September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, but this tragic issue occurs every day, month after month and year after year. Teen suicide is the most difficult topic any leader or parent can face, but it is one our youth are coming into contact with too frequently.  They are losing friends and schoolmates with alarming frequency, starting at younger and younger ages.  It is one of the leading causes of death for our children. The BSA has released this Safety Moment – Youth Suicide Prevention as a resource for dealing with suicide among youth.

Teen suicide is nearly at an epidemic level especially among a clump of Western states that have the highest suicide rate in the nation.  The debate on what is causing these enormous increase in suicides can be extensive and often inconclusive.  But it is a documented fact that we must face and protect our children as best as we can.

Disclaimer: If you are at risk for suicide or other harm or injury, please call 911 or seek other help (such as a hospital emergency room or doctor’s care) immediately. We are not licensed professionals. Here are other resources that can be used if you are someone you know is facing a crisis:

  • UNI Crisis line – 801-587-3000
  • Suicide Text Line – Text “Start” to 741-741
  • National Suicide line – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Website – Hope4Utah.com or SuicidePreventionLifeline.org

Prevention Training for Scouts

Within our Troop (Sandy, Utah’s United Methodist Church’s Troop 411), we decided to put our focus on what we felt were the factors that we could control.  We can’t always know or control what our Scouts are thinking or feeling, and we clearly can’t control the influences outside our walls, but what we CAN do is provide them with some knowledge, some resources, and some tools that may help them in a suicide situation – either theirs or a friend’s.

We can also provide them with a circle of trusted adults that they can come to for help if they are feeling depressed or despondent.  We can also train our adults to be aware of what signals to look for and how to approach a conversation with a teen who is struggling.

Community suicide prevention model from Circles4HOPE explaining how a balance between school programs, mental health partnerships and community connections can help prevent youth suicide.

We worked with our church leadership to contact a local agency called Hope4Utah.  Hope4Utah first came in with a presentation for the adults in our church, which included several of our BSA and GSA leaders.  We found the presentation so helpful we asked them to come back a second time to address a combined group of the youth of our church.

We invited our Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Venture Scouts, kids from our Youth group and a few teens from our local community. Our presenter was quite pleased with the turnout of over 60 youth, parents, and adult leaders.  Usually, she speaks to groups of less than a dozen.  We did offer them the bribe of pizza, which may have helped. Please note that this was a Boy Scout-aged activity. Be prudent in deciding which age groups should be included when discussing sensitive topics like suicide.

Out of a group of 60 people, the presenter shared with us that about 12 are at risk for suicide – either contemplating an attempt, making a plan, or actually gathering lethal means.

Prior to the event, we did contact the parents to explain the purpose of the presentation and make sure they were comfortable with the topic and the format of the presentation.  We also provided them with a link to the slide deck so they could review it themselves and possibly discuss it with their teens on their own.

The tone of the presentation was hopeful and positive.  They did not use scare tactics or gruesome stories.  They talked about statistics and warning signs, modeled conversations to have with their friends, they talked about “Hope Squads” and other resources that are being deployed in the schools and what good results they have brought about.  It was a very serious topic, but everyone we spoke to felt it was useful information, and a good discussion.

I was part of the group in both presentations as was my son (he was acting as the A/V operator). We have had some experience with teen suicide.  When he was in Jr. High School, two of his friends and classmates – both just 12-year-old boys, took their lives a few weeks apart.  And then last year, another much closer friend of ours – a 17-year-old boy of immense talent, popularity, and promise, took his own life as well.  He was exactly a year and a day older than my son and they had grown up together.  All three of these experiences had a profound effect on both of us, and they are never far from our thoughts.

The presenter said something that I found incredibly sobering.  Statistically speaking, out of a group of 60 people, there could be as many as TWELVE teens who are at immediate risk.  She said that four of them had likely contemplated a suicide attempt, another four had some kind of a concrete suicide plan in mind, and the remaining four could be gathering lethal means for an attempt.  That one shocked me clear down to my toes.  I’ve known some of these Scouts for six years now.  I know their parents, their siblings, their faults, their virtues, and the thought that any one of them might not be with us someday soon is a thought too difficult to bear.

Taking Action

After the presentation, I took a big handful of the wallet resource cards provided by Hope4Utah and I made sure that each one of our Scouts was provided with one regardless if he had attended the presentation.  I also asked each Scout to take out his phone then and there.  I had them save the numbers for the local suicide hotline (at UNI), the suicide text line (most teens will not make a phone call, but will text), and the national suicide hotline in their phones.

I had my son do the same and it came in very handy just last week.  He had a friend who was despondent about being kicked out of his home and was threatening to harm himself. Because my son had been through the training – he knew to take the threat seriously. And because he had the numbers handy, he was able to get in touch with the people his friend was staying with, got them connected to the text hotline, and got him talking to the professionals.

Those numbers are:

  • UNI Crisis line – 801-587-3000
  • Suicide Text Line – Text “Start” to 741-741
  • National Suicide line – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Website – Hope4Utah.com or SuicidePreventionLifeline.org

I hope you will consider having a group like Hope4Utah come and speak to your Scouts, and also talk to them and your own leaders about these suicide resources.  Ask them to save these numbers and keep them handy in case they need them or if a friend might need help.  You could be saving a life.

When you suspect that someone might be suicidal:

  • If you have a plan in place, follow it.
  • Take every threat seriously.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask whether the person has considered suicide.
  • Listen and accept the person at face value.
  • Don’t give false reassurance.
  • Notify the person’s parent or guardian and seek professional help.
  • Report any abuse to the appropriate authorities.
  • One easy way to engage a youth is to simply ask if something is sad, bad, or scary in their life.

Other Resources:

  • BSA Safety Moment: Youth Suicide Prevention
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – www.cdc.gov
  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – www.afsp.org
  • American Association of Suicidology – www.suicidology.org
  • Suicide Prevention Resource Center – https://www.sprc.org

And please remember, all aspects of the Scouting program are open to observation by parents and leaders. Parents should be contacted and must give consent for their children to participate in any training of this nature. Similarly, parents are welcome and encouraged to attend programs of this nature and all others. 

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Adrian
Adrian is a blogger who is passionate about helping parents with parenting tips, managing their finances, and organizing their homes. She has a full-time job in the financial industry and is part of the leadership of Troop 411 at Hilltop United Methodist Church in Sandy, UT. If you enjoyed her post, consider becoming a subscriber—her posts will be sent directly to your inbox twice a week.

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