Recently, our community moved to a prevention model for teen suicide prevention. Emergency response to young people who are suicidal is still available through the Chilliwack Hospital Emergency Room, and Adolescent Crisis Response and Prevention (ACRP). However, in addition to these valuable services there is a concerted effort to increase the number of youth and community members who are able to recognize the warning signs of suicidality. Suicide is the second leading cause of death of young people between 13 and 18 years of age (accidents are the first leading cause).
Formerly the Spiritual Care Coordinator with Fraser Health, Graeme Isbister is uniquely qualified to connect with local medical doctors and review the prevention model. Graeme was born and raised in Chilliwack, and is committed to giving back to our community. Since family doctors often see people who are distressed and depressed, they play an important role in preventing youth suicide. Graeme’s mandate was to review the Ask, Assess, Act model of suicide prevention with family doctors in our community. Very briefly, the Ask portion is to ask someone if they are thinking of killing him or herself. Assess involves gauging their level of risk, and Acting to get them immediate help.
If you are concerned that a teenager may be suicidal, it is never wrong to ask a young person if he/she is thinking about suicide. Sometimes people are concerned it might plant the idea, but this is not true. If someone is contemplating suicide, it can be a relief to talk about it. Some warning signs to watch for include depression, not connecting with others, withdrawing from previously enjoyed activities, getting rid of prized possessions. The role of the internet in bullying can be huge. In the past year there have been multiple teen suicides across North America stemming from cyber-bullying through social media sites like Facebook. Unfortunately, the anonymity of writing something online without having to face the other person’s hurt or reaction can lead to some very cruel situations. Also, the impact of technology with sending photos, or posting embarrassing videos can be huge. Adolescents live in the moment, and long-term consequences are more difficult to understand, and the Youtube anti-bullying campaign “It Gets Better” is intended to provide some perspective that high school doesn’t last forever. Suicide is a permanent decision to a temporary situation.
Developmentally, adolescents are at a stage when peer relationships are very important. Another important piece of the community prevention model is teaching teens how to recognize and respond to their friend’s suicidality. Next week, the Perspectives column will focus on the work in this area in all three of our high schools. If you have questions about suicide or need someone to speak with then 1-800-SUICIDE is a great resource available 24 hours a day. If you or someone else is imminently suicidal then please go to the Emergency Room.
Marie Amos, MA, Registered Clinical Counsellor, is a Mental Health Therapist with Child and Youth Mental Health of MCFD, Chilliwack.