EQI.org Home | Teen Suicide | Problems with Mainstream Concept of EI

Parenting, Suicide, EI

When I wrote my book “EQ for Everybody” in 1996 I knew nothing about teen suicide and I really didn’t have any interest in it. I don’t think I had ever given it a moment’s thought.

I did write a lot about parenting and I still feel proud of what I wrote in my chapters on
parenting and my chapter on self-esteem, for example.

I saw that a person’s low self-esteem and low sense of worth was mostly dependent on how their parents had treated them as children. I am not sure if I thought very much about how their parents treated them as teens.

But since I learned about young people who
cut and since I met Ocean in person and had many hours to talk to her uninterrupted, my understanding increased a great deal.

There are two main things I think we can learn from Ocean’s life. First is how parents can drive a teenager to suicide. Second is the problem with the Mayer Salovey Caruso concept of emotional intelligence.

In previous articles I have criticized
Mayer and his colleagues for their belief that if a person is self-harming, suicidal or acts in unhealthy ways, then they have low emotional intelligence.

I have really only started to tell Ocean’s story. I have many more notes and also voice recordings which I will transcribe and put on the site. Later I will probably also put some audio clips on as well.

I believe it will become clear to most people that Ocean has high innate emotional intelligence, at least as I define it. My
definition of EI is different from that of Mayer-Salovey and pretty much everyone else’s...

I don’t base it on a person’s behavior later in life.

To do this corrupts the concept because a person’s actions are influenced so heavily by their environment. This is even more true for emotion-related behavior than it is for academic type behavior.

There is no doubt in my mind that a child’s environment affects their test scores on something like a math or reading test. If a child was never taught any math whatsoever and never taught how to read, they would obviously fail the tests. But this does not mean they are stupid children. Nor would it mean they were stupid children if they were taught that 2+2 = 6.

In the case of a child not being able to read or add we might quickly realize “Oh, this child was never taught these things.” Or we might say "Oh, no! They were taught that 2+2=6!" And we probably would avoid calling them stupid. Then we might begin to try to teach them math and reading.

But in the case of emotional intelligence if a person manages their emotions in ways that might appear stupid to some people, what do we do? Do we now say they have low emotional intelligence?

When some people find out that someone else has deliberately cut themselves they will say something like “How could you do something so stupid?”

Below is an excerpt from a chat I had with Crystal last night:

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steve says:
laura said u might go back to the mental hospital or something
crystal says:
steve says:
what happened with that?
crystal says:
well i met with my case worker today, and im having another assesment next monday
steve says:
how did it go with ur case worker?
crystal says:
he rolled up my sleve and looked at my cuts then looked at me and said how could you do that, then shook his head
steve says:
how did u feel when he did that?
crystal says:
i felt like i was some alien, like he hasn't seen that before.. i felt angry, like he didn't understand and he never would.
He thinks the answer to everything is to lock me up
crystal says
he looked disgusted when he saw my arm
From this chat it seems her caseworker comes very close to saying "How could you be so stupid?" Yet Crystal is anything but stupid. And this person is supposedly a trained professional. Thankfully, not all social workers, counselors, psychologists would say something like this, especially to a sensitive teen who is already in such emotional pain that she has been cutting.

I am sure a lot of counselors, probably most, are much better at showing empathy and compassion and avoiding such judgmental feelings,thoughts and comments when they are being paid to help a 14 year old girl. Yet I get enough teenagers writing me with these kinds of things to know that this type of thing is not an isolated case. Unfortunately I would have to say it is common, but I have no statistics on exactly how common it is for a social worker or a counselor to say something like this. In any event, I am sure that parents say things like this, and worse, to their teenagers. This is one obvious way we see how lacking they are in showing any kind of emotional understanding. Yet we would expect more, and we need more from those who are called professionals and who have power over the lives of teens like Crystal.

Here is one way they have power...

Crystal told me later that a doctor in the mental hospital basically threatened her. They said she had to do three things or she would be put in the mental hospital again or in a group home. The doctor called them "recommendations" but if you say "or else.. " then it obviously is a threat and Crystal is emotionally smart enough to know the difference. So this doctor does have legal power over Crystal's life. And Crystal feels certain that if she went to him and asked for a different caseworker she would get no help from him, so she probably won't even try to get a different caseworker. Crystal's self-confidence has been beaten down. She needs someone who will stand by her. She can't stand up for herself against people like this. She is getting no support from anyone as far as I can tell. That is why she talks to me. If she were getting help in her community she wouldn't need to talk to me. And I would like to see the day when no teen anywhere in the world needs to talk to me for help like this. Yet I know that I will die before things have improved this much. So I guess this is kind of the "noble goal" that Lea talked about. I won't explain too much who she is just yet, but I will probably put a link to her website...but now I just remembered it has been down for a long time, so I will say she works closely with Josh Freedman at Six Seconds. I think she might even be a board member. Anyhow she has been corresponding with me lately and seems to show a pretty sincere desire to help me out with the teens - this is something else which helps me feel a bit more optimistic

