Combating suicide among Arizona teens is more difficult because parents, guardians and teachers are reluctant to talk about it, an advocate says.
“There is a stigma that comes across where people say, ‘If we talk about it, then someone will do something,'” said Sandra McNally, prevention manager at La Frontera Arizona’s EMPACT Suicide Prevention Center. “I think people are more educated now to know that’s a myth.”
With suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Arizonans ages 15 to 19, Gov. Doug Ducey has declared September Teen Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
- Difficulty concentrating or having trouble at school
- Talking about death
- Extreme mood swings
- Feelings of “falling apart”
- Acting impatiently and behaving recklessly
- Increased drug or alcohol use
- Feeling like there is no reason to live
- Feeling sad, depressed or hopeless for longer than two weeks
- Isolating oneself
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Giving away favorite things or writings or art dealing with death, dying or overwhelming problems
Teen Lifeline: 1-800-248-8336.
In 2013, 42 teens died by suicide in Arizona, Ducey’s proclamation said. According to Arizona Department of Health Services statistics, males were four times more likely than females to kill themselves among those ages 15 to 19.
McNally said her organization aims to help young people who lack hope or are depressed.
“There are so many issues coming against our youth,” she said. “A lot of them feel isolated, withdrawn, have family problems and hopelessness. Those are risk factors.”
La Frontera and Teen Lifeline, which offers behavioral health services to children, recently received a joint grant from Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care, the county’s behavioral health authority, to reach out to schools in areas determined to have high suicide risk and rates.
“Part of what we’ll also be doing is providing trainings to the community, such as parents, teachers and other guardians and how to respond if someone is thinking of suicide,” said Nikki Kontz, Teen Lifeline’s clinical director.
With help from the grant, La Frontera will screen students for signs of mental health issues and drug abuse.
Teen Lifeline will teach students mental health awareness and how to cope with stress, especially when dealing with loss. It’s developing Web-based training to help schools respond if a student commits suicide.
Last year, Teen Lifeline helped Mercy Maricopa conduct a suicide-prevention-services assessment around the Valley. That guided where La Frontera Empact and Teen Lifeline will be working with schools – 27 high schools and 53 middle schools and junior highs in all.
Heather Brown, prevention administrator for Mercy Maricopa, declined to say how much the grant was worth but said grants typically are for around $150,000.
“We’re trying to be as comprehensible as possible, and we’re looking to train anyone in the community for what to look for,” Brown said.
McNally said that kind of knowledge can save lives.
“The more people know the warning signs and what to look out for, the greater chance we have of helping an at-risk person,” she said.