Talking about suicide
The topic should not be shunned with teens, parents and adult mentors
The latest celebrity death by suicide this week makes it no less tough for parents, therapists, youth mentors and teens to wrestle with the realities of mental anguish that makes life seem impossible.
Prescott Boys to Men Mentoring Coordinator Larry Levenson said he often asks the teenage boys he meets with on a weekly basis about whether they, or someone they know, has ever contemplated suicide. No matter how many times he poses the question, he said he is “shocked” almost all admit to thinking of it at one time or another.
At a seminar titled “Tough Talk: Teens and Suicide” hosted by the Launch Pad Teen Center as part of an ongoing community education series, Levenson and others heard from trauma specialists and therapists about the need to bring suicide out of the darkness. They want to take away stigma from the conversation, recognizing the troubles that lead teens, and young adults, to consider suicide as a way to end their inner pain.
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline –
• Terros Health Mobile Crisis: 877-756-4090
• The Trevor Project, focused on ending suicide for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender youth, at 866-488-7386, or 2-1-1- Arizona.
Prescott trauma therapist Stasia Rivera was clear that most who attempt, or even complete, a suicide don’t wish to die. They simply no longer want to feel despair, loneliness, and shame.
“Some adults think if you talk about it (suicide) you’ll make it happen, and it’s actually just the opposite,” Levenson said.
Teens often think they need to keep their friends’ secrets, Levenson and others said. But any threat of suicide needs to be shared so as to get the help that is available, he and the therapists concurred.
“Life trumps all,” Levenson said.
In Yavapai County, between Jan. 1, 2017 and May 1, 2018, the state Medical Examiner’s Office reported 99 suicide deaths, three between ages 10 and 19, and nine between 20 and 29, with the largest number, 20, occurring in adults between the ages of 50 and 59.
Suicide warning signs/FACTS
Feelings - expressing hopelessness about the future; Actions – displaying severe or overwhelming pain or distress
Changes- showing worrisome behaviors or marked changes in behavior that may include withdrawal from friends, changes in social activities, anger or hostility or changes in sleep
Threats – talking or writing about or making plans for suicide
Situations – experiencing stressful situations including those that involve loss, change, personal humiliation, trouble at home or with the law.
If not notice these signs, express concern and ask directly about thoughts of suicide. Encourage them to call the hotline and involve an adult they trust. For immediate concerns for someone’s safety, always dial 9-1-1.
“Suicide is a preventable problem. By taking the time to notice and reach out to a peer, you can be the beginning of a positive solution,” according to a fact sheet from the Lifelines Curriculum and “Making Educators Partners.”
In the 2017 Yavapai County Community Health Services annual report, officials determined the county has the highest suicide rate in the state at 32.8 per 100,000 population. Statewide the rate is 17.8 and nationally it is 10.2 per 100,000 population, according to 2016 statistics.
The Yavapai County Suicide Prevention Coalition was created in 2012 to promote education on suicide as a prevention tool. The founder and head of the organization, John Schuderer, is tireless in his efforts to reduce the stigma and seek resources to spare families the pain that comes with such a death. Schuderer lost one of his adult sons to a suicide death.
Launch Pad Founder and Executive Director Courtney Osterfelt said teens struggle with how much they reveal about their own inner thoughts, never mind, sharing their friends’ “secrets.” Center staff offer teens a checklist of outcomes to decisions, striving to help them make good choices and to know when to seek out adult intervention, she said.
The reason suicide cannot be a taboo topic with teenagers is because they need to know “how to take action,” Rivera said.
Any talk of suicide, no matter how vague, needs to be taken seriously, Rivera said.
Suicide is a “tough talk” but when it is a conversation couched in understanding, rather than condemnation, Rivera said the person in pain can be prompted to see there are other options.
Even before a teen attempts, or dies from, suicide, the counselors said they may have succumbed to self-injury, be it cutting, abusing drugs or starving themselves.
In studies of self-harming behavior, Rivera said 45 percent of teens reported they do so to relax, a silent scream or “inward implosion.”
Osterfelt said teens often don’t have a “tool box” to deal with their range of emotions, and the way they opt to cope can be “terrifying.” She noted that there is a need to help teens “better articulate their pain and emotions.”
“We need to help teens find their worth,” she concluded.