One of the biggest problems I find when teens write me is that the professionals who are getting paid to help them are not really doing anything about the abusive and dysfunctional families the teens are being forced to live in. I say "forced" because the police in many places will use force to return them to the buildings called home, because that is what the laws in most countries I know of give them the power to do. (See this article on teens and force). A lot of mental health workers really don't seem to see the connection between dysfunctional, abusive families and teen depression/self-harm/suicide.

Ocean told me that in the mental hospital the staff would say things like "You are just normal teenagers who obviously have very poor coping skills." This is a little like saying "you are a group of normal teens with very poor math skills." So what would we do if we found a group of teens with very poor math or coping skills?

If they had very poor math skills would we lock them up? Would we isolate them from their friends? Would we shut them off from the outside world? Would we take away their cell phones and deny them Internet access?

Would we try to find out who taught them that 2+2=6? Would we try to make sure no one else is teaching young people such things?

What about if they have "poor coping skills"?

Do we lock them up and try meagerly to teach them more healthy coping skills? Do we try help get them in an environment where they don't need to "cope" with the kinds of things we somehow "expect" them to cope with? Do we even ask what their lives are like? Or do we turn a blind eye to it? Do we ask about their parents? Do we try locking their parents up and teaching their parents some emotional management or "coping" skills?

Do we want people to cope with things like being sexually abused? What about being emotionally abused?

My goal is to help people see what is happening inside these buildings called homes and mental hospitals. I feel confident that as more people find out what is really happening, then things will change relatively quickly. But I don't expect to get much support from the mental health professionals. Let's think about the people who are working in such places and who are the owners, managers and stockholders. Is it their interest to change things, to find out who is teaching that 2+2=6?

No, I'd say not. As long as there are lots of depressed suicidal teens then there will be profits and job security. So I have to appeal to someone else. Ocean told me who paid for her to be in the mental hospital. I'd really like to say the name of the company. It is the company where her father works. But I am afraid of his reaction if I tell you even that much. He is a very frightened man, I'd say. And I would be frightened too if I were him I suppose. He really doesn't have many ways of stopping Ocean and I from writing about him. He has a judge's "protection order" which may or not still apply to him now that Ocean is 18 and he has the possible avenue of suing Ocean or I, but if we tell the truth then it would be hard for him to win the case. So his other option is to kill me or her or both of us. Would he kill his own daughter if she identified him? I really don't know. So far she hasn't been able to have what I would call a productive dialogue with him. She doesn't really want to see him punished and I don't think she even cares if he is ever identified, but from my side there are things I would like to tell you, like the name of the company where he works, so you will know that when you buy one of their products part of your money is going to pay for Ocean's time in the mental hospital, since Ocean was covered under her legal father's company insurance.

When I used to work at a big company we called these Employee Assistance Plans. We paid for things like the employee's alcohol problems or the kids drug problems. So this is costing us all money. This company that her father works for is so large that there is almost no chance you have not bought one of their products at one time. So in a very real sense, some of your money ended up going to the mental hospitals where Ocean was locked up.

I told Ocean that the way to get people to take these things seriously is to appeal to their value of money. Unfortunately that is probably the best way to bring change. If XYZ corporation knew what Ocean's father was doing to Ocean and if they knew what the mental hospitals were doing to her, and how little they do to prevent future cases like hers, which to XYZ corporation mean future needless costs, then they would probably start to put pressure on mental hospitals like Fairfax. Fairfax is a private corporation, or actually a subsidiary of one. The parent company seems to be Psychiatric Solutions, Inc. As a corporation, their main motive is profits. So if their customers are complaining, then they will take action. But if only the teens are complaining then why should they be concerned? The teens are not their customers. The teens do not pay the bills.

I said this before but I want to repeat it. It is a bit like when I used to work for a cancer treatment organization in Arlington, Texas. There was kind of this sick joke that went around. They said "We don't really want to find a cure for cancer. We just want to keep the patients alive longer." In case you are not understanding this, I will explain. In the USA especially this makes sense. In the USA there is no national health care. So people and companies have private insurance plans. The insurance companies pay the medical bills. In Nicole's case it was Blue Cross and Blue Shield. When Nicole was under 18, Blue Cross would pay for all of Nicole's medical costs, including any time in a mental hospital. Ironically, when she was in the mental hospital the time I went to visit her and was not allowed to see her, she was already 18. So Blue Cross later told her mother they were not going to pay the medical bill, then evidently Nicole's mother told her that Nicole had to pay for the bill, But anyhow, it was not in the interest of the mental hospital to get Nicole out quickly. It would, instead, be in their interest to keep her there as long as possible.

Now I am not sure how much it costs these days to keep someone in a mental hospital. Or how much the places bill insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield, but I can tell you that it is huge money. It is certainly along the lines of hundreds of dollars per day. Probably more than most five star hotels. If you know how much it costs, please let me know. Somehow I doubt I will get much help if I write to Fairfax and ask them for information. They will probably tell me it is all "confidential." Yes, they love working in secrecy. But I want to bring a little more exposure to what they do and how they do it.

So anyhow, mental hospitals are making money off of depressed teens. One reason they don't want a teen to kill themselves is because they will lose money if they have no patient. How can you bill for a dead person?

Another reason they don't want a teen to kill themselves is because they could get sued by someone if it happened while the teen were under their control. This is probably the main reason they do all they can to make sure a teen has no way to kill themselves. When they lock a teen up in solitary confinement they might say "this is for your own protection" but somehow I doubt that. If they were really concerned about the teens they would run the places in a much, much different way.

Based on everything I have heard, and I do mean everything – there has not been anything I have ever heard to the contrary – mental hospitals are run by very controlling, very uncompassionate people. People who are far more concerned with rules than feelings. What seems to be the lowest priority is the feelings of the patients or inmates, whichever you want to call them..

So the “bottom line” for the mental hospitals is to keep the teens in as long as possible, milk as much money from the insurance companies as possible, avoid losing any teens to suicide and avoid any lawsuits.

They don’t have to worry much about lawsuits from the teens by the way, because they are not included in the legal system. They are not really people yet. They don’t count. They have no more say in the legal process than a dog, cat or a fly on the wall. In fact, they can’t even get in the courtroom to see what is happening as a fly could.

The mental hospitals also don’t have to worry much about the families suing them, though this is always a possibility. From my experience most families are very unconcerned about what happens inside the mental hospital walls. If the parents actually cared about their sons and daughters it is unlikely they would even be in there in the first place.

Now that seem like a very extreme statement to make but in all the cases I have heard, I have never heard of one single person being in a mental hospital where there were not serious problems in the family. I could revise the statement and change the word “cared” to something else because they might care, but be very unskilled for example. I would say that Ocean’s mother does care. She is mainly just very, very unskilled and very insecure. I’d say it is her insecurity which stops her from being able to accept how different Ocean is from what she expects a daughter to be which stops her from accepting Ocean’s very different values and beliefs.

So in any event, the mental hospitals can do pretty much what they want with the teens. The parents have legal power over the teens up to a certain point, then the mental hospitals take over, or there is some combination of both. What is totally left out in too many cases is how the teen actually feels about all of this. So with no one listening, no one caring, and with being isolated and unfree, suicide looks like a very viable way out of their pain.

S. Hein
August 10, 2006
Salta, Argentina


Note of thanks to Ocean

Fairfax Hospital

This is one of the hospitals Ocean was locked up in. I will be writing more about it later but for now I have started this page..

Note of thanks to Ocean

I want to say thank you again to Ocean. Thank you for believing in me so much. Thank you for believing in yourself so much. For having the courage to leave teen prison as soon as you were legally able. Before we met I felt so alone in this work. I felt so discouraged. So suicidal so many times. Now, for today at least, I feel a new sense of optimism that things will change and that I am making a difference, and that most people don't want teenagers to have to live in the kind of pain in which the teens I talk to live, and that it is just a process, albeit a slow one, of informing the public, and then things will start to change. Maybe they will even change quickly.

Actually right now I feel some sense of importance because I am thinking that I am almost starting to raise or help raise a new generation of teens, who will then become influential adults. People like Jen who I talk to in England are going to make a difference in the world. She has been helping so many teens that to me she deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. There is no doubt in my mind that I have changed the course of her life in a positive way. And Ocean has already told me I have changed the course of her life. With Ocean's help now, and more of her writing which will come in her own words, we will be able to change more lives.

I feel more optimistic about this today than I think I ever have in my life. It helps that I actually met Ocean and didn't rape and kill her as so many people seem to be afraid I would if I ever met a female under 20 years old in person. Or maybe they just pretend to be afraid of it because it serves their own ends, which I think was the case of Rob Emmerling. I am still not sure what Emmerling was so afraid of. Maybe I will try writing to him again. But quickly I think there is little point in that. I would at least like him to know I met Ocean and she still lives. It is kind of funny to have to say it that way, but I guess it is healthy to laugh about it.