I will never forget the night I spent looking for my son. Someone notified his sibling that he had shared on social media that he was taking his life. Immediately his sibling came to me and we went searching. We notified the police, found his bike but could not find him. Finally after an exhausting night, he was found lying face down on a sidewalk early in the morning. He was alive and spent the next week fighting for his life. He didn’t want to die. He just wanted out of the pain he was in. I am not alone in fighting this battle with a child who has thought of suicide. Thousands are out there worried about their loved ones and wondering, “What can I do?” Almost everyone knows someone who has been affected by suicide.
As it is a public health problem, we need to approach it like any other health condition. To prevent heart disease, we know that we need to reduce the risks such as fatty foods, sedentary lifestyle, limit alcohol and smoking; and we increase the protective factors such as eating a healthy diet and exercise. This is the same approach we need to take with reducing suicide. We need to decrease risk factors and increase protective factors. Last year, the Governor’s Teen Suicide Prevention Task Force’s recommendations shared the same findings1 . So how do we do this within our sphere of influence? I will discuss just three:
Gatekeeper Training - The PTA is very involved in helping schools plan parent nights to educate and provide resources for a variety of needs. One such training is QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer). QPR is an 1-2 hour long course intended to train parents, teachers, ministers, coaches, youth leaders and many others so they can recognize and refer someone at risk of suicide. This suicide prevention class helps identify signs to look for, how to respond to an emergency mental health crisis, how to “ask the question” and provides resources for those who need help. We are all busy. We all have a million things to do, but isn’t two hours worth a life ? After learning the importance of asking the question I had one mother share with me her experience. “I think what has helped me the best is asking straight out the question, “Are you planning on hurting yourself?” I used to think asking a question like that might put the idea in his head, but one day I just asked it; and his answer was “I don’t know.” Then, he just started talking. I always worry, but at least once a week, I ask the hard question, even on good days. This is an important conversation and these trainings are extremely valuable not only for your own children but for your children’s friends or other loved ones who may be struggling. I challenge each of you to take a class2 .
Firearm Safety - Another way of reducing risk is really getting serious about firearm safety. Over 80% of firearm deaths in the State of Utah are suicides3 . We talk about wanting guns close by to protect our families, but instead they are often the means our loved ones use to harm themselves because they are so accessible. Suicide is often a spontaneous and impulsive moment. If we get our children through that 10-30 minute period, we have success. We as parents don’t want one of our own firearms to be the way our children harm themselves. LOCK up your guns. Get some gun locks and a gun safe. Learn firearm safety.
Connection - Studies show over and over again that family bonding is one of the strongest protective factors our children have. Take a moment to consider how you connect with your child every day? Do you have family dinners? Do you spend time doing things that interest your children? Are you connecting with them at the pivotal times during the day, like right when they get home from school and right before they go to bed? Every family is different, but make sure you find something you can do every day for at least 15 minutes with each child to connect. One friend shared how she has connected with her daughter recently after experiencing suicidal ideation, “One of the things that has helped her the most is having us understand what her coping skills are and then supporting her as she uses them, sometimes she needs to draw, write music, or just completely get out of the current situation and go for a drive. Being able to communicate clearly about what she's feeling and what she needs is super important. Sometimes she can't put her feelings into words so we use ‘ratings’ daily. On a scale from 1-10, 1 being no anxiety and depression, and 10 being take me to the hospital, we can gauge better where she is at.” Another friend whose child is struggling shared this, “Open communication with your child is huge. Make sure and develop that relationship and check on them often.” All kids are important and we can uplift and connect if we are just aware and ask ourselves, “What have I done today to connect?”
Suicide Prevention is for everyone because suicide affects everyone. Sometimes we do all we can and our children still suffer. Whether you have a loved one struggling or not, it is important to learn these life saving principles because we never know who we can touch just by being more aware. All children need adults who are looking out for them.
- In 2018 Governor Herbert appointed key leaders to serve on the Teen Suicide Prevention Task. These are their findings: https://governor.utah.gov/2018/02/20/suicide-prevention-task-force-presents-recommendations-to -gov-herbert/
To attend a QPR training visit https://utahsuicideprevention.org/education-training or contact me at [email protected] to schedule a QPR training at your school.
- Source: CDC WONDER website (official mortality data)
By DeAnn Kettenring
DeAnn Kettenring is the Utah PTA Health Commissioner. She is heavily involved in prevention and advocacy efforts in the State of Utah to help bring awareness to ways parents and community members can participate in the prevention of substance abuse, underage drinking, suicide, and violence. She serves on the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition, the Utah County Drug Prevention Coalition, the Utah Tobacco Free Alliance, Utah Action For Healthy Kids Organization and Parents Empowered. She is also a Certified QPR Gatekeeper Instructor.
DeAnn works as a Business Consultant and Real Estate Agent and is the mother of four children, one beautiful granddaughter and two more grandchildren on the way. She has worked with youth in various capacities with PTA and her church for the past two decades. She loves empowering others and sharing what she has learned. She resides in Lehi, Utah.