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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Do Your Part In Concerted Effort To Prevent Teen Suicides

Maxine Hayes And Leona L. Eggert Special To Roundtable

If you don’t think youth suicide is a problem that can affect you and your family, consider this: One in four young people in Washington state thinks seriously about suicide. One in 10 actually attempts it.

The good news is that each of us can take steps to help curb this tragedy.

These young people in trouble come from all backgrounds. Some are high achievers in school who, at times, expect an awful lot of themselves and take disappointment badly (rejection by the college of their choice or a low grade). Although 83 percent of suicides are completed by young white males, the problem is too widespread to be economically or geographically bound. In Washington state:

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among those 15 to 24 years old.

Almost 100 young people kill themselves each year, an average of two deaths per week.

Washington has the nation’s 10th-highest youth suicide rate - a rate higher than the national average.

In Spokane County:

Between 1990-1995, 54 youths completed suicide. Another 353 youths were hospitalized after attempting suicide.

Between 1990-1995, 21 percent of all suicides involved youths. Twenty-seven percent of all attempts resulting in hospitalization involved youths.

Many young people who take their own lives may not fully realize the finality of this step. They just want their pain to end and they lack the emotional resources to withstand a very difficult time. The pain seems as if it will go on forever, rather than being temporary. Many feel isolated, as if no one cares or listens to their problems.

An important step toward suicide prevention is for people to show they care about youths: to listen to them, talk with them and ask them questions about how they’re feeling.

Practical reasons support the need to do something about this problem. For every death by suicide, there are 20 attempts that may result in hospitalization. Suicide attempts are costly, emotionally, socially and financially. It is estimated that Washingtonians could save $3 in direct health care expenses for every $1 spent on youth suicide prevention. Of course, the costs add up to far more than dollars and cents. Attempted suicides damage families, friends and the community as everyone involved grapples to respond to cries for help.

Washington state’s response

Concern about youth suicide led the Legislature to ask the state Department of Health to convene an advisory council on youth suicide and develop a statewide prevention plan.

That plan, now being implemented, has three components: public education, crisis service enhancement and training for people involved with youths.

The public education campaign is designed to help people recognize warning signals and risk factors and learn ways to respond to a young person who may be contemplating suicide.

Gatekeeper training will teach adults and teens to recognize youths who are at risk of suicidal behavior. This month, 40 newly trained gatekeepers across the state will go into their communities to begin training even more gatekeepers, creating a cadre of skilled individuals who will serve as resources. Gatekeepers also will be trained in appropriate ways to intervene. Getting people to report their concerns about a suicidal youth to a receptive adult who will take action is an important goal of this training.

For many youths, the anonymity of telephone intervention is more appealing than traditional crisis center services. At-risk youths can be volatile and impulsive and need services that are immediately available 24 hours a day. Thus, in every county, the Department of Health is assessing crisis line responsiveness to young people to determine what can be improved, such as updated resource materials or specialized training for volunteers.

What you can do

If you have contact with a young person who seems depressed or talks about suicide, act now! Mentioning or threatening suicide, putting together a suicide plan, giving away possessions or withdrawing all are warning signs a young person may be at risk of suicide. Alcohol and/or drug problems, as well as access to firearms (the most frequently used method of suicide), compound the risks.

If you know a young person is at risk, show you care and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to express your concern: “I’m worried about you. Are you thinking about suicide?” Or: “You mean a lot to me and I want to help.”

If the young person seems in immediate danger, has a thorough plan and/or access to lethal means, do not leave. Stay with that person until you can get help.

Just as youth suicide affects all of us, we need to work together to reduce the likelihood of this tragedy. We can turn the tide of hopelessness and alienation among young people and build a more positive future for all Washington citizens. xxxx

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHERE TO GET HELP In Spokane County, call the suicide crisis line: 838-4428

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