Suicide among teens at all-time high; know the warning signs and where to get help

ST. LOUIS - An 18-year-old about to go away to college appears to have his whole life ahead of him. His reality--one filled with suicidal thoughts--is much different.

“I just felt very disconnected from the world," said the young man, whose identity is being protected. "Basically, I felt like I was alone.”

But he’s not.

Females attempt suicide twice as often as males, though males die from suicide four times more often. Suicide deaths by girls doubled from 2007 to 2015, the highest rate in 40 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“It was seventh grade in middle school. I started noticing that I was different from the crowd at school. My nose was in the dirt, like literally and figuratively, all day," said the man.

Studies show at least 90 percent of teens who kill themselves have some type of mental health problem, one that can be hard to detect, according to Marian McCord, the founder of CHADS coalition for Mental Health.

"Unfortunately, we are not at a point in our medicine where we can take a blood test or some type of imagery to make this diagnosis. It’s based on behaviors,” McCord said.

The young man in our story described having "horrible thoughts."

"My thought process was people who didn’t know me wouldn’t care, people who did know me would forget in three weeks and people who loved me would forget in a month," he said.

McCord said that’s the distortion of depression.

“I know. My son said that very same thing," she said. "He said, 'Mom, I know this is going to be hard on you when I do this, but you’re going to get over it and your life will be better without me.' That’s the depression talking."

Her son, Chad, took his life in 2004. The CHADS Coalition was created in the wake of his death.

“We work with pediatricians, because many of these kids are first on the radar of the pediatrician; we're in schools, where we are doing the signs of suicide presentation, where we are screening kids”, McCord said.

The young man in our story took a survey in middle school as part of one of these screenings.  He scored an 8 out of 10 on the survey and circled an option to see a counselor right away, who then reached out to his parents.

“Flabbergasted, dumbfounded; I didn’t know what to do," said the young man's mother. "I cried, I had to jump in my car and go get him and find out what was wrong and had to figure out what to do."

McCord said our community has no idea how many of our kids are struggling and hiding it. She said people are so good at wearing their mask and hiding it because they just want to be like other kids.

According to Heather Barnett, a licensed professional counselor who has been working in suicide prevention for over 12 years, there are warning signs and ways to help.

Barnett said to look for a change in behavior: isolation, hopelessness, withdrawal, even substance abuse, because some teens use drugs or alcohol to cope with their depression. Also, look for changes in eating or sleeping habits. If you suspect a problem, Barnett said to have that conversation with your child and find out if there’s reason for concern.

“Contact a pediatrician or a mental health organization to get a screen, like CHADS, we can offer a screen to determine if something more is going on,” Barnett said.

The hardest part is admitting there is a problem and knowing where to get help. Counselors and psychologists are often booked for months, and many teens can’t wait for help.

“You don’t have that time," said the 18-year-old's mother. "Your child thinks they want to kill themselves, you can’t wait for two months to get them the help they need.”

There are a number of resources that can help you find immediate help, including CHADS, Nami, and the St. Louis County Children’s Service Fund, where there’s usually no out-of-pocket cost for families. There are also similar organizations in St. Charles, Jefferson, and Franklin counties.

“Don’t let my story be your story. Reach out for help. Learn the warning signs. Get in front of this illness because we can get in front of it and the sooner the better," McCord said.