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Stillwater is not alone in struggle with teen suicide

Suicide is the second leading killer of Oklahoma youth, a rate more than 30 percent higher than the national average, according to Oklahoma Department of Health.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Modified: September 26, 2012 at 10:07 pm •  Published: September 26, 2012

Oklahoma's general suicide rate is 31 percent higher than the national average.

“It is not caused by a single event such as a bad grade or an argument with parents or friends, or the breakup of a relationship — in most cases we know that suicide is caused by an underlying mental disorder like depression or substance abuse,” said Susan Parks-Schlepp, spokeswoman for Edmond Public Schools and a member of the Edmond suicide task force.

According to state Health Department data, boys are four times as likely as girls to commit suicide, but the prevalence of suicide attempts is higher among girls. The rate among Native American youth is 66 percent higher than that of whites, the data shows.

Depression can be a factor

Depression accounts for about 41 percent of youth suicides, according to the state Health Department. Other significant contributing factors include relationship problems (38 percent) and a personal crisis in the two weeks before the incident (30 percent), with many cases involving multiple factors.

Parks-Schlepp said Edmond Public Schools learned quite a bit about grief, mental illness and working together to identify possible suicide victims after January's spate of suicides.

The district sponsors annual training programs to teach suicide awareness to students and faculty and often focuses on bullying prevention, she said. Following Wednesday's tragedy, the district sent letters home to parents.

“While this incident has no direct effect on Edmond Public Schools, our entire school team is being extra vigilant in our sensitivity to and awareness of the mental and physical health of our students,” she said.

Copycat fear

Part of the concern is that youth suicides can sometimes be contagious.

Though the incidents were unrelated, Stigler High School was closed Tuesday to mourn the suicide death of a senior and star football player there. One of the three students who died in six days' time in Jenks this month was a 15-year-old who committed suicide.

“Sometimes with youth suicide you can see trends, and so even if they don't seem to be related to each other, sometimes there can be increased youth suicides when these things hit the public,” Elliott said.

He said the best antidote is public awareness. To remove the stigma of suicide, he said, is to allow teens and young adults to express themselves in times of dramatic crisis. It might also help their support network become better acquainted with their individual cues, both verbal and nonverbal.

“Ask up front — ask the question: Are you having suicidal thoughts?” Elliott said. “Contrary to what people think, asking the question honestly and respectfully and carefully is not going to increase the anxiety and likelihood of suicide — it does the opposite. By asking the question you're conveying so much good information.”

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