Take time to learn warning signs of suicide; talk to your teen

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Courts Reporter



If You Go

 What: Youth mental health first aid training.

• Where: Starting Grounds Church of the Nazarene, 203 S. Parkway Ave., Battle Ground.

 When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 11.

 More information: www.ymhfabg.com.

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Debbie Reisert was shocked when her 16-year-old grandson, Brian Stephens, killed himself in May 2009 with a gun he found in a neighbor’s trailer.

The Packwood resident said that at the time she was blind-sided by her grandson’s actions.

“Knowing what I know now, we didn’t recognize the risks associated with suicide,” Reisert said. “When people think of suicide, they think about the warning signs, and Brian didn’t have many of those warning signs. He wasn’t giving his things away or doing the things that we all think of before a suicide attempt.”

Mental health experts suggest people learn the common warning signs for suicide:

• Talking about wanting to die.

• Looking for a way to kill oneself.

• Talking about feeling depressed, hopeless or having no purpose.

• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.

• Talking about being a burden to others.

• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.

• Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly.

• Sleeping too little or too much.

• Withdrawing or feeling isolated.

• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.

• Displaying extreme mood swings.

• Giving away prized possessions.

• Hinting at not being around in the future or saying goodbye.

• Dealing with a recent death of a friend or family member, breakup or conflict with parents.

Justin Farrell, clinical director at Vancouver’s Real Life Counseling, says that concerned adults should not be afraid to ask youth if they are thinking about suicide.

“It’s scary. It’s hard to ask. There’s a lot of shame and guilt associated with suicide,” he said. “Just because your kid is suicidal doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong.”

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:

• Do not leave the person alone.

• Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.

• Call the Clark County Crisis Line, a 24/7 service, at 360-696-9560 or the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).

• Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

Farrell said that communities should invest in their children.

“You don’t have to be a therapist to be therapeutic,” he said. “Build connections and community so kids feel loved and cared for.”

Some community efforts are already underway to build connections.

Battle Ground Public Schools and Connect Battle Ground, a coalition that addresses adolescent crises, offer youth mental health first aid training for school personnel, families and community members. The training teaches adults how to detect and respond to mental health problems in school-aged children and young adults.

A local peer-to-peer support line, Clark County TeenTalk, also offers resources and empathy to youth dealing with mental health issues and other struggles. TeenTalk is available 4 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at 360-397-2428, or visit the website at www.ccteentalk.clark.wa.gov.

Recently, Facebook partnered with Forefront and other suicide-prevention organizations to create a way to flag concerning posts about suicide or self-harm. When users see such a post, they can click on the drop-down menu that allows people to report posts. A team at Facebook, which works around the clock, reviews the post and can respond by sending a direct message to the person or give suicide-prevention information to the worried friend.