Say Something: Teen Suicide and a Friend’s Responsibility

Top Teen Motivational Speaker on Suicide Prevention

“Say Something: Teen Suicide and a Friend’s Responsibility”

What if we knew we could have prevented a friend’s suicide but didn’t do or say anything?

Meet Jeff Yalden – Teen Suicide Prevention Crisis Intervention Expert. This video shows Jeff in a community that had 12 teen suicides in one year, including four in six weeks. Jeff is today’s leading authority on suicide prevention and teen mental health awareness.

That heartbreaking question is one that has been weighing on the heart of teen motivational speaker Jeff Yalden after the suicide of Lincoln High School senior Quai Horton in Des Moines, Iowa on February 7, just a week after Jeff spoke at the school.

Another question can be asked in tandem with the first one.

What is the cost of losing a teenager to suicide?

As far as Jeff is concerned, the true cost can’t be measured – and tragedies like these tend to have a ripple effect, sending waves of despair, anger, grief and helplessness farther afield than anybody can imagine at the time.

But Yalden has long been a proponent of living in the now, and clearly now is all we have.

And now is enough.

“Be proactive today and do what you can to prevent a suicide from happening, or you will end up reacting and wishing you had done something,” he said.

Obviously, this is easier said than done – especially if a person takes their life without any warning or without any signs pointing to his or her intentions.

“Many people who commit suicide do so without letting on they are thinking about it or planning it,” said Dr. Michael Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in a 2012 Harvard Health Blog article by Patrick J. Skerrett, former Executive Editor of Harvard Health.

At that time, Skerrett wrote that “more than 100 Americans commit suicide every day. It’s the tenth leading cause of death overall; third among 15- to 24-year-olds and fourth among 25-to 44-year-olds.”

For teens, suicide is right behind accidents/unintentional injuries and homicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.

But most people will at least drop a clue.

In a list of youth suicide facts and myths, the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network said that “people who are thinking about suicide usually find some way of communicating their pain to others – often by speaking indirectly about their intentions. Most suicidal people will admit to their feelings if questioned directly.”

For teens, social media is often the preferred platform for this pain.

This was true in the case of Quai Horton – and this was summed up in Jeff’s blog post on February 9:

“What Yalden found the most disturbing about this young man’s suicide was that there were very direct verbal clues on his Facebook page indicating his intentions – and yet nobody said a word about it.”

But make no mistake. Somebody saw these clues.

Shortly after Jeff posted a video to YouTube about Horton and how sorry he was about the tragedy, the comments started to come in. One person told Yalden to kill himself. Another said he knew Quai was hurting and told adults about it. The veracity of the latter cannot be proven because yet another individual alluded that this was not the case.

“We got help for the kid who told me to kill myself,” Yalden said.

We will likely never know if anybody really stepped up, but the takeaway here is that at least a handful of Horton’s fellow students knew that he was in a bad place.

But if anything, Yalden doesn’t believe anybody went far enough to bring any of this to light.

“Your friend is hurting. You are 15 or 16 years old and you might call your friend every day, but you cannot break through the struggles that people are feeling mentally and emotionally. You don’t know how. An assessment needs to be done to find out if we need to treat this person. It’s really as simple as that,” he said.

An administrator at Lincoln High School told Yalden recently that Horton would sit alone every day at lunch – and he would usually go up to him to see how he was doing.

“Quai was a quiet dude, and there is nothing really wrong with sitting alone, but where sitting alone raises a red flag is that we don’t know the child’s mental state,” Yalden said, adding that sometimes a student might sit alone because they might simply be having a bad day or getting ready for an exam.

“I think we should visit with them. If a child is consistently sitting alone, I would say to students and educators to just go and sit with that person and draw them out on any topic that might interest them.”

Yalden said that the symptoms for suicide are very similar to that of depression, and he has a three-point theory about teen suicide:

1)      I am alone.

2)      I am a burden and a liability to other people.

3)      I have the desire for suicide.

Put these symptoms together and you have a lethal or near-lethal attempt to take one’s life.

The point is to make sure a child never feels alone or they are a burden to other people.

“If a child has the desire for suicide, that’s a major red flag. We need to get that child help – and saying something to a responsible adult can save a life.”

Even though speaking up may be difficult in some cases, sometimes you must choose the difficult right over the easy wrong.

“If that means going against a relationship of friendship – going against trust – it’s the right thing to do because, in the end, you could be saving a person’s life.”

Yalden believes that mental health is something that is not just a family issue anymore.

“I think it is rapidly becoming an economic issue,” he said. “The biggest problem I have is that schools today are afraid to talk about suicide. I get it. I understand, but we need to reach a point where we get comfortable about being uncomfortable – and know that suicide prevention is something that we need to start bringing into schools.”

He also recommends that all middle schools and high schools do suicide prevention in-service training once a year for students, teachers and administrators.

“Educators: Don’t tell me you don’t have a budget for suicide prevention. What you don’t want is to have to find a budget to bring back the morale and spirit of your school after a suicide. If we are proactive, we can prevent some of these suicides from happening.”

For more information about North America’s top teen motivational speaker Jeff Yalden, visit www.jeffyalden.com.

To book Jeff for your school, organization of event now, call 800-948-9289.

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Author:Roger Yale

Roger Yale is a longtime contributor to McClatchy Newspapers’ The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, focusing on stories about the people who make the Grand Strand awesome, including teen motivational speaker Jeff Yalden. He was voted Story of the Year winner four times by readers of The Sun News’ sister publication, Weekly Surge. Roger is the parent of adult twins. His son is a United States Marine and his daughter is currently involved in marketing for Broadway productions in New York City. He spent many years as a single father, and he believes that the experience was something to relish – and the bond he forged with his twins remains strong. Roger is also a working musician. For more about Roger, visit his blog: www.rogeryale.wordpress.com

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