As the community remembers those lost to suicide during Suicide Prevention Month, hope turns to education in an attempt to help area youth struggling with the stresses they face in their daily life.
Youth Suicide Prevention Specialist Maggie Zimmerman with Tri-County Mental Health Services works with schools and community organizations in Platte, Ray and Clay counties to implement suicide prevention programs. She said communities must focus on education to teach area youth healthy coping skills to help get them through the stresses in their lives.
“(Youth suicide) affects our local community and it affects the entire nation and its continuing to increase, which is really something that we have to make sure that we are addressing,” she said.
Suicide stands as the second most common cause of death for those aged 10-24 in the Kansas City area, only after a general category of “accident.” Zimmerman said accidents could include everything from accidental drug overdoses to a vehicle collision.
For those of high school age, more die from suicide than vehicle collisions, she said. This decrease in vehicle deaths, Zimmerman said, comes from educational programs and changes in laws and policies.
Parents and officials begin to educate children on the importance of seat belts at a young age. Officials changed laws and policies on car safety, Zimmerman said.
“We’re hoping that with suicide, if we approach it like educating our youth and educating our parents as to what we need to be aware of the warning signs and the risk factors; and make sure that we’re doing everything we can to equip our kids with those healthy coping skills to deal with that stress ... ,” she said. “It’s pivotal at this point.”
Zimmerman said she suggests parents visit encouragehopeandhelp.com to help learn how to talk with their children about suicide.
According to its website, Encourage Hope and Help describes itself as a “suicide prevention website for youth (ages 10-24), parents, educators, LGBTQ, attempt survivors, loss survivors, veterans and community members in the Kansas City area,” the website said. “Through education and prevention efforts, we strive to end youth suicide.”
Zimmerman said warning signs parents and educators should look for could easily be confused for common adolescent behavior. She often conducts parent meetings for schools and community groups. Anyone wishing to host a meeting should contact Zimmerman at 816-877-0496.
She said parents should stay involved in their children’s lives in a healthy way. Parents need to keep tabs on how their children cope with their stresses.
According to Encourage Hope and Help, suicide risk factors include:
• Threatening to hurt or kill themselves.
• Expressing feelings of hopelessness.
• Phrases like: “I feel like I’m drowning,” “I am a burden to others,” “Everyone would be better off if I weren’t here,” “I feel like giving up” and “I feel trapped.”
• Withdrawing from friends, family, or society.
• Sleeping all of the time, or sleeping too little.
• Being anxious or agitated.
• Giving away prized possessions.
• Increase in substance use.
• Talking or writing about death.
• Seeking access to pills, weapons or other means to kill themselves.
• Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities.
Zimmerman said one of the training sessions she holds acts as a sort of cardiopulmonary resuscitation for mental health. Like typical CPR, this training helps one provide help for those struggling until further support and help arrives.
In the “Signs of Suicide” training, everyone within a school or organization receives the youth mental health training. They learn how to help until they can connect the youth to further help. Zimmerman said they cannot choose who a youth will connect to, thus the reason everyone should receive the training.
The training then helps students what to do if they see a friend struggling with suicide or not acting like themselves.
“We want to make sure we give them the tools to respond properly and make sure they know they’re not alone in it,” she said.
Zimmerman said she also offers an eight-hour training for community groups to help them learn how to help those struggling.
A great number of youth take their lives within an hour of deciding to commit suicide, she said. It’s important for all to know how to recognize the warning signs.
Not every youth will be saved, she said. Those struggling with the guilt of loss can get support through the Suicide Awareness Survivor Support of Kansas City.
According to its website, SASS said the organization believes the public must be educated about suicide.
“We sincerely feel that ‘Suicide is everyone’s business,’” the website said. “With this in mind, SASS has five steps that we’re taking to make sure that ‘Suicide is everyone’s business.’”
The steps include education, public awareness, networking with healthcare agencies, uniting survivors and providing information to area support groups.
More information on SASS can be found at sass-mokan.com.
Zimmerman said it’s important for survivors to not blame themselves. Although they may have equipped themselves as much as possible, some may still take their lives.
The key is education, she said.
Parents wishing to gain assistance in talking with their children about suicide can visit sptsusa.org/parents/talking-to-your-kid-about-suicide/.