Local News

Recent teen deaths spark suicide prevention conversation

Disturbing trend sparks suicide...

SPOKANE, Wash. - Suicide is an issue we don't often talk about, but one that's becoming a disturbing trend in our community.

In the last several weeks, several teenagers in the Inland Northwest have ended their own lives.

Wednesday, a student at University High School ended his life. A note went out to parents today, saying in part "we have support from a team of the district's counselors who will help the staff announce the sad news to our students."

According to the Spokane Regional Health District, suicide takes the lives of more than one person each week in Spokane County.

I talked to an expert today to learn the warning signs, and how you can help someone in crisis.

“Nationwide it is the third leading cause [of death] for youth ages 10 to 24, and in Washington state it's the second leading cause of death,” said Sabrina Votava, president of Failsafe for Life, an organization with the goal of ending suicide attempts and deaths in our commuinty.

We all likely know someone who has struggled with suicidal thoughts. But how do we know? And what can we do to help?

“I would encourage anyone who, if you have any concerns whatsoever, to initiate that conversation,” said Votava.

She said there are many warning signs.

“If they've acted differently, if they're doing anything that's concerning you, if they've started to withdraw or isolate, if they're acting out, if they're overly angry or irritable, if they're showing any signs of depression or anxiety, then acknowledge to them what you've noticed and tell them that you're feeling a little bit concerned about that or that you want to address that,” Votava advised.

She said it's essential for your friend or family member who is struggling to know they are supported and heard.

“You want to make sure you listen to them, that's one of the biggest things we can do for people who are in crisis is just really to be present with them, not try to fix it, not try to tell them 'how could you' or offer judgement, just to be still and be with them.”

Votava believes technology, specifically social media, plays a role in teen suicides.

She said, “When we're being mean to one another there are no boundaries. It gives anonymity, and it also eliminates those boundaries.”

Before, for example, if a teenager was bullied at school, they could often find a safe place at home. Now, the problems follow them home on their smart phones.

Bullying creates all the more reason to monitor your childrens' social media exposure, Votava said, and make sure they know they can talk to you about anything.

“We can't expect that our children are going to come to us when they're having thoughts of suicide, or someone else they know is having thoughts of suicide, we have to be the ones to ask,” she said.

Votava said if someone shares with you they are suicidal, but asks you to keep it a secret, you cannot do that for their own safety.

Instead, she advised to work with someone else they trust to get them the help they need.