Dr. Ellen Rome of the Cleveland Clinic told an audience of more than 800 people Thursday that “there are things we can do together to prevent the next one.”
PERRY TWP. The suicides of nine Stark County teenagers since August prompted hundreds of people to fill Canton Baptist Temple Thursday to seek help on how to prevent the next death.
Cleveland Clinic teen mental health expert Ellen Rome told the audience of more than 800 people that no single solution exists to prevent the second leading killer of teenagers.
“What we know is that 157,000 teens are taken to an emergency department each year for an attempted suicide, and that 30 percent of them will try it again … and 78 percent never talk to a doc about it,” said Rome, head of the Center for Adolescent Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.
She said annually in the United States there are five cluster suicides a year and that it appears Stark County is one of them. Since August, six current and former Perry Local Schools students and teens in Plain, Jackson and Canton townships have killed themselves, according to information obtained by The Canton Repository through the county coroner’s office and local school districts.
“We’re living it and we’re breathing it and there are things we can do together to prevent the next one,” Rome said.
During her hourlong presentation, she provided a litany of suicide warning signs, strategies for parents and the community to use to talk about depression and suicide, as well as resources to seek out and use when needed.
Rome said some warning signs to watch for include when a teen:
– Talks or writes about suicide, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer.”
– Withdraws from social contact.
– Increases use of alcohol or drugs.
– Changes his or her normal routine, including their eating habits or sleeping patterns.
– Engages in risky or self-destructive behavior.
– Begins giving away belongings when there is no logical explanation.
Here’s the event streamed live on Facebook:
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What the community can do
Rome warned the audience not to romanticize the suicides. Instead, she said the community try to strike the right tone between respecting and valuing each student’s life while not allowing the next child to envision their own “hero’s death.” She suggested the community create a day of community service in honor of those who have died of any cause, host an event on suicide prevention for a national organization, buy books for the school library on mental health suicide prevention or help the school develop a curriculum on skills building and resiliency.
What parents can do
Rome stressed that if parents suspect their child may be considering suicide, they should talk to him or her immediately – and listen.
“Don’t be afraid to use the word ‘suicide,'” she said, adding that they also should remove any weapons and medications from the home. “Talking about it has been shown not to make kids do it but it helps kids access help.”
Her other tips for parents included:
– Be a lighthouse, instead of a helicopter. Be reliably there for your child, but committed to helping him or her learn to ride the waves. “Children who feel secure, without feeling controlled, have less to rebel against in the teen years and may be more comfortable managing their own lives as adults,” she said.
– Praise your child’s effort, not the outcome. A child who is only praised for the outcome, such as solving a puzzle, may become afraid of causing disappointment compared to the child praised for what they did to get to where they could solve the puzzle.
– Speak in sentences with “and” instead of “but” when disciplining your child. Praise children for what they did correctly “and” add your expectations to correct what they failed to do.
– When your child is sad, anxious or overly sensitive, see their feelings as strength that will someday help them. Empathy and feelings are not enemies, Rome said.
– Tackle your own ambivalence about getting help before asking your child to seek help. They will read your mixed emotions and risk becoming more ashamed or resistant to help.
– Develop a code word that your child can use when they need to leave a situation. Allow the child to shift the blame to the “mean” mom or dad as a reason to leave.
– Check in with your children when they get home. If they know they will need to talk (and could be smelled or sensed), it can help them create their own boundaries.
– Use dinnertime to be a role model to your children. Talk about your most embarrassing moment, the biggest problem you faced at work today and how you overcame it, and what went well and what did not go well that day.
Reach Kelli at 330-580-8339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @kweirREP