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There is help to prevent teen suicide Andy Hagler: There is help to prevent teen suicide

Winston-Salem Journal - 4/14/2018

Mental illness is a topic that people would rather shy away from, let alone even think about. The misconceptions and stigma associated with mental illness prevents us from talking about it. This is why mental illness is sometimes referred to as a "silent illness" and why those living or struggling with mental illness do not talk about it as well.

Mental illness is real and common. It affects 1 in every 5 women, children and men in the United States in any given year. It affects everyone and does not discriminate on the basis of income, race, gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, sexual orientation or age.

Oftentimes, the symptoms of mental illness begin in childhood and adolescence. In a 2005 study, half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14; three fourths by age 24. The median delay between onset of symptoms and when a young person gets treatment is nearly 10 years, according to the National Institute on Mental Health. This gap affects young people and can negatively impact their education, work, relationships and overall health and well-being. Therefore, we need to start looking at mental illness as a public health issue that adversely affects children, adolescence and young adults - and their families.

Left untreated, youth with depression and other serious mental illnesses can lead some to take their own lives. Studies show that 90 percent of all people who die by suicide had an underlying mental illness.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association about the state of mental health of our young people point out that:

For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combinedSuicide results in approximately 4,600 lives lost each yearSixteen percent of high school students reported seriously considering suicideFour out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signsKids who are bullied are more than twice as likely to consider suicide, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.Youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual are almost five times more likely to have attempted suicide as compared to heterosexual youth, according to the CDC.

It is imperative that we raise awareness that mental illness is real, common and that mental illness, including youth and young adult suicide needs to be considered to be a public health issue. A good first step is simply to talk about it. Talk saves lives!

Below are some strategies that parents, teachers, youth leaders, clergy and others who interface with teens and young adults can talk about these feelings, including what to do if someone is having thoughts of suicide:

Let her or him know that you care and want to help.Ask if she or he feels depressed and is thinking about suicide or death. Speaking openly and honestly allows the person to confide in you and gives you a chance to express your concerns.Listen to her or his thoughts and feelings in a caring and respectful manner. Listen!Alert key adults - family, friends, teachers, school counselors - particularly for youth under age 18 and recommend that they seek professional help.Give local resources such as crisis hotlines, mobile crisis services, mental health facilities, school or college resources. For younger youth, you should give these resources to her or his parents or guardians.Never leave the person alone. Keep the person at risk - and you - safe.Do not be sworn to secrecy. Breaching confidentiality may be necessary to keep the person who is suicidal, having thoughts of suicide safe.Trust your instincts. If the situation is life threatening, seek immediate help. Get them connected to professional help, even if the person resists. Call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

There is help, there is hope. For more information on mental illness, suicide or if you or someone you love needs to be connected to a mental health professional, contact the Mental Health Association in Forsyth County at 336-768-3880 or visit our website:

Andy Hagler is the executive director of the Mental Health Association in Forsyth County. John Trautwein of the Will To Live Foundation will give a free presentation on teen suicide at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 16, at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Coliseum.


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