Local suicide serves as reminder of a deadly danger facing teens

Local suicide serves as reminder of a deadly danger facing teens

CREATED Mar 29, 2012

Reporter: Valerie Cavazos

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -  A problem few people ever talk about claims a life in Tucson. That problem is teen suicide.

Today the self-inflicted death of a freshman at Palo Verde High left family and friends devastated. It happened off campus, but  because so many parents and kids contacted 9 On Your Side asking us to check out rumors that were flying around about the incident... we called school officials. The school assures us this incident was *not* connected with bullying. And we're told grief counselors were on hand to help classmates cope.

Because of privacy concerns you rarely hear about teen suicides. But that silence has helped this problem quietly rise to be the third leading cause of death among teens.

It's important for you to know -- right off the bat -- there is no one cause to teen suicide. But  many of them do have one thing in common:  silence. No one wants to talk about the issue, but it's critical the silence is broken.

Search YouTube and you'll find many stories and PSA's about suicide and prevention, but getting people to actually talk about it is another matter. Mainly because of the stigma associated with suicide.  It's connection with mental illness is the main hurdle to overcome.

Studies show over 90% of people who commit suicide have one or more psychiatric disorders -- ranging from depression to schizophrenia. "There typically is an untreated or undertreated mental health illness."

Another factor in silencing discussions about suicide: much of our society believes taking your own life is morally wrong. "That (Christian) belief has been shared from generation to generation and there are other religions that believe in that also so part of looking at the stigma is associated with that and coupling it with religion, people are less likely to talk about it," said Pate.

Suicide is also harrowing for family and friends who often carry the burden of guilt. "They don't want that stigma associated with them saying why didn't you do something about it -how come you didn't see it? So people are managing these things frequently alone."

The adage time heals all wounds is not necessarily true for those left behind, who may then take their own lives because of the loss. "That's a sense of loss -- a sense of grief .. these are things that can cause suicide."

It's certainly clear that breaking the silence of suicide is a critical first step. Preventing suicide among our youth can start with more conversations about understanding the world around them. Experts say the stress and trauma children experience and witness can increase the chances of suicide.

Those dramatic and tragic events and images from 9-11, wars in the Middle East, the January 8th shooting and Hurricane Katrina as well as events happening closer to home -- ranging from divorce to bullying. "These are events that children are taking in and we know that they not necessarily have the mechanism to manage and process all of those things," said Pate. 
Experts say children internalize those images. Unlike adults, many children are less likely to talk about what disturbs them. "They are less like to do that or may not have people they feel comfortable going to and talking about how do i manage this and how do I cope with this bad stuff happening in our world," she said.

So helping children cope with the ups and downs of life is critical when trying to stem the rising tide of suicides. "How do we then help our children recognize that this is normal. disappointment is going to happen if you're a part of this world -- live and breathing. Disappointment is going to happen so how do we manage it -- how do we get over it -- and how do we teach them that this is okay."

These discussons with children often open floodgates in their minds and emotions -- rather than closing them down. Experts say parents should keep in mind that they don't have to have all the answers -- they just need  to know where to go for help when it's needed.

There are training sessions for families available through the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona. Another agency to call is the Southern Arizona Mental Health Corporation.