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Learning signs of teen suicide

February 29, 2012
Rarely are news reports more disheartening than when it is revealed that a young person has committed suicide. The shock envelopes an entire community as people shake their heads in disbelief and try to comprehend a reason so dark that it has that kind of impact on someone.

But, it happens, and much too often. Many times, the signals were there, the events leading up to it were obvious, yet most people are not aware of how to recognize the signs before they lead to disaster.

Educating those in a position to interact with young people is a must, and a Youth Workers Café, a workshop to do just that, was held Friday at Van's Restaurant in Marengo.

Sponsored by the Indiana Youth Institute, the workshop, which was led by Hoosier Hills PACT's Tara Carlisle, a family consultant, was well attended by those who teach, counsel, protect and otherwise help the youth of Crawford County.

"Suicide is common, but not talked about," Carlisle told the group. "It's the third most common cause of death in young people. Male suicide attempts are usually more fatal, because they often use firearms. That makes males four times more likely to die from suicide as females. Depression is a major factor. One in 33 teens suffer from it. Substance abuse is another factor."

Carlisle said that 24 hours proceeding a suicide attempt, most young males have experienced a major event.

"It could be that they were expelled from school or fired from their job," she said. "There's all kinds of risk factors. They may have experienced a break-up of a relationship. They are in that moment, and they act on it. They are not developed enough emotionally to deal with it."

As the attendees listened silently, Carlisle led them through the signs that can reveal suicidal thinking. And most people who should have attended — and listened — were there. The Crawford County Sheriff's Department, Crawford County Emergency Management Agency, Milltown Police Department, Crawford County Probation, Crawford County Community Schools, Crawford County Health Department, Crawford County Extension Office, local ministers and others who interact with young people were represented.

"What do we look for when dealing with those who may attempt suicide?" Carlisle asked the group. "If I hear a young person say, 'I'm going to kill myself,' I take action. I get them to seek help. Or 'I want to die' or 'I'm tired of living.' Another one is, 'You won't have to worry about me much longer.' These are factors that should raise flags. And you may see a change in interaction with family and friends or a change in academic performance. Believe it or not, a teen's grades will often improve just before a suicide attempt. They want to go out the best that they can be."

Although males are more likely to die from suicide, teenage girls are more likely than teen boys to attempt suicide. Males are more likely to complete a suicide attempt because they do not allow for intervention and are less likely to call for help. Since there is often little opportunity to get males into treatment, their suicide completion rate is higher than that of females.

Many teenagers have thoughts of death. While there is no way to reliably figure the exact ratio of attempted suicide to completed suicides, the National Institute of Mental Health believes that as many as 25 suicides are attempted for each one that is completed. That means that for every teen suicide heard about, there are probably at least 25 suicide attempts made. Carlisle said that number likely is actually higher. Experts believe that a suicide attempt is a call for help, and getting help could prevent a completed suicide attempt later.

"If a teen is exhibiting any of the factors, it's OK to ask, 'Have you thought of killing yourself?'" Carlisle told the group. "If you're uncomfortable about asking, get someone who isn't. It could be that they are waiting for just one person to ask, 'Are you OK?' Maybe they don't have anyone in their life who cares. We must make sure that kid is stable. Ask them, 'Will you go with me to get help? Don't do it until we talk to someone.' And then follow up on it with a phone call — 'I just wanted to check on you.' That gives them hope.

"Asking them about suicide thoughts does not 'plant the seed' as some believe. They have heard it many times, from the media and from peers, so educating them about suicide won't plant the idea."

Carlisle said that the youngest child she has known to attempt suicide was only 2.

"Kids of all ages can be impacted," she said. "And, often, just one to two days after they think about it, they may try it. And 80 to 90 percent of those teens who have attempted suicide actually communicated with someone about it the week before. We have to open the door to talk to these kids. Each and every life counts."

For more information, Carlisle can be contacted at Hoosier Hills PACT at 1-812-723-5378. In case of an emergency, call the Crisis Line at 1-888-883-1959.

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