents aren’t being spread thin and can give more attention to their children,” says Wikle.

“What an earlier dinner is doing for families in the evenings is giving parents time with children both at the table and also after the meal,” says Wikle. This is important because when we invest time in children, we’re investing in their learning and social capacities. To sum up decades of research, positive quality interactions between parents and children are good. Family dinners, in particular, are associated with fewer behavioral problems (Musick & Meier, 2012; Sen, 2010), and increased academic achievement (Eisenberg et al., 2004), for example.

“Parents are a child’s best teacher and parents are really supporting their kids in so many ways. This is just one more way parents can give time and attention to their children,” says Wikle. 

Dinner also can be a struggle. There are going to be times that your children are eating fast food at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday. However, Wikle encourages parents simply to do their best. “Just an awareness of how the time after dinner can impact your family is powerful,” she says.

Wikle’s tips to have dinner ready by 6:15 include prepping food beforehand, doubling-up on food prep, involving your children — dinner prep itself is an opportunity for quality time, and keeping it simple. Her family’s go-to meal is waffles: “It’s a family favorite that can be whipped up quickly.” 

We’d love to hear about your best tips to get dinner done on Instagram @byufhss.

New Director and Department Chairs Announced

The College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences announced a new director for the School of Family Life and four new department chairs last week.

Erin Holmes will serve as director of the School of Family Life, Curtis Child will serve as department chair of the sociology, Lars Lefgren as department chair of economics, Daniel Olsen as department chair of geography, and Jay Goodliffe as department chair of political science. Each has been appointed for a three-year term.

New chairs will be guided by the university’s five-year strategic objectives, which include pursuing the Inspiring Learning initiative, increasing enrollment, and promoting a sense of belonging among all members of the campus community. They will also focus on specific issues raised by members of their respective departments.

Erin Holmes will serve as Director of the School of Family Life beginning July 1. (Aislynn Edwards)

Holmes was formerly an associate director in the school and will begin her tenure as director on July 1. Dean Ben Ogles said Holmes is a good fit for the next phase of the school’s journey, which includes a commitment to diversity and inclusion and leading “out on studying and teaching about diverse families across national, ethnic, and racial groups from within a gospel perspective that emphasizes Proclamation principles,” according to an email from Ogles.

Holmes played a central role in the creation of the school’s diversity and inclusion statement and encouraged everyone in the School of Family Life to read it and approach her with ideas, concerns, and questions to help foster “unity amid diversity.” She also said she is committed to counsel from Jean B. Bingham, general president of the Relief Society, to “extend an open hand and heart” to create “a safe place for sharing, a safe place to grow, a safe place to become our best selves.”

Child, associate professor of sociology, teaches courses in economic sociology and qualitative research methods, and studies nonprofit organizations, businesses, fair trade, and the morals/markets branch of economic sociology. Under his leadership, the Sociology Department will seek to address several objectives, including becoming a source of information on current social issues. “We potentially have a big role to play and we need to figure out how to do so,” Ogles said, summarizing statements by faculty members.

Child said he is excited to work with talented faculty in his department. “I feel like part of my role, a big part of my role, is just to help them in doing the good things they are already intending to do,” he said.

Curtis Child, Sociology (left); Lars Lefgren, Economics (center); and Daniel Olsen, Geography (right) will begin serving as department chairs this summer.

Lefgren, Camilla Eyring Kimball professor of economics, specializes in applied microeconomics, including research on the American educational system. He is a research fellow with The Institute of Labor Economics and a research associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research. He will begin his tenure July 1.

Olsen, professor of geography, who began his tenure as chair of the geography department on May 1, said he wants to make geography more visible on campus.

“A lot of people think geography is just about memorizing place names and capital cities and that sort of thing,” he said. “Geography is much more encompassing than Trivial Pursuit.”

Olsen said another one of his priorities is engaging students in the classroom through the Inspiring Learning initiative and experiential learning.

