Since 1999, suicide has been the second leading cause of death among Kentucky’s youth and young adults. The state’s suicides outpace homicides by nearly four to one, and kill more teens than all diseases combined. Kentucky’s teen suicide rate is higher than the national average. For every teen that completes suicide, at least 20 more teens will attempt it.
Most teen suicides involve white male Kentucky youths between 15 and 24 years of age. One in every seven, or 15 percent, of Kentucky high school students reported having seriously considered suicide within a 12-month period. Among middle school students, one in five, or 17.4 percent, reported they had seriously considered killing themselves at some point in their lives.
Firearms are the primary means of completed suicide among Kentuckians. Suffocation and poisoning are secondary means.
Some heartbreaking stories
In February, Emery Collins, 18, from Cynthiana, Ky,, and his 17-year-old girlfriend were discovered unresponsive inside a Toyota Camry after the car crashed into a brick house on Ruddles Mill Road in Bourbon County, Ky. Police believe that Collins, who died shortly after, shot his girlfriend with a .22-caliber handgun, and then turned the gun on himself. Both were students at Harrison County High School.
On Jan. 3, Roman Kellough, 15, a native Kentuckian, shot himself on the grounds outside Central High School in Evansville, Ind. His family told police: “Roman Matthew Kellough left this world due to the senseless crippling effect of high school bullying. Our family is completely devastated.”
Last year in Louisville, Daquane Drain, an 18-year-old football player at DuPont Manual High School, killed himself, overdosing on drugs and alcohol. He was the father of a six-month-old baby girl. Those who loved him said he had been severely depressed after the death of his mother from a car crash.
In 2014, a 12-year-old Bardstown girl was bullied to the breaking point by fellow students at Bardstown Middle School. Reagan Carter received such obscene hate-filled online messages, she killed herself at home a week before Christmas. Saying she “was tired of everybody hating her,” Reagan gulped down prescription cough medicine. Her heart stopped beating, and she lapsed into a coma and died.
While some suicides are impossible to prevent, most are believed to be preventable. The church can be instrumental in its efforts to help prevent teen suicide within their congregations and communities.
How churches can help prevent teen suicide
* Take opportunities to preach and teach on the tragedy of teen suicide. (Note: National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is on May 8, 2017.)
* Begin a proactive suicidal prevention program in your church. Train and equip your congregation to respond to people needing help.
* Build strong children and youth programs that create safe and welcoming environments for the church’s young people. Pray with and for your young people.
* Invite Christian professionals to speak to parents/grandparents, offering a variety of faith-themed parenting classes. Seek to build healthy family relationships in your congregation.
* Require your pastors of children/youth to take mental health first aid training through organizations like NAMI Kentucky, (502) 245-5284.
*Teach your church staff and congregation to take threats of suicide seriously and to respond appropriately.
*Train your leaders and congregation to recognize the symptoms of potential suicide.
* Create a network and updated list of trusted mental-health professionals/resources for immediate referral.
If, in spite of your efforts, teen suicide occurs within your congregation, take action immediately:
– Minister to grieving family and church members. Be a patient presence, praying with those affected. Refer them to Christian grief counselors and others for help.
– Bring together church and community members. Invite professionals to speak, addressing the suicide. Mourn the loss of the victim. Hold a remembrance service in his honor.
– Watch for signs of “copy-cat” or “clustered” suicides. Teen suicide can often trigger tendencies that cause others to imitate the tragic act.
Some reasons teens kill themselves
Most teen suicides (90 percent) involve depression, anxiety, drug or alcohol abuse, behavioral problems, relationship struggles, mood disorder, and/or sexual or physical abuse.
Other reasons might include:
* bipolar disorder (manic depression)
* physical illness
* feelings of failure, loss, helplessness, hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness
* getting into trouble; problems in life; loneliness
* making bad grades on tests
* arguments; breaking up with a friend/love interest
* severe bullying
* recent abortion (In the six months following an abortion, high school girls are ten times more likely to commit suicide.) (10)
* confusion about sexual identity
* drug abuse (Heroin and prescription painkillers have replaced cocaine in popularity, and overdoses can often be lethal.) (11)
Suicide warning signs
Every day in our nation, 5,240 young people (grades 7-12) attempt suicide.
Studies show that four out of five teens that attempt suicide have given clear warning signs. Take action when a child or teen:
– expresses suicidal thoughts
– shows increased irritability, loss of concentration/motivation
– withdraws from family and friends
– experiences a drop in grades
– is unable to sleep and/or eat
– loses interest in personal appearance and favorite activities
– shows signs of depression (One in every 11 teens will develop depression.)
– endures bullying and/or cyber-bullying
– abuses alcohol and drugs
– is involved in abusive dating relationships
– frequently runs away or is arrested/incarcerated
– loses family members or experiences problems with parents
– becomes (unplanned) pregnant
– shows impulsive, aggressive behavior; frequent expressions of rage (14)
– Reponding: If someone mentions or shows signs of suicide: Call the police or the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and take him to an emergency room (or seek help from a mental health professional).
– Stop Youth Suicide Conference, Nov. 16-17, 2017, sponsored by University of Kentucky Adolescent Medicine Clinic. For more information, see website: http://www.stopyouthsuicide.com or call 859-323-5643.
State and Community Organizations in Kentucky:
– NAMI Kentucky: (502) 245-5284
– Mental Health Association of Kentucky: (859) 684-7778
– AFSP Kentucky — Support Groups: (502) 396-8996
* For more information about Kentucky’s Suicide Prevention and Awareness, see: http://education.ky.gov/school/sdfs/pages/suicide-prevention-and-awareness.aspx
* Contact information for: Kentucky Department of Behavioral Health,
Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, 100 Fair Oaks Lane 4E-D, Frankfort, KY 40621-0001. Phone: (502) 564-4456, Ext. 4436; TTY: (502) 564-5777; Fax: (502) 564-9010.
– National Suicide Prevention Lifeline-Online Chat is available at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. Hotline- 1-800-273-TALK
– State Crisis Centers- http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetInvolved/Locator
– Stop Youth Suicide- http://www.stopyouthsuicide.com/help.htm
– National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention- http://actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org/
Denise George, author of 30 books, is married to Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School, Samford University.