May 22, 2000
The mother of a popular ninth grader noticed last Wednesday, May 17, that a handgun was missing from where it was usually stored in her home. She called the police to notify them of its disappearance. Later, while searching her home for the gun, she discovered her son tragically dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
To those who knew him, the Canyon Park Junior High student showed no signs of sadness or troubles, and no one saw the grievous and fatal incident coming. He was a good student who appeared happy and who liked to hit the slopes with his snowboard.
His classmates are still grieving the loss of their assistant principal, Leslie Hartman, who passed away just weeks ago from natural causes. Now, with the loss of their friend, they have another loss to cope with.
After hearing the news, "Some students chose to go home," said Pamela Steele, Director of Communications for the Northshore School District. However, the district provided plenty of help for the students who chose to stay at school. "We had a psychologist, six visiting counselors, in addition to the two regular counselors, a chaplain, several former teachers who came back, plus substitute teachers who filled in as needed, and our community resource officer," Steele said.
The counselors and teachers were on hand to offer support, counsel, comfort, and to talk with the students who were having a difficult time understanding the tragedy.
David Burn, Director of Clinics for Mentor Health Northwest, said that teenagers are more prone to self-harm because they are still developing and aren't wired, as adults are, to handle emotional difficulties. "For teenagers, the suicide rate is continuing to increase because the stresses and anxieties in our daily life continue to grow," he said.
The development period of a teenager is a difficult time of life, but for a person prone to depression, self-harm, or substance and alcohol abuse are more likely to become the answer to the problems of life. Kids who seem happy and successful can be just as much at risk, Burn said, because this type of student may internalize emotional troubles. "Kids work hard at maintaining that [happy and successful] image to friends and family," Burn explained. He added that they cover up their problems because they tell themselves "if people knew me, they wouldn't like me."
A person who suspects a teenager may be entertaining thoughts of self-harm, Burn said, "should ask the questions, 'How are you doing? Is there something I can do to help you? Do you feel depressed?'"
Signs of a teenager at risk of suicide include a change in sleeping habits and a switch from normal to an irritable demeanor. Another clue is when they start giving away possessions that have emotional meaning. Burn said that, in general, people should be taken seriously if they express, "I want to kill myself," or "I wish I were dead." But, he said, "It's always important to determine the level of seriousness of the comment."
For information on suicide prevention or dealing with a crisis, call 206-241-3222. For Teen Link (teens talking to teens), call 206-461-4922 between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.