Youth Suicide: A Call to Action

(WHAM) - In 2014, suicide was the number one cause of death of middle school students, outpacing car accidents.

The Centers for Disease Control reports twice as many children between the ages of 10 and 14 died by suicide in 2014 than in 2007.

While it is still rare, the numbers alone beg the question: why and what can be done to prevent it.

“It’s an indicator we need to be paying attention to," says Dr. Elizabeth Meeker, a Rochester psychologist and Director of Training at CCSI.

Brandy Vela ended her life just after Thanksgiving. The smart, beautiful Texas high school senior sent a text message to her family that said she loved them and was sorry.

“I was freaking out, trying to get her to understand that we loved her, we would help her and there was another solution," said her father Raul Vela.

Brandy's dad says six months of relentless, cruel cyber bullying drove her to take her life. It even continued after her death. However, experts caution that in most cases, bullying alone is not the cause of suicide, but say it can be a contributing factor.

“When we think about it's what's changed, certainly social media has changed," Dr. Meeker said. "We have one of the most disconnected- connected group of adolescents. They're always connected, but there's also this growing sense of social isolation at the same time."

When it comes to the why of youth suicide, experts say what's known is that children who experience traumatic events, such as abuse and neglect, are at the greatest risk.

While there are many reasons a child or teen may take their life, parents, teachers and loved ones can try and prevent it by talking to them. Dr. Meeker says it’s okay to talk about it.

“There's no such thing as putting the idea of suicide in someone's mind. People hesitate to bring it up thinking because they're afraid they'll be planting the seed, but really people are relieved that someone's willing to have the conversation.”

That’s something Raul Vela would do anything to have again with his daughter. In Brandy's memory, her family is fighting for legislation to prevent cyber bullying. In their own home, they're working to spend more time with each other and less time on their phones.

“We're trying to re-establish our family time. Not everybody on their social media. Let's focus on each other and communicate. It's nice to hear ‘Hey, Dad I love you’ not in a text or even a hug. I think we need to bring it back," Raul Vela said.

Tuesday morning, Dr. Michael Scharf - a child and adolescent psychiatrist with URMC - sat down with 13WHAM's Norma Holland to host a Facebook Live conversation about youth suicide.


Youth Mental Health First Aid Training from Delphi: (585) 467-2230 ext. 205

Youth Mental Health First Aid Training in Monroe County: Melissa Cushman at (585) 753-2618

Resources from the Suicide Prevention Center NY:

SPCNY's What Every Parent Needs to Know- Recognizing Suicide Risk in your Child

SPCNY's What Every Teacher Needs to Know- Recognizing Suicide Risk in Students

SPCNY's What Every Student Needs to Know- The Warning Signs of Suicide Risk

Psychological First Aid

Recognizing signs and symptoms and assisting schools in addressing trauma

Concepts for Understanding Traumatic Stress Responses in Children and Families

10 Signs A Person May Be Experiencing Trauma

Managing Trauma Infographic

Villa of Hope

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