Ninteen percent of students 15 years old or younger who were surveyed (high school students) considered attempting suicide in the last 12 months; 12.5% of those surveyed report making a plan about how they would attempt suicide in the last 12 months; Almost 11% of 10th graders surveyed reported making a suicide attempt in the last 12 months.
— 2013 Kansas Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary Tables.
Editor’s note: This is the fourth of eight articles looking at suicide in Kansas.
The Center for Disease Control reports the number of middle school children ending their life by suicide doubled from 2007 to 2014 and now exceeds the number of middle school children who die annually in auto accidents.
Dickinson County children have not been immune to exposure to suicidal tendencies. Herington High School and Middle School Principal Brandi Hendrix said they have had several middle school age children make an attempt, including two in one weekend. Fortunately, the attempts were not successful.
“When we were made aware of the attempts, we got together as an administrative team and made sure we had a support system for those students,” Hendrix said.
She said there had been some discussion on how to handle the information on a school-wide basis, including the discussion about holding an assembly.
“At schools we are always about ‘if we have to teach them all one thing then let’s have an assembly,’” she said. “We were worried that if we had an assembly we would glorify it.”
Her concerns were validated as she sought the advice of professionals in the field who agreed having an assembly would just bring more attention to it. The attention could make suicide seem glamorous to students who might have suicidal tendencies that had not manifested yet.
“At that age they are so impressionable,” she said. “If it is for attention, then they might say, ‘I want that attention, too.’”
Hendrix said the school sent information home to parents to keep them aware and advise them on warning signs children might exhibit if they are contemplating suicide.
From there they turned their attention to ensuring students have the support they need.
Staff at Herington is also aware of some of the warning signs and have people in place for students to speak to should they or a friend report a concern.
“We’ve had kids talk about it at school. As soon as they do that we get right on it and talk to them. Whoever they feel comfortable with gets to talk to them,” she said. “We just basically talk to them, see what is going on, see if they have a plan on how they are going to do it — that makes it a little more serious of a situation if they do.”
Then, parents are contacted, informed of the concern and guided to the mental health professionals.
While the issue of youth suicide is growing nationwide, experts cannot pinpoint a cause because there are so many pieces involved.
“The worst thing these kids have to go through is social media. If social media would disappear it would be a wonderful thing,” she said. “People say things on social media they would not say to a person’s face.”
The unfortunate news is that there is no one thing causing youth suicide and there is no one thing to prevent it.
Children from homes with doting parents, from homes with less-attentive parents, high and low socioeconomic demographics, the theater kids, the jocks, the artists, the popular, the outcast — they are all susceptible to suicide.
However, Hendrix said it is important for parents to monitor their children’s social media. In today’s world, and in a community like Herington, where many families have dual working parents or one parent, who doesn’t get home from work until late — it can be difficult.
Many children go home to an empty house after school and get on social media.
“These kids live and breath by social media. That might be their only outlet to the world (once they are home),” she said. “They get on the computer and socialize instead of going out and socializing.”
But the kind of socialization happening online is different than what happens when children meet face-to-face.
“I would say, know your children’s social media,” she said. “On Facebook, they better be their kid’s friend.”
Parents should know who their children’s friends are on-line and in person.
From the late 1960s into the 1980s there was a popular public service announcement: “It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?” Hendrix said the question is still pertinent.
But now, do you know who is in your child’s bedroom on the computer with him or her?
Children, especially as they get older, may resist a parent’s interference, but Hendrix stressed the importance of monitoring.
“You need to know where you child is all the time and you need to find out who they are visiting with and what they are reading on social media,” she said. “Parents are paying for the phones.”
Warning signs, risk factors for suicide
Seek immediate help from a mental health provider, 9-1-1 or your local emergency provider, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) when you hear or see any one of these behaviors:
• Someone threatening to hurt or kill themselves
• Someone looking for ways to kill themselves: seeking access to pills, weapons, or other means
• Someone talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person
Seek help by contacting a mental health professional or calling 1-800-273-TALK for a referral if you witness, hear, or see anyone exhibiting one or more of these behaviors:
• Hopelessness — expresses no reason for living, no sense of purpose in life
• Rage, anger, seeking revenge
• Recklessness or risky behavior, seemingly without thinking
• Expressions of feeling trapped — like there’s no way out
• Increased alcohol or drug use
• Withdrawal from friends, family or society
• Anxiety, agitation, inability to sleep, or constant sleep
•Dramatic mood changes
— From the Kansas Suicide Prevention Center