“It takes a lot of training, it takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of working together to try to inspire each of us to be a little bit better with all the things we have to do as professors,” Olsen said. He said he is humbled by and excited about the opportunity.

Jay Goodliffe will chair the political science department beginning July 1.

Goodliffe, professor of political science, will begin his tenure remotely from Washington, D.C. where he is directing the Washington Seminar program through summer term. His research interests include congressional campaigns and elections, legislative discipline, interest groups, international human rights treaties, and political methodology.

“It is humbling to be chair because previous chairs have led the department so well. Our department has outstanding students, strong staff, and wonderful faculty that are recognized in the profession for their achievements,” Goodliffe said. “I want to help our students and faculty continue to succeed and achieve even more.”

Ogles thanked the new chairs and new director for their willingness to sacrifice time and professional aspirations in order to lead their respective departments.

Ogles also gave a heartfelt thanks to the previous department chairs for their service: Alan Hawkins, who served as director of the School of Family Life for three years; Rick Miller, department chair of sociology for six years; Mark Showalter, department chair of economics for five years; Ryan Jensen, department chair of geography for nine years; and Sven Wilson, department chair of political science for seven years.

The Family That Prays Together . . . Feels Connected, Unified, Bonded with Less Relational Tension

In a recently-published study in the Journal of Family Psychology, BYU researchers explored how family prayer influences family relationships, finding a connection between prayer and a number of benefits for families.

The 198 Christian, Jewish and Muslim families in the study lived in 17 different states and represented eight religious/ethnic faith communities. Family members were asked questions such as “Does your relationship with God influence your family relationships?,” “How does your family overcome major stresses and problems?” and “How do you share your faith with your children?”

None of the questions actually included the word prayer, but while coding the interviews, the researchers found 96 percent of the families referenced prayer in their responses, with 3,868 references in their interviews in total. The references were sorted into various categories.

“Many families loved to pray together, and it was the most important practice in their daily lives,” said Joe Chelladurai, BYU PhD student in the School of Family Life and lead author of the study. “As a family ritual, it was more than just putting up with the experience and getting through it. Family prayer provided sacred time and space to connect with God and with each other. It was a time of togetherness and interaction and a space to express love and concern for each other.”

Some of the themes from participants’ responses, listed in the results of the study included:

  • Family prayer as a means for continuing family religious traditions
  • Family prayer involves issues and concerns of individuals and the family
  • Family prayer provides feelings of connectedness, unity and bonding
  • Family prayer helps reduce relational tensions

Continuing family regligious traditions

In the interviews, parents indicated their eagerness to instill meaning and a sense of ritual to prayer. It was important to them to pass this on to their children. Children reported that they learned to pray through their parents’ examples. It was evident that a flow of religious direction and communication was occurring during this time. Family prayer was a practice, but also a means to transmit faith.

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The Connection Between Religion and Families: A New Book

A recent publication from professors in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences provides answers to the questions of how religion affects marriage, ways parents should talk to their children about their religious beliefs, and whether practicing a faith — whether it’s Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or yet another belief system — strengthen families. in their 2017 book, Religion & Families: An Introduction, BYU School of Family Life professors Loren D. Marks and David C. Dollahite write about how religion strengthens faithful familiesThe two researchers wrote the book for emerging adults, in the hopes that it could help them navigate important decisions as they transition into marriage and parenting.

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How Does Religion Strengthen Families?

Relying on existing research and their own American Families of Faith project, Dr. Marks and Dr. Dollahite teach relationship-building, faith-promoting lessons to their readers. The American Families of Faith project draws rich data from lengthy in-home interviews of 200 religious families living all across the United States. The diverse sample includes Christian, Jewish, and Muslim families, as well as immigrants and ethnic minorities, so Religion & Families provides a broad look at the connections between religion and family.

Perhaps the most useful way to study the nexus of religion and family is to explore three dimensions identified by the authors:

  • Religious beliefs
  • Religious practices
  • Religious community.

