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Teen suicide rate increasing

The numbers are startling; some may say scary.

Lloyd Spotted Wolf, a teacher and assistant football coach at Rio Rancho High School, knows them.

According to 2010 statistics reported by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • For middle and high school age youth (ages 12-18), suicide is the second-leading cause of death.
  • For college-age youth (ages 18-22), suicide is the third-leading cause of death.
  • Overall, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for our youth ages 10-24.

What’s the deal? Aren’t these supposed to be the best years of a person’s life? Yeah, there’s school and homework, but there’s also free room and board, no full-time job, sports galore, a nice car and dad’s paying for the insurance and much more.

Still, more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease — combined.

Lloyd Spotted Wolf.

Lloyd Spotted Wolf.

For people ages 10-14, there has been an alarming 128-percent increase in suicides since 1980, making it the third-leading cause of death for that age group. In New Mexico, suicide is ranked as the second leading cause of death for youth aged 15-24. Each day in the U.S., there are more than 5,400 suicide attempts by young people in grades 7-12.

Rio Rancho has not been immune. Earlier this year, a School Health Advisory Council report indicated that 8.3 percent of 313 students surveyed in 2011 at Cleveland, Rio Rancho and Independence high schools — or one in 12 — had attempted suicide.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s this: Four out of five teens who try to take their own lives have given clear warning signs. Thus, many of those can be prevented.

Spotted Wolf wants more friends and parents of anyone who may be thinking about ending it all to know more, and that includes recognizing those warning signs.

“Sometimes we take for granted how bad our kids are feeling,” Spotted Wolf said.

Some of those signs — the more signs observed, the greater the risk — are:

  • Talking about suicide;
  • Making statements about feeling hopeless, helpless, or worthless;
  • A deepening depression;
  • Preoccupation with death;
  • Taking unnecessary risks or exhibiting self-destructive behavior;
  • Out-of-character behavior;
  • A loss of interest in the things one cares about;
  • Visiting or calling people one cares about;
  • Making arrangements; setting one’s affairs in order; and
  • Giving prized possessions away.

It’s Spotted Wolf’s cause, so to speak, and during the Rams’ recent homecoming activities, he was “elected” emperor by garnering the most votes, done through donations, for his teen suicide awareness campaign.

Although he’s not experienced the loss of anyone he knew by suicide, this silent epidemic came to his attention during the summer.

He since has met Clark Flatt, the father of Jason Flatt, who killed himself at the age of 16 in 1997, and started the Jason Foundation in his memory. (New Mexico Attorney General Gary King is a Jason Foundation ambassador.)

“I first became aware of the Jason Foundation (jasonfoundation.com) through the American Football Coaches Association,” Spotted Wolf, a member of the AFCA’s minority committee, said. “It’s something I’d like to be involved with: One, I coach kids and, two, the highest percentage is Native Americans.

“Maybe I can make a difference with someone who’s hurting,” he said. “I selected it and got the ball rolling. Maybe we can save one kid.”

Someone who was hurting a few months ago was Carlos Vigil, a Valencia County teen. Social media was all a-Twitter when the 17-year-old took his own life after posting a message on Twitter.

By then, it was too late. He had been a victim of bullying, it turned out.

In recent years, cyberbullying has given bullies another avenue to torment their victims.

A BYU study showed that suicide talk on Twitter mirrors state suicide rates closely enough that monitoring Twitter could prove to be an early way to determine who’s at risk.

The BYU study found that Midwestern and Southwestern states had a higher-proportion of suicide-related tweeters than expected — and New Mexico was No. 2, with Alaska at No. 1.

According to nmsuicideprevention.org, there are numerous ways to help someone suspected of pondering suicide: Reassure the person help is available and that you will help him or her get help. Say things like, “Together, I know we can figure something out to make you feel better”; “I know where we can get some help”; “I can go with you to where we can get help”; or “Let’s talk to someone who can help. … Let’s call the crisis line now.”

Also, encourage the suicidal person to identify other people in his or her life who can also help, such as a parent or other family member, friend, favorite teacher, school counselor, school nurse, religious leader or a family doctor.

Most importantly, the website advises, “If your friend won’t go for help, you tell (someone) and get help — tell someone until they listen and get support for your friend. Suicide is not a secret you can keep.”

Country music act Rascall Flatts joined forces with the Jason Foundation three years ago and was named ambassador, or celebrity spokesman. Recording public service announcements, participating in public awareness programs and fund-raising, Rascal Flatts also promotes the “B1” Project.

The “B1” Project is a nationwide effort specifically geared to educate youth and students on how to recognize when a friend might be struggling with thoughts of suicide or life in general, and how to help. The theme is “Someone you know may need a friend — B1.”

Spotted Wolf hopes to get teens attending Thursday’s big football game (Cleveland vs. Rio Rancho) at Rio Rancho Stadium to sign a B1 pledge and/or gather brochures at the information booth. At halftime, he’ll hand over a check for about $500 to the Jason Foundation.

“Lloyd has shown great initiative in his work with the Jason Foundation,” said RRHS Activities Director Bill Duncan. “I think programs like that, which combine statistics with a personal story, are an effective tool when dealing with a difficult issue like teen suicide.

“As a school, our staff is trained to be on the look-out for any potential warning signs that a student might be considering doing harm to themselves or to others,” Duncan said. “Our counseling department also conducts a suicide awareness program each year with our freshman class called Signs of Suicide.”

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