Eagle County Sheriff: When it comes to teen suicide, the sound of silence is deadly (column) | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Sheriff: When it comes to teen suicide, the sound of silence is deadly (column)

James van Beek
Valley Voices

James van Beek

As we walk in the door of our homes, we are often greeted by the sounds of family laughing, playing, arguing … there may be music, TV, video games blasting, dogs barking and all the noises that we complain about, yet would miss if they were suddenly gone.

Amidst all this chaos is a degree of harmony that pulls it together and makes it feel like home. While there are cultural differences, most homes provide a base of love, acceptance and inspiration.

How often we wish for silence, a little peace and quiet, yet what would we do if suddenly those noises unexpectedly disappeared? What if our last conversation with a loved one was indeed the last? How careful we would be at how we approach conflict and show our love. What if there were subtle, yet worrisome, changes in the behavior of a person close to us? Would we ignore those differences as just having a bad day … but what if those days turn into weeks or months? At what point does a troubling reaction become more than a bad mood or teen rebellion?

This past week, we had an incredibly heartbreaking loss. A young middle school child committed suicide. The entire community is in mourning. Of course, the family is devastated; no parent is prepared to lose a child, and the feelings of helplessness and sorrow will forever rest in their hearts, as the sound of silence spreads throughout their home. However, they are not alone, as this little one's friends, teachers and neighbors are in shock, wishing that they had known the pain this child was suffering and wondering what they could have done to help.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, http://www.afsp.org, "Suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide, and it is often undiagnosed or untreated. Conditions like depression, anxiety and substance problems, especially when unaddressed, increase risk for suicide."

Indicators that suicide is possibly being considered include mood changes such as anxiety, loss of interest, irritability, fatigue or agitation to the point of rage. These mood shifts may transition to behavioral issues that can manifest in isolation by withdrawing from family, friends and activities; becoming despondent, drinking and/or drug use; aggressive or reckless behavior; sleep disorders; searching online for suicide methods or materials; giving away prized possessions; and/or contacting people just to say goodbye.

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When questioned, they may even explain this behavior as a game, in an attempt to distance themselves from further inquiry, while they decide on their options for ending the pain. Conversations may focus on feelings of hopelessness with no reason to live; considering themselves a burden to others; feeling trapped or in unbearable pain; and asking details about death and suicide.

A local organization, http://www.speakupreachout.org offers the following advice on speaking to youth about suicide: Be direct — if you are not direct, it sends the message that it's not OK to talk about suicide and can add to stigma and barriers for getting help.

Offer hope — let teens know that suicide is not about wanting to die; it is about loss and pain. This pain may seem permanent, adding to a sense of hopelessness, but it's not. Let teens know that it does get better, even if they can't see it right now. Perhaps share stories of feeling the same way and how it got better. Let them know there is help.

Repeat these two statements often: "You are not alone, and you are so loved." It may seem obvious, but don't make assumptions.

Have conversations with your teen about suicide in the same way you discuss the dangers of drugs. If you are uncertain of how to engage in the conversation, then there is training available by contacting one of the resources listed here.

Mutually, identify an adult with whom the teen feels comfortable and safe to discuss serious matters. Ideally, it is the parent, but sometimes teens, in their desire to be independent, seek an outside source; make sure it is someone who can be trusted.

Understand that unlike earlier generations, kids today are under continuous contact via social media, and sometimes those conversations can be quite disturbing and even frightening, providing relentless exposure to potentially stressful situations, which can lead to depression.

We are fortunate to live in a community that has specifically targeted mental health as a need and voted for additional programs and facilities to be provided. A person's psychological and emotional health should never be in jeopardy.

Be safe and God bless — we need you.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at james.vanbeek@eaglecounty.us.

Crisis resources

Eagle Chief of Police Joey Staufer recommends the following local and national sources.

Crisis lines

• Emergencies: 911

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

• Colorado Crisis Services: 844-493-8255, or text “TALK” to 38255

• Safe2Tell Colorado: safe2tell.org, or call 877-542-7233

• Report Child Neglect: 844-264-5437

Training and education for suicide prevention and awareness

• SpeakUp ReachOut: http://www.speakupreachout.org, 970-748-4410

• Eagle County Public Health: 970-328-8755

Grief and loss support

• Mind Springs Health: In Eagle, call 970-328-6969; in Vail, call 970-476-0930

• The Dougy Center: The National Center for Grieving Children and Families, http://www.dougy.org

• The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: afsp.org/find-support

• Eagle County Schools: http://www.eagleschools.net

• List of dangerous apps on smartphones: educateempowerkids.org/dangerous-apps-2017

• Bullying prevention: http://www.stopbullying.gov

Training available that is free and open to the public

• Youth Mental Health First Aid — 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, March 5, at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards

• Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training — 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, April 12, and Friday, April 13, at CMC Edwards

• Certificacion QPR: Preguntar, Persuadir Y Referir (training conducted in Spanish) — 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27, at CMC Edwards, QPR in Spanish, 970-274-4902

• Bridging the Divide: Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in Suicide Prevention — Thursday, May 17, and Friday, May 18, at Regis University, Lowell Campus, Denver