“Family members who consciously consider and discuss how their religious beliefs, practices, and community can work together for the good of their marriage and family relationships are likely to discover ways to increase harmony between these dimensions,” Marks and Dollahite write. Dollahite, when interviewed about the book, said: “We all ‘live into’ our answers to life’s biggest questions in patience and faith. As we face the realities and challenges of marriage and family life, the confident idealism of youth evolves into a mature and realistic optimism…. We hope that the kinds of information provided about the healthiest way to live one’s faith in marriage and family life in Religion and Families can help young adults be more likely to make that transition more smoothly.”

“There will always be one more unanswered question related to our faith that we do not currently have the answer to,” Marks added. “That question is not a reason to abandon the ship of faith. It is motivation to get to know the captain better. Part of my testimony is that God is a lot smarter than I am.” In other words, we can all build our lives, our marriages, and our families on faith, patience, and trust.

When Husbands and Wives Share Beliefs And Commitment

The American Families of Faith project, a national long-running research project led by Marks and Dollahite, allowed them to connect their three dimensions of religion (beliefs, practices, and community) to marriages, father-child relationships, and mother-child relationships. The findings suggest that husbands and wives enjoy greater marital satisfaction when they share beliefs and are similarly committed to those beliefs. What’s more, spouses can strengthen their marriages by participating together in meaningful rituals, including service attendance and holiday traditions.

As far as children are concerned, Dr. Marks and Dr. Dollahite’s research indicates that parents and children have more positive emotional experiences when they engage in “youth-centered conversations.” In these conversations, parents listen while kids do most of the talking and ask for understanding. The conversation is open, the parent helps the child connect religion to his or her life, and the parent-child relationship becomes richer and deeper.

Dr. Marks explained that visiting those families’ homes and observed those relationships, he learned how he could be a better partner and parent. Regarding their examples, he says: “We hope that we can convey enough of the exemplary power of these faithful families to young adults that a fire and hope will be kindled that they can do likewise. Gratefully, through their interviews, these families also tell us how they did it — and this may be the book’s most important contribution.”

Family-Centered Priorities Cut Across and Supersede

Elder L. Tom Perry, who attended a 2014 marriage and family colloquium at the Vatican, reported that all major religions value family life. He said: “It was remarkable for me to see how marriage and family-centered priorities cut across and superseded any political, economic, or religious differences. When it comes to love of spouse and hopes, worries, and dreams for children, we are all the same.” Dr. Marks and Dr. Dollahite share a similar message in their book. In each chapter, they remind their readers that practicing a religion can lead to healthier marriages and happier family life.

 

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Religion & Families: An Introduction is available for purchase on Amazon, Google Play, Target.com, and Walmart.com.

Screen Violence and Youth Behavior: New Questions

In today’s world, many parents, educators, and policymakers are asking whether video games are good or bad for children and adolescents. Indeed, it’s a topic experts have studied and talked about here on more than one occasion, agreeing, for the most part, that violent video games and media are linked to aggressive and violent behaviors in their players. But according to a new article co-written by School of Family Life professor Sarah Coyne, the question most educators and policy makers are asking—are video games good or bad for children and adolescents?—is much too simplistic. They suggest a different, more “nutrition-based” approach.

What Research Says So Far About Violent Video Games and Their Effects

Dr. Coyne and her co-authors analyzed existing meta-analyses concerning video game aggression and violence. “A large body of evidence reveals that violent media can increase aggression,” she says, citing a census study done by Common Sense Media. “Indeed, the effects of screen violence on increased aggressive behavior have been reviewed and affirmed by numerous major scientific organizations, [and] a comprehensive meta-analysis found that exposure to violent video games increases aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiologic arousal, hostile appraisals, and aggressive behavior and decreases prosocial behavior (eg, helping others) and empathy. These effects occur for male and female subjects of all ages studied, in both Western and Eastern countries.12

That being said, Dr. Coyne and her co-authors also noted that that are many potential cognitive and social benefits of video game play, and that well-designed video games can be great teachers, since they help players develop sensory processing and cognitive skills. Not all video games are violent, and of course, no risk factor taken alone can cause a child to behave aggressively.

