Do you have a daughter? A granddaughter? Are you a woman? Has suicide impacted your life in any way?
What’s killing our daughters?
Growing up, I struggled terribly with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and very poor self-worth, which manifested in the form of body image dysmorphia and a nasty eating disorder.
At my core, I truly believed that if I wasn’t perfect, no one would love me so I did all I could to be the best at everything. Not only was this an impossible task, but it would prove to be a devastating endeavor for me.
It was killing me. But that is only part of what’s killing our daughters today.
As a mentor to girls and young women, I know firsthand that our daughters have it much, much worse than I ever did, and are being attacked younger than before and in myriad ways, we never think is possible.
While I have no children of my own, this hasn’t stopped me from mothering those I serve, both as a practitioner and within my community, which is why I was terribly heartbroken when Alexandra Valoras took her life last March.
Teen suicide is now at a 40-year high for young women Alexandra’s age. It is now the second leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds of both sexes.
The Life of Alexandra Valoras
Like so many of the girls and young women I work with, she was a high achiever and “thoroughly cherished” inside and outside her home.
On the overpass where she jumped to her death, her parents found journals containing 200 pages of self-loathing and despair. She had written things like “you are broken,” “you are a burden,” “you are lazy” and “you’re a failure”, themes I see over and over again in girls as young as six. These types of statements actually turn into agreements we make that solidify a bond in our hearts, spirits, and minds, which can continue throughout our lives until the agreement is broken. Special thanks to Adam Young for his invaluable insights on this topic. I highly recommend listening to his podcast about it here.
And if these agreements aren’t being expressed outwardly, young girls are thinking and feeling them internally.
Does this break your heart? Then let’s do something to save the daughters in our lives.
Suicide Awareness: What’s killing our daughters?
In addition to preexisting biochemical imbalances that start in utero, two narratives I see over and over again are trauma and the immense pressure to be perfect, which trigger and exacerbate chemical imbalances in the brain.
To be human is to experience trauma, which can be either overt or covert.
So let’s unpack this.
Overt and Covert Trauma
Overt trauma is commonly seen in bullying, sexual abuse, and the impact divorce has on a child. Covert trauma, which has the same effect on the brain as overt trauma, (and often much more sinister) are messages your daughter receives in her day to day life, such as you be a girl boss, you have what it takes, you make it happen, you decide the outcome, and you choose your path. Even exposure to before and after photos for weight loss programs with the caption “I finally got my life back!” can be devastating to a young girl, making her feel inferior and not good enough. And let’s be honest, there’s no way anyone of us can live up to these impossible cultural standards, let alone a young, impressionable girl!
The Dark Side of “Self-Help”
Self-help messages like these are ruining our daughters’ lives. They promise freedom based on self and that is a very dangerous proposition for a young girl to be in. These types of messages tell them they alone have to make it happen, leading to immense pressure to be perfect at all costs. You don’t have to believe what I do to know that there is an infinite number of factors we can’t control from marriage to college, and fertility, and everything in between. The “you decide the outcome” and “you choose your own path” messaging creates a stress response that impairs biochemistry, often leading to eating disorders, suicidal ideation, depression, and anxiety-related disorders because the focus is on self for making it happen, rather than resting in the knowledge that God has these sweet girls’ backs, along with strong, loving, community support.
I commonly see covert sexual abuse in families, too. This doesn’t happen with touch, rather, when a parent looks to their child for the fulfillment their spouse is supposed to provide (triangulation). When this happens, the child is put on a pedestal with the unbearable task of making that parent happy. Over time, the child comes under more and more pressure to provide something they were never created to do in the first place. This often results in extreme anxiety and depression in young children.
Add to this the pressure and competitiveness of sports, academic, and other extracurricular requirements (often in a bullying environment), and you’ve got a child that feels trapped, scared and hopeless, for evil works to destroy the heart through trauma.
Research shows kids are on their phones an average of seven hours per day, making the sheer number of covert messages your daughter receives on a day to day basis an enormous figure.
In the brain, healthy neuronal circuitry happens with face to face interaction in the context of healthy, loving relationships, not pressure to perform or a false Instagram message a child has no way of discerning fact from fiction. Our culture values being known over being loved and this message is killing our daughters.
Girls no longer talk about normal teenage stuff like boys, clothes, and fashion. What I commonly hear are things like “my mom tells me my thighs are too big, so she put a lock on the refrigerator”, “I feel so much pressure to be thin and at the top of my class”, “if I don’t get this paper done on time, I don’t know what I’ll do.”
The Brain and Biochemical Imbalances
Herein lies the third chapter of my story – the intersection of trauma, cultural and familial pressures, with biochemical imbalances, which go far deeper than simply feeding your daughter a balanced diet. It’s actually how these imbalances impact her at the level of DNA influencing her ability to think, feel, and act.
Severe stress from any of the above and you have a spark that ignites a rapid-fire leading to depleted levels of key nutrients that your daughter’s brain needs to function optimally (listen to my podcast on eating disorders to understand this further). Couple this with the sorry state of our food supply and concerns about food safety (pesticides, GMO’s, etc.), and you have a bomb ready to explode.
And it’s not just the trigger of stress, no, it’s a transgenerational inheritance (something called epigenetics) of biochemical imbalances that secretly lie in wait for a stressful event to occur, which leads to deviant gene expression and massive oxidative stress. If this happens often enough in your daughter, a significant event can take place: bipolar disorder, anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, ADHD, panic attacks, severe depression, even schizophrenia (which we are seeing more and more of).
And this is what’s killing our daughters.
In summary, trauma and hurts make a child highly susceptible to biochemical imbalances that start in utero, which can lead to suicide. I so wish I could go back in time and save Alexandra before she made the decision to end her life. God bless her beautiful soul, may she rest in peace.