By Dedra Cordle
For years, June Brown stood on one side of an imaginary doorway, unaware of the signs of depression and suicide that can exist in the young mind. Then one day, she was hurtled through the opening when her then 10-year-old son tried to take his life.
She likened the aftermath of being in a vortex filled with anger, grief, disbelief and immense guilt.
“How could I not know he was going through this?” said Brown, a Grove City resident whose name was been changed to protect the identity of her child.
She began to think back to moments of their daily lives for clues. Did he say anything was wrong? Did he lose interest in his activities? Was he being bullied? Did I not pay enough attention? Are there signs I missed?
She went to his school and requested to speak with his teachers. She asked if he gave any indication that he was struggling in the classroom.
“They told me he gave them no indication that he was struggling,” said Brown. “He maintained his ‘A’ and ‘B’ grades throughout; a near model student.”
She asked the clinical professionals at Nationwide Children’s Hospital where her son was being treated for advice. Upon their recommendations, she started learning anything and everything about the signs of suicide. She began to share her knowledge with friends who also have children.
“It is so vitally important that every parent know what changes to look out for,” she said.
Brown said it was equally important to talk to them about it, even at a very young age.
“We educate our children about drugs and alcohol and sex, but rarely do we talk to them about anxiety, depression and suicide.”
As a part of her continuing mission to not only learn more about the topic, but to give support to parents going through the same situation, she attended a Signs of Suicide Forum on May 16 at Grove City High School. There, Brown was one of approximately 40 adults in attendance to hear from a representative with Nationwide Children’s Hospital offering advice and tips about behavioral changes in their children.
Melanie Fluellen, a clinical counselor who works at the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research, said one thing to know about depression and suicide in children is that it can manifest itself differently in each child.
“There are typical signs of depression and suicide but what one warning sign might be in one child could be different from another,” she explained.
She said that is why it is so important that parents take note of their children, their activities and their behaviors and compare changes they have noticed throughout the days, weeks, months and years.
“You know your child better than anyone else,” she said. “If something seems different to you about them, then it probably is different.”
She said she often hears from parents who ask about the moodiness of pre-teens and teens.
“They ask, ‘Well, isn’t that just them being teenagers?’” she said. “Well, some of it is, but is it a change from their typical behavior?”
She recommended that parents communicate with their children, ask questions and share aspects of their lives with their children as well.
“Be open with them,” said Fluellen.
She added that it was important not to judge their responses.
“If you tell your children they can ask or tell you anything, you have to be ready for what answer or response you might receive.”
As for common signs of depression, Fluellen said they are feeling sad or irritable more often than not; sleeping or eating less than usual; lack of interest in things that once brought pleasure; withdrawing from others; participating in reckless behavior; engaging in self-injurious behavior; performing poorly in school; physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches; and increasing use of alcohol or drugs.
As for some warning signs of suicide, Fluellen said they are talking to others or posting on social media about wanting to die or feeling like a burden; gathering medication, sharp objects or firearms; expressing unbearable emotional pain; giving away prized possessions; suddenly becoming calm or cheerful after a long period of depression.
Fluellen said if any child presents these behaviors, it is time to seek medical help.
“Suicide is preventable,” she said. “Intervention is the key.”
The Signs of Suicide Forum for parents was presented through a collaborative program from Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the South-Western City Schools District.
Earlier this year, a pilot program was initiated at four schools in the district – Norton and Jackson Middle Schools and Central Crossing and Franklin Heights High Schools – where professionals at Nationwide Children’s provide instruction to staff and students so they are capable of recognizing the signs of suicide and depression in themselves and others. They do this by teaching the ACT message where they acknowledge there is a serious concern, show the person they care and tell a trusted adult.
April Weese, one of the district’s curriculum coordinators, said during the forum that they plan to have the Signs of Suicide program at two additional schools next year and possibly more throughout the upcoming years.
As for Brown, she said that she feels that this program is and will be instrumental but knows that there are “a ways to go” with educating staff, students and parents about depression and suicide.
“It’s a start, but we cannot move quickly enough.”
For more information about the signs of suicide and depression, visit the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research web site at www.nationwidechildrens.org/suicide-prevention. To locate mental health providers who address depression in children and adolescents in your community visit www.ptophelp.org. For youths with questions or under crisis, contact the Franklin County Crisis Hotline at 614-722-1800; or text 4HOPE to 741-741 for crisis text support.