There is a mental health emergency happening among our youth. In Lane County alone the suicide rate among adolescents under the age of 23 has nearly doubled since the beginning of the year, according to public health officals. 

Currently, Lane County meets the defintion of a “suicide cluster” which the CDC defines as a “group of suicides, suicide attempts, or self-harm events that occur closer together in time and space than would normally be expected in a given community.”

As a parent, guardian or even friend, you can play a role in supporting an adolescent’s mental health by becoming aware of the warning signs that can lead to suicide and seeking the resources available to help someone who is struggling. 

The rising rates of suicide attemps and deaths by suicide indicate the urgency to develop empathetic practices that foster a community that stands together. 

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that “suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues create an experience of hopelessness and despair.” 

The warning signs of suicidality can be depression, anxiety, substance use problems, child abuse or neglect, relationship difficulties, trauma, recent loss, bullying, struggling with sexual orientation, a lack of social support or access to lethal means. 

If your loved one exhibits any of these signs, you must also be alert to behavioral and personality changes that might not be as evident. Other warning signs may include increased sadness, irritability, tiredness, withdrawal, changes in sleep or eating patterns, acting reckless, talking about death, losing interest in things they used to enjoy or inflicting harm on themselves or others. 

These are concerning and potentially life-threatening symptoms that you must be vigilant in watching for.

You may be asking what you can do in these moments to protect youth in Lane County? 

The first thing to do is to listen and educate yourself. A way to start that conversation is by making yourself available to communicate, by learning how to have a caring, nonjudgmental conversation, and being aware that support is always available. 

If your child is not ready to talk yet, leave the door open for communication by saying something like “whenever you want to talk I am here to support, listen, and love you” or “I am always here for you, I will not judge you or stop supporting you.” Talking with your child about how to seek help can create the opportunity to support them and let them know that you care enough to have the conversation. 

 Additionally, please reach out to professionals for resources that can help support your loved one. 

Providing access to mental and medical care allows for ongoing assistance to make youth feel protected and heard. Talk with your child regularly and don’t be afraid to take the next steps. Right now is the time to check in with your loved ones to let them know you are there and they are not alone.

If you feel your child or loved one is suicidal please reach out to some of the resources below: 

• National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255, 

• Whitebird Crisis Line 24/7: 1-800-422-7558, 

• Looking Glass Youth and Family Crisis: 541-689-3111 

• For youth who need help call or text 24/7 15th Night: 541-246-4046

• For more information go to The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at: https://afsp.org

Payton Cawley works with the Center for Community Counseling. The Chronicle publishes articles on mental health-related topics as part of a partnership with CCC.