Forums at Sno-Isle Libraries to address teen suicide causes, prevention

SNOHOMISH — Suicide isn’t a naughty word.

Experts say it’s time to stop feeling ashamed or scared to talk about depression, anxiety and suicide. Young people in Snohomish County are killing themselves. It’s a problem that won’t go away if it’s left to lurk in the dark.

Sno-Isle Libraries is hosting four forums to talk about causes and prevention of teen suicide as part of the Issues that Matter program.

The first forum is Thursday at the Snohomish Library, 311 Maple Ave. The others are next month: July 7 at the Stanwood Camano Community Resource Center, 9612 271st St. NW; July 13 at the Rosehill Community Center in Mukilteo, 304 Lincoln Ave.; and July 21 at the Oak Harbor Library, 1000 SE Regatta Dr. All are at 6:30 p.m.

A panel of experts plans to answer questions. Among the group is Rena Fitzgerald, program manager for Volunteers of America Care Crisis Chat, and Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.

The county is seeing more suicides than ever before, even when increases in population are accounted for, Goldbaum said.

“This isn’t a problem to be ignored or suppressed,” he said. “We need to talk about it.”

Youth suicide rates in Snohomish County more than doubled in one year.

A dozen young people, including a 12-year-old, took their lives in 2015. That compares with five in 2014. There were three suicides in Stanwood, two each in Everett and Mukilteo and one each in Monroe, Marysville, Snohomish, Bothell and Lynnwood.

Half of the teens who killed themselves last year used firearms. The others hanged themselves, according to the health district. Common factors include a history of depression, self harm such as cutting, access to firearms and high-achieving students whose academic performance declined.

During the forums, Fitzgerald hopes to explain what crisis specialists are hearing from young people about why they consider killing themselves and the barriers to getting help. Through Crisis Chat, people experiencing depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts can talk anonymously with people trained to help.

One thing they hear a lot from teens is that adults in their lives don’t take them seriously.

“They refuse to accept that a youth coming from a good home with a good life could really be depressed and tend to dismiss requests for counseling as attention seeking,” Fitzgerald said.

Another thing they hear is that teens don’t want to tell their parents that they’ve thought about suicide because they don’t want to put more stress on their family.

In May, about 45 percent of people who used the chat line were teenagers.

The 2014 Healthy Youth Survey found that one in five high-school seniors in Snohomish County had considered killing themselves, and that 16 percent had made a suicide plan and 8 percent had attempted suicide. The percentages were slightly higher for high-school sophomores and lower for eighth-graders.

More than two years ago, the county health district reviewed data from surveys, birth, death and hospital records and worked with a committee to determine three public health problems local communities should focus on solving.

“We weren’t looking just for the biggest problems, but the biggest problems we felt we could do something about and really make a difference,” Goldbaum said. “Suicide was one of those.”

The others were abuse involving young people and obesity.

Goldbaum works with the county medical examiner’s office to review child deaths.

Preventing suicide requires a commitment from families, teachers, neighbors and friends to give kids a safe place and an adult they can trust.

It also requires people learning to recognize signs that someone is suicidal. Goldbaum calls it mental first aid. Instead of learning what to do if someone gets a cut or breaks a bone, people learn what to do if someone is hurting emotionally. It starts with asking if that person needs to talk or whether they’ve thought about killing themselves, he said.

Social media have added new layers to the fight to prevent suicide. People constantly share their best moments, leaving the impression that everyone else has a wonderful life and there’s something wrong with you because you’re not perfect, Fitzgerald said. Or kids see people overcome hardships and feel like they don’t have the right to feel sad or anxious, even though such feelings are natural.

Social media also exposes teens to more peer pressure, Goldbaum said.

“Kids with failed relationships feel especially vulnerable and may not have the support they need,” he said.

The Sno-Isle forums are free and open to the public.

Herald Writer Sharon Salyer contributed to this report.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

In a crisis

Care Crisis phone number: 800-584-3578

Crisis Chat: ImHurting.org

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