Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘suicide’

Preventing Youth Suicide in Light of “13 Reasons Why”

The new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has created a lot of buzz recently around the topic of teen suicide. The show graphically chronicles a fictional teen’s suicide and, in many ways, glamorizes it.13-reasons-why

Suicide among youth is a serious concern for everyone who engages with young people – whether at home, in school, or during out-of-school time. According to the Kids Count Alaska 2013-14 data book, suicides were the second-highest cause of deaths among youth ages 10-17. And in areas outside of Anchorage, the suicide rate among youth is four times higher.

Youth who are exposed to suicide or suicidal behaviors are more at-risk for attempting suicide, according to the American Association of Suicidology. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (ASFP) notes that risks of additional suicides increase when a story explicitly describes the method, uses graphic headlines or images, and glamorizes a death.

Seeing the graphic depictions and the sensationalized story of Hannah Baker brought to life in 13 Reasons Why has become a widespread concern among parents, as well as professionals in mental health, education and afterschool.

This type of glamorization has caused widespread copycat attempts, giving us more of a reason to talk about the reality of what is happening. Silence or ignoring the issue has never made it disappear. If anything, it has provided the right environment for it to grow out of control. ASFP states that we can prevent suicide by being aware and taking action – and that means talking about it.

The National Afterschool Association created the following list with recommendations for afterschool professionals and teachers on how to handle the latest Netflix hit:

  1. Watch 13 Reasons Why.

Rather than trying to get kids to avoid watching the series or talking about it — because they will, with or without permission — watch it so you are prepared to discuss the content when it comes up.

If you hear kids talking about the series, ask how they feel about the content. Watch how they’re reacting to the topic, paying close attention to their emotions.

  1. Watch for warning signs.

AFSP notes there’s no single cause for suicide, which most often occurs “when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.” Conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse problems increase the risk for suicide — especially when unaddressed. 13 Reasons Why depicts additional triggers, including sexual assault and bullying. Most people who die by suicide exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do. Find a list of warning signs from AFSP here.

  1. If a young person exhibits warning signs, talk to him or her about it.

“Be direct,” says Valencia Agnew, Ph.D. “Don’t be afraid to ask if they’ve thought about suicide, or if someone is hurting them.”

  1. Listen to young people – without judgment.

Get kids to tell their stories while they’re alive — not after they’ve made a permanent decision to what could be a temporary problem.

“Listen to children’s comments without judgment,” Agnew said. “Doing so requires that you fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. Put your own agenda aside.”

If you have concerns, consider reaching out to prominent adults in the young person’s life that you trust. Ask the adults if they’ve noticed anything unusual.

  1. Validate young people’s feelings.

Feelings aren’t always facts, but never downplay a young person’s stress level or emotions. Instead, try to understand and show you care. “Avoid giving advice to fix it,” said Agnew. “Pain isn’t going to kill them. It’s what they do with the pain.”

  1. If needed, get help.

If a young person you know is having thoughts of suicide, reassure him or her that you’ll help —then act. It’s not expected that the typical afterschool professional or teacher has the knowledge and skills to handle this alone. Work with the school and other trusted adults to find local resources available for help. Suicide Awareness Voices of Education offers a number of resources and tools, and is a great place to start.

Afterschool hours continue at home. Share these guidelines for parents and guardians on suicide prevention, in light of the series. Together we can ensure our children live in a safe, stable and nurturing environment.

World Suicide Prevention Day

act-suicide-prevention-web-slideBy Trevor Storrs, Executive Director, Alaska Children’s Trust

In 1998, the issue of suicide became real to me. A team member for a local Anchorage service provider, who was loved by all, committed suicide and it was my responsibility to notify the team, the children we served, and other community members. It is a day I will never forget. Since that day, three other friends have committed suicide. Suicide has plagued Alaska for too long.

Alaska has one of the highest rates of suicide per capita in the country. In 2013, the rate of suicide in the United States was 12.57 suicides per 100,000 people. Alaska’s rate in 2014 was 22.3 suicides per 100,000 people.

September 10 marks World Suicide Prevention Day. One day is not enough but it can be the first day of many where we take action to ensure our loved ones have the support and help they need to get beyond the idea of suicide.

One of the most at-risk populations are our youth. A recent article by the Population Reference Bureau, “Suicide Replaces Homicide as Second-Leading Cause of Death Among U.S. Teenagers,” showed that suicide attempts from year to year have been relatively stagnant. What’s alarming is the increase in the numbers of suicides that resulted in death over the last 15 years.

Suicide has now become the second-leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. This surpasses homicide deaths and is projected to surpass traffic accident deaths. American Indian and Alaska Native girls had a 60 percent increase in suicide rates, and now represent the highest teenage suicide rates in the nation. The greatest incidence of suicide is in rural areas, likely due to social isolation, prevalence of firearms, economic hardship, and limited access to mental health and emergency health care services.

One of the most concerning findings of the article is the higher suicide completion rate. This presents a significant challenge. In the past, failed suicide attempts gave a person an opportunity to seek professional help. The higher rate of suicide success diminishes these “second chances” significantly. It also increases the likelihood that other at-risk teenagers will mimic the same behavior, as they are exposed to increased suicides within their peer group.

Prevention programs are doing their best, but I believe we need go deeper to get to the root cause of suicide. Early adverse childhood experiences (toxic stress/trauma) like child abuse or being exposed to domestic violence dramatically increase the risk of suicidal behaviors. Prevention needs to begin with reducing the level of toxic stress/trauma children, families and communities are experiencing on a daily basis. We also need to support efforts in the implementation of protective factors and building resilience.

Without addressing early childhood trauma and giving kids adequate coping skills to use as they progress through some of the toughest years of their life, we are simply not going to be able to turn the tides on the rising rate of suicide successes. However, by recognizing the adverse experiences we all face and teaching our children how to react and heal is the ultimate suicide prevention technique.

As a community, it is our responsibility to ensure children and families live in safe, stable and nurturing environments. It is these types environments that promote the protective factors and build resilience to combat trauma and suicide. We begin to build these environments through the promotion and inclusion of culture – all cultures. Children and youth should have two to three adults in their lives, other than their parents, who they feel safe with and trust.

We can also help by knowing the warning signs of suicide, like being preoccupied with death, having no hope for the future or engaging in self-destructive behavior. Also, monitor your children’s social media. Help children and youth build a network of friends. Become part of a community that supports other families. For more ways to prevent suicide go to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or Stop Suicide Alaska.trevor-polo-shirt-small

Together, we can change this trend and ensure all children and youth grow up with the resilience to overcome the traumas of life and be happy, healthy, successful members of our community.

Trevor Storrs is the executive director of Alaska Children’s Trust, an Alaska nonprofit dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect.