Suicide awareness: Communication is key to catching the signs


Suicide can be a preventable death.
When it comes to suicide in youth, paying attention to them, talking to them and really listening to them
will go a long way in recognizing the signs.
“Take the time and listen to what they say to you,” said Ann Huss, a prevention specialist with the
Children’s Resource Center. “Show them that you really heard what they said.”
Most importantly, no one is to blame and no one “caused” the victim to take their own life, she added.

That was the message Monday at Saving Lives: Understanding Depression and Suicide in Young People – A
Training for Parents forum held in Bowling Green. Organized by the school district, the intent was to
alert adults about signs to look for, how to have conversations with students and resources available.

The impetus for the forum was the recent death of a high school sophomore, who took his life earlier this
As many as 25% of adolescents consider suicide at some point in their lives, Huss said. And suicide is
the leading cause of death in children age 10-15, she added.
Suicides usually don’t happen without warning, with verbal and behavioral clues present. The point is to
notice them.
Verbal signs could be “I don’t want to live anymore” or “You’d be better off without me.”
“You can’t take anything for granted,” said Superintendent Francis Scruci. “If a kid says something like
that, you’ve got to take it serious.”
Behavioral clues include previous suicide attempts, sudden happiness after a long period of depression,
and cleaning up loose ends, said Noelle Duvall, psychology doctor with the CRC.
Other signs to look for include rebellious behavior, directly or indirectly saying “I hate my life,”
being easily irritated, showing themes in writing that have violent undertones, showing a drop in
grades, and describing self as bad or stupid.
Having a depressive condition is the biggest risk factor for suicide, Huss said.
Ninety percent of those who take their own life are clinically depressed, and it may think that suicide
is the only way out of the pain and suffering, she added.
The second biggest risk factor is drug or alcohol problems; two-thirds of all adolescent suicides and
attempts are associated with drinking, Duvall said.
“Many times these kids get themselves in trouble,” Huss said.
Many show signs of depression in the weeks or months leading up to their deaths, such as loss of
interest, withdrawal from friends and family, and sleep problems. The child’s mood, actions and judgment
are negatively affected.
It typically takes two to three weeks for the symptoms to show, two to three weeks to seek help, and four
to six weeks for treatment.
“That’s three months of the school year. That’s why it’s so important to pick up on it early,” Huss said.

Duvall said if you suspect someone may be considering suicide, A.C.T. — Acknowledge your child has a
problem and the symptoms are serious. Care by letting them know you care about them and want to help.
Tell someone about your concerns and seek immediate help.
Listening without passing judgment is so important, Duvall said, and above all else, stay calm, relaxed
and rational — that means not rolling your eyes, or freaking out, or looking at the person as if he or
she is crazy.
“It is important to stay calm,” she said.
Don’t try to make them feel guilty or shame them, and don’t minimize the problem or offer a simple
solution such as “it will be better in the morning.”
And never, ever say “You won’t really do it” or “Go ahead and kill yourself,” Duvall said.
A family history of suicide increases the risk six times, she said, as does social isolation. Access to
firearms in an attempt means a higher rate of success, Duvall said.
Despite the signs to look for, there often are no warning signs, Huss said. But if someone is talking
about it, then he or she is thinking about it, “and you need to take it seriously.”
There are several myths about suicide, Duvall said.
• Talking about suicide might cause a person to act.
False: It is helpful to show the person you take him or her seriously and you care. Most feel relieved at
the chance to talk.
• A person who threatens suicide won’t really follow through.
False: Eighty percent of completers talk about it before actually doing it.
• They’re just trying to get attention.
False: They are trying to get help.
• Suicide is a city problem, not in the country or a small town.
• False: Rural areas have higher suicide rates than urban areas.
Grief is a process, Huss said, and it takes time to deal with it and channel it in the right way. Be
prepared to give time and support to your child.
“Take care of your child by taking care of yourself during this time,” Duvall added.
But let the family know you are there to talk and that you care, said a woman whose sister committed
Karen Pendleton, a mother of two, said she was struck by learning that suicides are often impulsive.
“There is no one cause, no one solution, and communication is really, really key,” she said.
She wished the message was heard by more people.
About 65 were in the audience, Scruci said.
“It’s such an important topic, we want to make sure we give parents as many resources, and as many
opportunities, to have these kinds of conversations,” he said.
“Our thoughts are still with the family because we know this is not an easy thing … it’s still one of
those things they will never get through. As a school community, we want to be there for them.”
Board member Jill Carr said the more the district can educate, provide support and be another cog in the
safety wheel, the better.
“Together we can solve a lot of problems,” said Scruci. “We can’t do it alone.”

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