More research is needed to truly explore the negative–and positive–effects of video games on those who play them, they say: large-scale studies of at least 50 000 participants that take into account all known major risk and resilience factors for the development of aggressive and violent behavior tendencies. The study should follow the same large sample of children from an early age through early adulthood, they recommend. They also recommend a similar large-scale, multi-site, multi-year study to further develop and test media exposure interventions to determine what works best, for policy makers and consumers to implement.

A Better Way to Think of Media Exposure?

The authors suggested thinking of media exposure as a diet. It’s important to consume media in moderation, and consumers should make sure to take in more helpful than harmful content. And, the consumer’s age has to be taken into account. In the absence of those large-scale studies, but with the evidence that has been gathered so far, they and other researchers suggest that parents can most effectively help their children and adolescents consume a healthy “diet” of video games and media by actively monitoring their use, and engaging in and conversing about media with their children, rather than strictly restricting media use. Families can also monitor media exposure by implementing simple rules and setting limits to screen time.

 

How to Invest as a College Student

Many college students dream of becoming multimillionaires who split their time between philanthropic efforts and exotic travel. But the trouble is that we’re not always adept at making or saving money. Few of us will end up as multimillionaires, but learning how to make smart investments will help us live comfortably and provide for our families’ needs. In fact, according to School of Family Life professor Jeff Hill, any student can invest, no matter what how tight a budget he or she keeps.

Investing Tips for Students

Take Advantage of Compound Interest

Professor Hill is an expert on saving and budgeting money. In fact, one of his undergraduate courses — SFL 260, Family Finance — teaches BYU students those important skills, and Dr. Hill even co-authored the textbook that the students use (Fundamentals of Family Finance: Living Joyfully within your Means). In a June 2015 BYU devotional, Dr. Hill told a story about four hypothetical students, who each had $10,000 and who each planned on retiring 50 years down the line.

 

Get rich slowly - Jeff Hill

The first student put his money in a strongbox, meaning he would still have $10,000 in 50 years. The second student put her money in a savings account, where compound interest would double its value every 25 years. She’d have $40,000 at the end of the 50-year period. The third student put his money in a government bond mutual fund, where it would double every 15 years to become almost $100,000 in a 50-year span. The fourth student put her money in a broad diversified stock market fund, where it would double every seven and a half years. In 50 years, the student would have more than $1,000,000.

“That is the miracle of compound interest,” Dr. Hill said. “When you consistently invest like the fourth student, you have the peace of mind that comes from knowing you will be able to retire in the future and that if an emergency happens now, you have a reserve.”

Start Now

Dr. Hill said that any student can invest, no matter what how tight a budget he or she keeps. Some mutual funds even cater to small investors who can only afford to put a little bit of money into the stock market. “I invite my students, and I invite you, to begin to invest now,” he concluded.

 

Take a Little Risk, and Diversify

To Dr. Hill’s tips, Economics professor Scott Condie, who has published papers describing the effects of ambiguity aversion (the preference of known risk over unknown risk) on investment. It’s common among many investors, driving them to have less diversified portfolios and to participate in the market less often. “Ambiguity averse investors will almost surely have their wealth converge to zero if there is a rational expected utility maximizing investor in the market,” Dr. Condie wrote. In other words, investors who remain sufficiently ambiguity averse will not survive.

So make sure that you have a diversified portfolio, that you participate actively in the stock market, and that you don’t entirely avoid risk. After all, what’s life without a little risk?

How do you save, budget, and spend your own money?

Take a minute to think about your own finances. If you’ve got any questions about personal finance or investing, let us know in the comments, and we’ll get a research-based response to you!

 

Instability and Complexity in American Families

Today’s families are changing, as we’ve discussed here and here. Our School of Family Life professors are studying more and more types of families with more and more complex relationships. At our college‘s 2017 Hinckley Lecture, Dr. Kathryn Edin addressed the impact of instability and complexity on many American families. As parents break up, then re-partner, then bring new children into the family dynamic, Dr. Edin explained that “the parental roster is unstable” and “the child has multiple adults in and out of his or her life, claiming the role of mom or dad.” This dynamic is both a consequence and a cause of poverty.

