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Opinion: Combat teen suicide now

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Commentary by Toby Stark, Executive Director of Chaucie’s Place

Indiana has the highest rate in the country of teens who have considered suicide and the second-highest rate of those who have attempted it, according to a just-released report from the Indiana Youth Institute. This is not a national ranking to be proud of.

We all know that suicide is not always preventable; we cannot look for blame in the victim or the survivor.  But we – as a community – can reduce the incidences of suicide with education and action. After a young person commits suicide, we often hear people ask, “Why didn’t I see this coming?” “What could I have done?” “Why?!?!”  Too many times, there is actually something we could have done – had we better understood depression, known the warning signs, and understood what resources our community offers.

The reasons behind suicide are never simple and the community response is just as complex. But that doesn’t mean we do nothing. Chaucie’s Place offers Lifelines, a youth suicide prevention program for 8th– 10th grade students. Right now Sheridan, Westfield Washington and Hamilton Heights schools are implementing Lifelines, which is starting to change the conversation in their hallways about youth suicide and are the first steps to educating and building resiliency among their students.

Because 90 percent of people who die by suicide had a diagnosable and treatable mental disorder at the time of their death, suicide prevention can sometimes be as simple as getting mental health treatment for depression, bipolar disorder and other mental disorders. One of the most courageous things a person can do for themselves is ask for – and accept – help.

Since children who have been sexually abused are seven times more likely to commit suicide, child sexual abuse prevention is another way to reduce youth suicide. Educate and empower your children that it is okay to say “NO!” to unwanted touches from anyone and to tell a trusted adult. And the adults in our community need to participate in one of the many child sexual abuse prevention programs that are offered throughout Central Indiana.

We must also learn to recognize and take seriously the warning signs for suicide.  While there are many, the most common warning signs are sadness or depression for an extended period of time; a drastic change in mood or behavior; talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live or being a burden to others; and withdrawing. The most prevalent warning sign of suicide is talking about wanting to die or talking about a plan to commit suicide. In fact, 50 to 75 percent of all people who attempt suicide tell someone about their intention.

If someone you know shows these warning signs, the time to act is now. Tell them that you are worried and want to help them. Don’t be afraid to ask whether they are considering suicide, and if they have a specific plan in mind. Encourage this person to connect with a mental health professional, or if suicide seems more imminent, call a suicide prevention hotline; get this person to a psychiatric hospital or hospital emergency room, or call 9-1-1. Remove any firearms, drugs or sharp objects that could be used for self-harm and don’t leave this person alone.

Other resources that offer programs and information on suicide prevention and intervention are American Federation of Suicide Prevention – Indiana Chapter and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If we believe we are helpless against the monster known as suicide, then that is how we will remain; and we will continue to say good-bye to too many young people who believe death is the only way to end their pain. But if we believe that we can, in fact, do something to reduce the incidences of suicide in our schools, then we will. A man far wiser than myself, Henry Ford, once said, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right!”


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