Suicide rates have been on the rise. For the past 10 years, children and teens have been taking their own lives at alarming rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The Commonwealth of Virginia is committed to doing whatever it can to protect its young people from suicide, including enhancing existing suicide prevention guidelines for schools and increasing outreach education efforts to schools and communities. What’s particularly disturbing is that younger children are thinking about suicide.
Christy Letsom, Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Trainer, says, “Traditionally we’ve only thought about suicide amongst teenagers and above. But what we know is that this isn’t always the case and that in fact very young children can think about suicide. And because adults generally don’t consider them to be at risk, they tend to ignore this kind of talk when it’s being expressed.”
While opinions differ on whether social media is something young children should be exposed to, the fact is, it’s happening and it presents an opportunity for earlier intervention.
“I think social media can have a very powerful effect, and that’s partly why we’re using social media now to get the message out that taking good care of yourself and taking good care of your friends is important. We need to counteract any negative impact that might come from social media,” says Letsom.
“Social media can have a tremendous impact on the lives of young children. And it’s really important for us as their trusted adults, that we are are vigilant in keeping in touch with what they’re tracking on social media, being participants with them on social media platforms and keeping them safe from suicide.”
Being a trusted adult is only part of the equation. Parents, friends and teachers need to learn how to appropriately talk with children about suicide. “There are so many ways that anyone can find out more about how to talk about this very difficult conversation,” says Letson. Training programs, many of which are offered by state agencies for free, offer valuable information about how to speak about suicide with children.
How can we create environments that protect people of all ages in our community who may be in crisis or maybe thinking about suicide?
“The best way to keep people safe from suicide is to create competent communities or safer communities where all of the things that build resilience and wellness contribute to our overall health, and I mean health in terms of our mental wellness as well. And anything that creates connection and communication will increase safety in any community. That’s one of the first things that we can do as a community to make it safer from suicide,” says Letsom.
Community is the opposite of isolation and seeing a friend or family member suddenly withdraw from the things they enjoy doing and prefer to be alone could be a key indicator that they are feeling hopeless, in crisis, and need help.
“Isolation is often a major contributor to suicide. Noticing this happening with someone we know is absolutely a reason for us to have a conversation with that person. And that conversation may include asking them directly if they are thinking about suicide,” says Letsom.
If you or someone you care about is feeling hopeless and thinking about suicide, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline Immediate at: 1-800-273-8255.
To learn about resources available, including how to talk with someone about suicide, visit: https://www.sprc.org/resources-programs.