Suicide is a difficult thing to discuss. The darkest of moments brought on by depression, pain, hopelessness, or considering oneself a burden — they’re hard to think about, let alone talk about. But it’s a conversation we must have. Unfortunately, more and more of our young people are feeling overwhelmed by powerful emotions such as loneliness, shame, anguish, and unbearable hurt that can fuel thoughts of self-harm. According to the California Healthy Kids Survey, 14 percent of Santa Barbara County 9th graders reported suicidal ideation in 2016-17.
The global suicide rate is staggering. Close to 800,000 people die this way every year. Suicide claims more lives than all the wars and all the crime combined. And for each reported death, there are an additional 60 attempts and another 278 people who have seriously considered it, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
It is up to us to help stop this epidemic. As a community, we must be proactive, not reactive. Seek out those among us who are suffering, as they often hide their pain. As a community, we can promote messages and programs that encourage us to speak about our difficulties and gratefully accept mental-health support to address the pain.
A fine example of being proactive occurred in January. Santa Barbara Unified School District, led by Assistant Superintendent Frann Wageneck, launched the SOS: Signs of Suicide Prevention Program on its secondary school campuses. Students participated in this program with the permission of their parents or guardians. SOS teaches students that suicide is preventable and encourages the entire school community to act with concern and swiftness when they notice signs of depression or suicide in another. Students participated in a brief screening for depression and suicidal behavior, and those deemed at-risk received assessment and help; they strengthened their support system and coping skills.
As one of the groups involved in this program last year, the Family Service Agency (FSA) school-based counselors saw an outpouring of love and support. Students were empowered to seek help and share suicidal thoughts that they had been unable to express before. FSA’s counselors, school staff, and community mental-health professionals listened to these brave students. We helped them create plans to stay safe and connected them with additional mental-health support. Through love and compassion, they discovered that school is a safe place to talk about their challenges.
Santa Barbara Unified is continuing the SOS program during the 2018-19 school year. Full-time counselors from FSA are available to meet with junior- and senior-high students at any point during the school year to provide mental-health screenings and treatment recommendations, such as on-campus group and individual counseling or community-based services.
School administrators coordinate the mental-health referrals at their schools and work with FSA to identify and support students who need or request help with emotional, social, or behavioral concerns. This district-wide effort is dedicated to improving students’ mental health and responding with love, hope, and strength to reduce the alarming rate of teen suicide.
We must all do our part to reduce the stigma of mental-health treatment and encourage mental wellness in our community. Together, we can do this!
If you know someone who may be suffering, please help them connect with mental-health resources. Call 2-1-1 for available services or speak to your school administrator about school-based resources.
Warning signs for suicide can include feelings of being trapped or a burden; increased use of alcohol or drugs; loss of interest in favorite activities (“nothing matters”); suicidal thoughts, plans, or actions; sudden mood changes, even for the better; giving up on oneself; taking risks; disturbed sleep; anxiety; agitation; withdrawing from friends and family; extreme self-loathing; feeling like an outsider; hopelessness; and rage.
Lisa Brabo is executive director of the Family Service Agency; Carol Morgan is FSA School Services supervisor.