Mental health experts working to prevent teen suicides


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) For middle and high school age youth, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

September is Suicide Awareness and Prevention month and family services, schools systems and treatment centers are all working together.

Suicide can sometimes be a touchy subject but mental health experts at East Tennessee State University express the first step in prevention is talking about it with your child if you detect warning signs.

Suicide has become more common in kids ages 10 to 14, according to the CDC, and it has more than doubled since 2006 in this age range.

“Someone who has suicidal thoughts might isolate at first. They might seem agitated. They might start talking about suicide or talking about just ending it or feeling hopeless. Expressing feelings of nobody caring,” ETSU interim chair of Counseling and Human Services Dr. Julie Bernard said.

Mental health experts explain the best way to approach the topic, if you see these signs in your teen, is to be direct.

Dr. Bernard said, “We encourage people to directly ask the question: Are you thinking about suicide? Are you thinking about killing yourself? If they’re not really thinking about it then they’ll say, ‘Oh, no, no that’s not what I meant to convey.”

Amy Hayes, the clinical consultant for Youth Villages said, “If that answer is yes, then letting them know that they’re loved, letting them know that you’re there for them, listening to them and making sure that you follow up and get the help that they need after that conversation.”

Hayes, who works with foster care and adoption said even if you have not had your child in your home for a long time, noticing certain changes can be a big giveaway that a child is depressed or having thoughts of suicide.

“Maybe you noticed they really enjoyed something: a certain activity, a certain sport, and now they have stopped doing that. You may notice that they start talking more about death or dying or maybe even mention suicide, in passing suicide or celebrity suicide,” Hayes said.

Hays added that substance abuse is one of the risk factors for suicide.

“When you take substance abuse and you add in, maybe an untreated mental health diagnosis, family conflict, bullying for a lot of our teens and our younger clients. You put all those risk factors together and you do end up with, unfortuntely a recipe for suicidality,” Hayes explained.

However, just because suicide is common, does not mean it should be accepted as normal, she Hayes said.

Dr. Bernard said, “This idea that nobody cares about you, continual neglect or abandonment, possible physical or sexual abuse.”

If you feel you can’t resolve it with an at-home conversation, Dr. Bernard encourages parents/guardians to reach out for immediate assistance.

“Call the mobile crisis unit here in town. You can also dial 9-1-1 as a possible way, if it’s something that seems eminent and you need help right away,” Dr. Bernard said. “Although, it’s a national hotline, you get local services. So, what happens when you call the national hotline is you get someone that is a crisis counselor and they’re also going to work to get you someone you can talk to in your area down the line.”

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is also available 24/7. The number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential.

“If you know someone you think needs help, speak up,” Kingsport City Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Moorehouse said via a Facebook video on the school system’s Facebook page.

Just last week, the superintendent announced Kingsport City Schools is launching its #IWontBeSilent hashtag.

The school system will host activities that promote self-care.

Dr. Moorehouse said, “Let’s all understand that embracing the fact that we really are one tribe, that we can really make a difference to support each other when it’s most needed.”

On October 26, ETSU will be hosting its first ever Walk to Fight Suicide called the ETSU “Out of the Darkness” community walk. You must register in advance to take part in the event. Click here to register.

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