By Laura Walker
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is becoming an epidemic among our young people with a more than 70 percent increase in suicides between 2006 and 2016. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 behind unintentional injury. In Mississippi, for every child who dies by suicide, there are 25 attempts. Statistics from the 2015 Youth Risk Survey taken in Mississippi indicated 15 percent of high school seniors reported having seriously considered suicide in the last year; 13 percent had attempted suicide, and six percent had received medical treatment for a suicidal injury. These stats are troubling and are growing ever closer to home.
In May 2018, Teresa Mosley spoke at Canopy Children’s Solutions’ Children’s Mental Health Summit. Teresa told the story of her daughter Elisabeth who is eternally 15.
Elisabeth was a typical teenager. She was smart, creative, caring, compassionate, an “old soul” who loved classic novels, black and white Hitchcock movies, animals and cinematography. Elisabeth was also among the 20 percent of youth who struggle with mental health challenges. Despite all the things that were right in her life, depression clouded Elisabeth’s ability to see the light beyond her darkness. She took her own life on June 13, 2006.
“Statistics are just numbers until you love one of those numbers, and I have loved one of those numbers,” said Mosley. “I want people to know that suicide is not prejudiced, it affects everyone. I pray that God will use the memory of [Elisabeth’s] life so that her death will not have been in vain.”
Mosley read the poem “Not Waving but Drowning,” by British poet Stevie Smith. She then explained the importance of recognizing when a person is struggling with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. While at a distance it may appear as if a person is fine and simply waving, in reality they are drowning.
Here are a few signs everyone should know that may indicate someone is struggling and may be at risk of suicide. If you recognize any of these symptoms in a child, teen or young adult, talk openly with them and seek professional help.
- withdrawal from friends and family
- trouble in romantic relationships/close personal relationships
- slump in academic performance
- giving away possessions
- writing or drawing pictures about death
- changes in eating habits
- dramatic personality changes/signs of despair
- deterioration of personal hygiene
- problems sleeping
- participation in risky behavior (drugs, alcohol, sex, self-harm)
- talk of suicide, even in a joking way
- have a plan of how they would commit suicide
- having a history of suicide attempts
Mosley also spoke of the importance of not only adults recognizing and taking action if someone is talking about suicide, but also our youth.
When Emily, Mosley’s youngest daughter, was in 7th grade (approximately four years after Elisabeth’s death), a boy in her school posted on social media that he was going to take his life. Emily, with great concern in her heart, hurried to school alerting the school counselor. The boy was not at school that day. School administrators went to his home and were able to intervene, saving the boy’s life and getting him connected with help. That day, Emily understood the importance of speaking honestly and openly about her family’s experience, challenging the stigma with suicide and mental health, and to never to mistake a cry for help as a ploy for attention. Speaking up helped save a life.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, know that you are not alone; there are a number of resources available to those in crisis. Mississippi Department of Mental Health is the statewide provider for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. If someone is in imminent danger, go to your nearest emergency room immediately and connect with a local mental health provider.
Laura Walker is the staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions. Canopy is Mississippi’s most comprehensive nonprofit provider of children’s behavioral health, educational and social service solutions with locations across the state. For more information about services offered through Canopy, visit mycanopy.org or call 800-388-6247.