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HealthConnections: Suicide and suicide prevention in Tennessee

September is designated as National Suicide Prevention Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 19. And for every person who dies by suicide, there are even more people among this age group who report serious thoughts about suicide, or have attempted suicide. Dr. Carol Meyers, a professor emeritus in the University of Tennessee College of Nursing, talks with Clark Flatt, president of the Jason Foundation, an organization dedicated to the prevention of the silent epidemic of youth suicide.

WUOT’s Carole Meyer: Can you please provide a more detailed picture of youth suicide?

Clark Flatt: Yes. At the Jason Foundation we center on youth and young adult suicide. So the age groups today that CDC looks for is a little more broader is 10 to 24. Nationally, it's the second leading cause of death for 10 to 24 year olds, in our nation today, not many people are aware of that, that suicide plays such a role in us losing some of our youngest and brightest people. So very young, only surpassed by unintentional injuries. And I understand that not only is it the second leading cause of death, the rates are rising almost at alarming rates. It is the pandemic, I know people are getting tired of hearing that and but the pandemic had such impact on mental health. It's especially now we're seeing for our youth and young adults, it's we're just now starting to see the results of it. People think that the pandemics behind us, really with the mental health results of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, we're seeing these all increase and sometimes at very scary rate.

How do we identify young people that might be struggling with suicide ideation, which is thoughts of suicide?

Great question, because so many of the warning signs, or what we like to call them signs of concern, can be really also signs of adolescence. And that's where it's confusing. What we try to say is when you see these things in combination, when you see them acting out of behavior, as you know that person to be because of these things, it leaves this an opportunity for you to ask a question, what's going on, I'm seeing a difference. These things can be such as suicide threats, is common is really saying I'm going to kill myself. But have you ever heard a young person say something like, nobody would miss me if I'm not here? Nobody cares. That's a suicide threat. Of course, some of the bigger wins are previous suicide attempts over the large one, you'd be amazed how many suicides are not the first attempt. That means we missed it or missed, diagnosed or missed addressed it prior to that when, of course, depression is the leading cause no matter what age group for suicides. So depression is a big one.

These things that we're seeing in bringing up or out of character behavior, all as you can see is a somewhat of a direct result as far as the increase or such a strategic increase from the pandemic, because what do we do the social isolation, we shut down schools, we broke up peer support groups, sports, stop playing, the things that were young people and young adults were grounded in, were put on hold. And then when they were brought back, just like anything else, you start seeing the problems arise. And that's what we're seeing today. So what I'm hearing is a mix of change. In our circumstances, we went through three years of a major international upheaval. And then we're telling parents, we're telling grandparents, educators and others, you may not know everything, but just look for a change and a change should be a red flag to you. So that's good. We're encouraging people to act on their instincts.

What are the things we shouldn't do when we're concerned about a young person, a young adult, that we think you might be having thoughts of suicide?

People have done this, I think I might have done it before I became a little more trained in the area. Someone starts you say Is something wrong and they start telling you what's going wrong in their life. They start telling you I don't really feel accepted. I don't think that I had a bad day to day I had a bad day at work or at school. And then you stop them and you said, Well, you think you had a bad day. Let me tell you about mine. One of the worst things we can do is to when we interrupt someone who has opened up that we want to think that it sort of consoles them to tell them. Well, I'm my day is a lot worse than that. Or you say something to them like, Oh, that's not that big of a thing. It'll go away. If they start to talk to you let them expand. It's hard to listen, it really is hard to listen sometimes. But that's one of the best things we can do.

So we hear some troubling things when we ask that question, sure what's going on with your life? And and if we followed your advice, we've listened closely. And there's some things in that conversation that are concerning. What do you do next? Well, if it's concerning you ask the person, it depends. If you're talking to a young person, and you're even a parent or a teacher, we really don't we're not mental health experts. Get the person if you think is a credible threat to make sure the person you stay with them, until you can get professional help, whether that be a high school counselor, a middle school counselor, a doctor, your local pediatrician, your own internal medicine doctor, they would know this, of course, you can dial 988, we'll talk about resource 988 Is your connection to the closest crisis intervention line certified in suicidal ideation, which means they know all the resources, it doesn't have to be you are the one in in serious issues. You can say I'm calling for a friend, and they'll help you with those things. Maybe we've moved to the point where we do need to take action, as you've said.

What resources are available for people who might think either they have thoughts of suicide, or they're concerned about the young people that they interact with?

Well, let's talk about a very immediate concern you're talking with someone and that you can tell that there's that is really an intimate danger. At that moment, you should stay with the person and call 911 That's probably not the best one that I would like, because you're going to get the law enforcement. And luckily, now a lot of law enforcement have mental health consultants that work with them. So it's not like the old days when it's just going to come and cuff you. But that's for you want to make sure the person is safe. And that's probably the best way of making sure an individual is safe. The second one is not so immediate, is to get the person to go with you. If you're a say a young person to a young person to a responsible adult and share with them your concerns and see what they would suggest. Like I said, 988 is your standby number anywhere in the nation, you dial that you're going to get, you're going to get connected to the closest Crisis Intervention Center, which they know all the current resources. The danger with listing resources is they might be here today, but six months from now might not be the same phone number might not be the same web address might not be there even.

This transcript has been lightly edited for content.

Greg joined WUOT in 2007, first as operations director and now as assistant director/director of programming. His duties range from analyzing audience data to helping clear WUOT’s satellite dish of snow and ice. Greg started in public radio in 2000 in Shreveport, La., at Red River Radio and was, prior to coming WUOT, at WYSO in Dayton, Ohio, where he also was director of programming and operations.