Learn more about instability and complexity by watching this two-minute video, and stay tuned for new videos as we continue to explore these issues.

Dr. Edin’s full lecture is available here.

This post is thirty-fourth in a series of videos available in our new BYU Social Sciences YouTube channel! The channel contains tidbits of many of our most popular lectures and useful, succinct, research-backed advice on relationship, political, religious, media, and financial issues. Follow us there to stay up-to-date on wisdom that will help you and your family live better lives.

New Faculty Spotlight: Natalie Hancock

New FHSS professor Natalie Hancock had an “aha” moment on the first day of her undergraduate interior design class at BYU. Her professor was listing a few majors that might interest students who liked the class. “When she said Family and Consumer Sciences Education, I knew that was the major for me,” Professor Hancock said.

Then-student Hancock had always loved sewing and cooking, and she’d taken a few FACS classes during junior high, but it took the interior design professor’s comment to make Professor Hancock realize what she wanted to do with her life.

“I love Family and Consumer Sciences Education”

Natalie HancockSince taking that undergraduate course, Professor Hancock has given her all to helping family and consumer science students. She worked as a middle school and high school teacher for several years, where she integrated technology, math, science, and even social media into her classroom.

“Once I entered the teaching profession I loved learning how to become a better teacher. I wanted to share that passion with others,” Professor Hancock said. “I love Family and Consumer Sciences Education and believe everyone should major in this program.”

Professor Hancock said she has a clear goal in returning to BYU as a professor: to help students all over campus know about the FACS Education major. “The skills that are taught to secondary students by our FACS Education majors are vitally important,” Professor Hancock said. “FACS graduates can have a tremendous influence after they graduate and enter the secondary education classroom.”

Pursue What Inspires You

Professor Hancock said students should pursue what inspires them. They should also get to know their professors, she said, who “are wonderful people who want you to succeed.”

Looking back on her own undergraduate and graduate studies, Professor Hancock said the most valuable lesson she learned was to always do her best work. That way, she knew she was being true to her potential, and she could happily accept any grade she received.

Her parting word of advice? “One thing I absolutely loved about being a student at BYU was being able to attend devotionals and forums. Make sure you are attending.”

Welcome back to BYU, Professor Hancock!

In a Stepfamily? Come to this Lecture!

“When you have a blended family,” said stepparent Isabella, in a recent Connections article, “you have the chance to learn how charity works. Having a blended family has been a blessing to us because we had the opportunity to become an eternal family.”  While stepfamilies are becoming more common in modern society, blending them is still a challenge, according to Patricia Papernow, an expert in the study of stepfamilies and a speaker at our 2016 Social Work Conference. “It’s like Italians eating with chopsticks.” At an upcoming presentation, School of Family Life professors Jeff and Tammy Hill will share some useful tips for members of blended families both on- and off-campus.

In particular, they’ll:

  • share their own personal experience of blending their 12-kid family,
  • provide the most current research on blended families and what actually works.
  • tackle counterproductive myths about blended families,
  • equip attendees with research and gospel-oriented principles to assist them

The lecture will be held on November 8th and 7pm in room 2265 of the BYU Conference Center. Overflow will be in room 2267. It is offered as part of the Families at Risk lecture series, which provides family with techniques, perspective, and hope to take on today’s threats to family. Registration is required beforehand here, and the cost is $25.

The stress associated with numerous family transitions can pile up, the consequences of which may persist into emerging adulthood.,” said Drs. Erin Holmes, Kevin Shafer, and Todd Jensen in a 2016 study. It is imperative that people who are in stepfamilies or who know people in stepfamilies understand the importance of successful blending and the best ways to do so. Each widowed and remarried, Tammy and Jeff Hill are eager to share their experiences with others.

 

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