Thursday, March 2, 2017

Teen suicide is a public health emergency; how parents can talk with their teens

It's a tough topic to talk about, but health experts say it's a conversation we should have. Several teenagers in our community have died by suicide. It's a public health emergency.

Credit: MGN

"It is an epidemic, it is an ongoing problem. And in this town specifically, it's high — way too high," said Levi Johnson, facilitator at the Suicide Prevention Partnership.

Nine students in School District 20 have died by suicide in the last 16 months.

"When we lose a student, it’s heartbreaking for everyone, whether you knew the student or not, because we want every student to be healthy and successful," said Becky Allan, D-20 executive director for Learning Services.

The school district is taking several precautionary measures, like training staff about suicide prevention and teaching students warning signs.
"This year, we implemented for all of our students at the middle and high school levels 'Signs of Suicide' curriculum," said Allan. "It has an acronym of ACT: acknowledge, care, tell."

"Next year we are planning to implement what’s called 'Riding the Waves' curriculum at the elementary level, which is really about a resiliency curriculum for our elementary students learning how to manage their anxiety," she added.

The district held a webinar for parents with two psychologists who specialize in suicide prevention.

"You should not be afraid to engage your child and talk to your child about suicide. You will not be planting ideas in their heads," Richard Lieberman said in the webinar. "Most importantly, if you see anything that concerns you, please act immediately.”

"Sadly, we cannot prevent every youth suicide. However, the vast majority of them can be prevented -- most often it's untreated or under-treated mental illness," Dr. Scott Poland said during the webinar.

You can find a list of symptoms of teen depression on this page.

"What we really have to watch for are three things. Is this pervasive? Is this affecting all aspects of your teenager's life: home, school and peers? Is it persistent? Has this behavior been going on for two or three weeks or more?" said Poland. "Then the last point is: have they dropped out of what were previously pleasurable activities, meaning she loved dance but this year she's not going out?"

One resource in our community is the Suicide Prevention Partnership, which is located in downtown Colorado Springs.

"The idea here is to provide a place where in their mind and in our minds they are safe. And by being safe they can say what's on their mind without being criticized or looked down upon or any of those things, but to be accepted for who they are and where they are," said Levi Johnson, a facilitator at the Suicide Prevention Partnership.

They offer group therapy and counseling.

“Here we have counselors available for free. For a lot of people they can’t afford to go see a counselor. If we find out that they were truly acute, we have means of reaching out to other professionals in the community to help those individuals to connect and to get the services that they need," he said.

They also help parents.

“One of the things parents can do, if they are at a loss on how to talk to their children, is to call here," Johnson added. "The people here can help them to learn [the] best way to interact with their children and to ask the tough questions.”

District 20 will send us a link to the full webinar by Friday and we will add it to this web story.

Sadly, we also know that five teenagers in Pueblo died by suicide in the last month.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can call the statewide crisis line at 1-844-493-TALK (8255) to speak with a professional. Click here for the Colorado Crisis Services website.

You can also find a list of resources on this page. There are links to several different agencies.