There is an angst, depression and hopelessness plaguing our young people. Teen suicide is now the second leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24 nationwide.
In 2016, Fresno County experienced the tragedy of 12 teen suicides, including the recent loss of multiple teens from Clovis West High School. Our community grieves every single one of them.
It is sometimes hard to understand why this happens. But through awareness and education, we can learn to do our part in preventing more.
Studies show that 90 percent of suicidal people suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental illness. None of these is a weakness. Risk factors toward depression and suicide ideation are most often a culmination of a multitude of stressors that overwhelm a person.
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Much like a mosaic or puzzle, stressors can be made up of many parts. They may be thought of as being derived from four categories.
▪ Genetics/biology – chemical imbalances in the brain.
▪ Environment – what our home life was/is like.
▪ Temperament – our coping and response to stress.
▪ Life experiences – sudden loss, bullying, physical violence, etc.
LGBTQ youth are also at increased risk, which may be associated with social pressures and violence directed toward them.
The thought of suicide evokes strong emotions. Fear. Denial. Shock. Anger. Our social norms tend to wrap depression and mental illness in a stigma that cloaks its prevalence and severity. Sometimes emotional reactions to the stigma become barriers to action. But breaking this through discussion and compassion are the first steps toward healing.
So what can we do as parents, family, friends, educators and health providers?
We must look for the warning signs. These may include depressed moods, increased irritability, feelings of emptiness, lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities, withdrawal, weight changes, sleep disturbances, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, unusual or risky behavior, contemplation of suicide, or direct verbal cues.
It may manifest in hostility, agitation, restlessness, and anger. There may also be a component of substance abuse. Abuse of drugs often is a way of self-medicating to avoid or distract from the emotional and physical pain.
Remember that, unlike adults, children and teenagers may not express themselves as well at certain developmental levels. Other clues might be seen in social media entries, writings, drawings, or internet research that focuses on death and dying.
Sometimes there are no obvious signs. Every child is different. Youths are often more open to their peers about depression than to their family. Advise your children to be aware of signs in their friends so that they also know what to do.
What if there are red flags?
If elements are recognized in a person, we are his or her first responder. We should reach out compassionately and genuinely, without judgment, anger or fear. Stay calm and ask questions about the depression without being emotional or critical. Simply listening can be the first step in providing hope.
It is essential to follow up with action. Do not leave the person alone. Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects. If the situation is dire, call 911. The National Suicide Hotline, 800-273-TALK (8255), is free and available 24/7. Calling 211 in our region can provide information about mental health services.
It is equally important for the youth to see a pediatrician and initiate professional counseling sessions. This may lead to proper medication and a therapy plan. Reach out to your school counselor or clergy person. Many schools and places of worship are equipped with resources and trained staff to discuss suicidal behaviors.
Our community is also responding.
Fresno County officials are gathering a multiagency task force of school districts, mental health professionals, and other health care organizations. Through Community Conversations, a mental health steering committee, this task force will discuss what the community can do together on teen-suicide prevention and awareness.
In 2017, Valley Children’s Hospital will also host a public forum at the Madera campus – free for anyone to attend.
Suicide is preventable.
There is help. And there is hope. There is support from your community, schools, physician, counselor, church, family and friends. It takes perseverance and patience, but recovery can happen with the right treatment regimen. Hope is a gift that will sustain those without it.
Michael B. Danovsky of Fresno is a supervisor of pediatric psychology for Valley Children’s Healthcare.
Discussion on Teen Depression and Suicide Prevention
Date: Saturday, Feb. 11
Time: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: Valley Children’s Hospital, 9300 Valley Children's Place; Madera, Room G150A
Registration: E-mail your name and contact information to suicideprevention
childrens.org or call (559) 353- 6204.