(EDITOR’S NOTE: Comment was sought for this article from Wawasee High School guidance counselors and the Bowen Center but no calls were returned.)
With tragedies such as that which occurred this week near Syracuse and through the spread of social media, suicide attempts are gaining public spotlight and it is cause for concern.
This week, Wawasee High School lost one student and at least one other suicide attempt was made. And while the issue merits attention, the problem is not only local.
According to WANE-TV, parents are expressing concern over an alleged “suicide pact” at a Dekalb County school. According to an article on teenink.com, teens often romanticize adventure and living on the edge.
Pamela Cantor, president of the National Committee for the Prevention of Youth Suicide, says this can be a deadly combination when faced with a suicide. Cantor says, “Kids see that this is a glamorous way to die, a way to get a lot of attention that they couldn’t get in life.”
Suicide is not a romantic Romeo and Juliet tale, however. It is a real and serious public health issue that communities, parents, teachers and students, need to work on together as a community to prevent and help each other grieve.
In a question posed to our Facebook readers, Jo Coplin writes: “It should be a group effort. Parents and school staff need to work together if they see an issue with a child. Parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask the school for help and vice-versa. The old saying of it takes a village to raise a child still holds true, it’s just most people don’t want to get involved.”
When asked if schools are responding properly to the mental health and well being of students, Jenelle Best writes: “No, they don’t. Especially for kids like me who were bullied all the time. There were many times in high school and middle school I considered suicide, but now that I’m out, (I know) that’s not a good option. But no, they don’t provide enough.”
Suicide is a topic many are uncomfortable with discussing. That lack of communication presents a public health problem which limits information to those helping to prevent suicide.
According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 10 through 24. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9 through 12 in public and private schools in the United States found that 16 percent of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13 percent reported creating a plan, and 8 percent reported trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey.
Despite these figures, suicide is preventable. Parents, teachers, students and friends can look for the following warning signs:
Observable signs of serious depression:
- Unrelenting low mood
- Anxiety, psychic pain and inner tension
- Sleep problems
- Increased alcohol and/or other drug use
- Recent impulsiveness and taking unnecessary risks
- Threatening suicide or expressing a strong wish to die
Most depressed people are not suicidal. However, most suicidal people are depressed. While warnings may or may not be present, pre-existing factors also play a role.
Risk Factors for Suicide:
- Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and certain personality disorders
- History of trauma or abuse
- Previous suicide attempt
- Family history of suicide
- Loss of relationship
- Easy access to lethal means
- Local clusters of suicide
- Lack of social support and sense of isolation
- Stigma associated with asking for help
- Lack of health care, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
- Cultural and religious beliefs, such as suicide being a noble resolution of a personal dilemma
- Exposure to others who have died by suicide (in real life or via the media and Internet)
Knowing the risk factors and warning signs are just one part of prevention. Another significant part of the process is to know where to find help.
How to find help:
- Recognize the dangers listed above.
- Take it seriously. Fifty to 75 percent of all suicide attempts give a warning of their intentions to friends and family
- LISTEN. Let the person know your concerns and do not argue them out of suicide.
- Seek professional help. Encourage the person to seek a physician or mental health professional immediately. Let them know it’s ok to ask for help.
- Follow up. Suicidal persons need support throughout the entire process, from seeking treatment to medication if necessary. Watch for side effects if medication is prescribed.
Other forms of help and information are made available through the following organizations: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).