Impact of Teen Suicide on the South Plains - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

2/5/08

Impact of Teen Suicide on the South Plains

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Teen suicide - one has already happened in Lubbock this year and now a Lubbock teen and her mother are speaking out about how suicide nearly destroyed their family.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among Americans 15 to 24 and another 1 million teens attempt suicide each year.

Here in Lubbock, six teens have committed suicide since 2006 two of those teens were close friends of Katie Rodriguez. Now Katie's mother is urging other parents and loved ones to watch for the warning signs.

Patricia tells NewsChannel 11 she is lucky her teenage daughter is alive. Patricia firmly believes if she had chalked up her daughter's behavior to that of a typical teenager, 16-year-old Katie would have attempted to take her life.

No topic is off limits when the Rodriguez girls get together. That's because this family understands the importance of communication. You see it was not long ago that a smile rarely crossed 16-year-old Katie's lips.

It all began when one of Katie's closest friends committed suicide in January of 2007 turning her world upside down.

"The first friend that died - she killed herself. Apparently she was going through some troubles at home and she hung herself," says Katie.

Two months later, Katie suffered another blow when her uncle was killed in a hit and run accident. One year later history repeated itself this time one of Katie's male friends took his life.

"My friend committed suicide. He hung himself," says Katie.

"She was always sleeping. She was very withdrawn. She didn't want to talk about anything," says Patricia.

Patricia assumed Katie's behavior was that of a typical teen but a note quickly changed her opinion.

"In May she left me a note that these were her intentions and she just couldn't go on anymore. I was beside myself," says Patricia.

Patricia immediately took action. By that afternoon Katie had an appointment with a therapist and soon began taking anti-depressants.

"I felt very helpless because I thought I did something wrong as a parent. You think you are a failure," says Patricia.

The experts say Patricia should instead consider herself a success. She did what many fail to do, she took time to listen.

"I think one of the most important things to understand about suicide is that suicide is about releasing the pain. And oftentimes when people come to the decision of suicide most of the time it's not a spur of the moment decision," says Steve Talbert, a counselor for the Lubbock Independent School District.

Talbert says parents should take action if their teen displays the following:

  • Withdraws from social activities
  • Loses interest in their appearance
  • Has trouble eating or sleeping
  • Has a loss of energy
  • Or has a drastic change in personality

Patricia spotted many of these changes in Katie's behavior. Now she wonders if Katie's two friends could have been saved, and that's one reason why she is speaking out.

"A lot of times they think it's a tantrum or you didn't get your way and you're trying to get attention because you didn't get your way and they're not really reading between the lines. There's a lot of reading between the lines," says Patricia.

"If they truly suspect be forward with the question. How bad is this? Are you considering hurting yourself?" says Talbert.

If the answer is yes, Talbert suggests contacting a professional counselor or medical professional. But if a teen does not want to open up to their parents, Contact Lubbock is a local hotline they can call for help.

"We're a suicide prevention crisis hotline and suicide prevention and education and on the hotline part we actually have 24-7 hotline services available to anyone who wants to call in a crisis situation," says Sharon Davis, the Executive Director of Contact Lubbock.

Davis says 40 percent of their calls come from teens who often have suicidal thoughts.

"We find if we can just get them to make the phone call that normally we can change their thoughts about suicide," says Davis.

For Katie those thoughts no longer linger thanks to counseling.

"Just thinking how I wanted to do that and it would affect everybody else. It would just tear them up," says Katie.

"You know she can't tell me some things and it's easier if it's somebody else who really knows what's going on," says Patricia.

Patricia hopes her story will serve as a guideline for parents who find themselves in a similar situation. Her advice is, above all else, get involved.

"Ask 20 questions. Get help. I asked so many questions. You would have thought I was the gripiest parent because I was sitting there I want to know! That's not an answer.

"I remember that it drove me crazy. It irritated me," says Katie.

But deep down Katie says she's thankful and now she knows no subject is taboo when it comes to talking with her mom.

"It's hard knowing my mom had to go through all this and that just think the people that actually do commit suicide what their parents have to go through. They have to know they weren't able to help their kids and it's not their fault. You have to want help and I wanted help," says Katie.

Katie tells me she hopes to someday be a lawyer. She is already involved in a pre-law program at Estacado.

If you would like to make sure your teen always has someone to talk to the number for Contact Lubbock is 765-8393 or you can call 1-800-SUICIDE.

Another prevention tool available for students and parents in LISD is the Family Connections program or the Safe and Drug Free Communities and Schools program.

Contact Lubbock also offers a program known as CHOICES.

"CHOICES is a program that is straight talk about suicide and we actually go into the classrooms and talk to the students about suicide. We teach them to recognize signals of suicide in a family member or friends or even sometimes themselves. We even teach them what to do. We give them the knowledge of where to go to get help and we make them think of where they would go for help," says Davis.

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