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The Journal Gazette

  • File IPFW students Bruno Sobotie and Denisha Harris tape up signs on campus during Shoes for Hope, part of Suicide Prevention Week on campus in September. Suicide is a concern for an alarming number of high school students in the area as well.

  • Haaff

Sunday, January 07, 2018 1:00 am

Become an advocate for hope

By knowing warning signs, you can help reduce rate of teenage suicide

Marcia Haaff

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Did you know Indiana is higher than the national average in suicide and suicidal ideation in teens?

When 7,776 high school students were polled through the Get Schooled Tour in our region, this was their response.

One in five Indiana high school students has seriously considered attempting suicide, according to the 2017 KIDS COUNT in Indiana Data Book.

Locally, our stats are higher. Girls are twice as likely to consider suicide than boys, and are more likely to make a plan and more likely to attempt and need medical attention.

So, why?

There are no easy answers. Some of the reasons include health factors, particularly untreated or undiagnosed mental health issues.

Depression is the most common cause of suicide-related behavior. These are kids who feel sad or hopeless for two weeks or more. The national rate is 29.9 percent. There is a pretty big disparity between Indiana girls and boys. Girls report feeling sad and hopeless for an extended period of time at a rate of 39.2 percent. That is 10 percent higher than the national rate. Boys report 19.8 percent, 10 percent lower. It averages out close to the national rate, but there is a big disparity between our boys and our girls.

According to 10,376 students polled in the Get Schooled Tour, 64 percent of the students said they sometimes feel depressed (36 percent),  have felt depressed more than average (15 percent) or feel very depressed (13 percent).

What is going on? It is complicated: Family history of depression and suicide attempts. Bullying. Teen dating relationships. Substance abuse (student or parent). Sexual abuse. Family stress: financial stress, unemployment, divorce. Anxiety over academic performance and preparing for the future. A sense of being overwhelmed by academic requirements and high-stakes career planning, not to mention part-time jobs, keeping up with everyday household tasks and fitting in social activities. As one youth put it, “You have no clue how hard it is to be a kid.”

As adults, we need to be more aware of what some of those warning signs are and watch and listen for them.

Listen for: “All of my problems will end soon.” “I just cannot take it anymore.” “I can't do anything right.” “I am a burden to everyone.”

Watch for misuse of alcohol or drugs. Withdrawal (from family, friends, school or work). Loss of interest in sports and leisure. Impulsive or reckless behavior. Self-mutilation. Extreme behavior changes.

Watch for feelings that reflect desperation, anger, guilt, worthlessness, loneliness, sadness, hopelessness or helplessness.

Be aware of physical changes such as lack of interest in appearance, disturbed sleep, change or loss of appetite/weight, or physical health complaints.

We need to break down stigma even more and make sure that support and outreach are available for all teens.

Our youth do not have to have a secret struggle. Keep talking. Talk to your kids, talk to other kids, talk to your kids' friends. Ask them how they're doing, pay attention, know the warning signs.

As parents, we need to talk to our children about values, successes, their future. We need to help build resiliency in our children. Kids who can see a future for themselves, even when they go through tough times, are less likely to contemplate suicide.

There is hope. We can help in healing our community with hope.

Marcia Haaff is chief executive officer of the Lutheran Foundation.