Mental Health Checks with Your Teen: "The Koch Number System"

Lately, I’ve been sharing much of our family’s reality. In 2009, my husband was diagnosed with Depression and he has since survived five suicide attempts. This just in…in 2020, our teenage son had his first suicide attempt. I pray it’s his last as he is safe. A mental health hospitalization for our 13-year-old was the last thing we expected, but it’s exactly what we needed.

That mental health hospitalization forced our family to talk. No distractions. Just us.

It’s no secret that no teenager wants a parent to be constantly asking, “How are you feeling? Any thoughts of self-harm? Do you feel safe?” So we came up with a system…one we used with my husband when he grew tired of those annoying, and quite frankly, embarrassing, questions. We laughed and said we would even name our new method for checking mental health…enter “The Koch Number System.” I know. Super creative, right?

But it’s simple. And simple is good, especially for overwhelmed teens who are learning to be open with their feelings. The Koch (pronounced “Koh” and rhymes with “Toe.”) Number System allows teens to share their feelings in as few words as possible. And it allows advocates to take the information and do what we need to help. As advocates for mental health and suicide survivors, we would like to share our method with you.

The Koch Number System

We ask our son, “What’s your number?”

He responds with one of the following…
1 = I feel like myself. I feel good.
2 = I’m sad…a little down. But no thoughts of self-harm.
3 = I’m having bad thoughts. We need to reach out to our support system.
4 = I have a plan to harm myself. It’s time to get me help to keep me safe.

We use the number system so much that I write it in my planner to remind myself to check in with my teen and yes, my husband too.

Please do mental health checks with your teen. Please help them to know that talking is good and accepting help is strong. Too many in our world fight silent battles with mental illness. But one in three will struggle with mental health in any one year alone. One in three. You are never alone, and we are all in this together. We fight mental illness and suicide by talking…even if it makes some uncomfortable.

Speak up. Positive change never happened by keeping our society comfortable.

Please join us in advocating for mental health. Follow us on Facebook at Anchoring Hope for Mental Health: Jeremy & Bailey Koch. Check out our website and published books at www.jeremyandbailey.com.