CATLETTSBURG, Ky. (WOWK) – Teen suicide is a growing problem in our area. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens in West Virginia, as well as the rest of the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
For some teens, personal loss has led to a public effort to increase awareness of the problem.
Shelby Smith shares stories with her cousins about her younger brother, 11-year-old Spencer. Spencer killed himself Jan. 4, 2016, the morning they were all going back to school after Christmas break.
“I just feel like people don’t talk about suicide at all, actually. I never hear people talk about it,” Smith said.
That’s a problem. Across the country teen suicide rates are increasing at an alarming rate. Adolescent suicide is at its highest rate in more than 40 years, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Spencer’s school principal made sure than every family member had a school photo that was taken two months before he died. Spencer’s cousin, Dalton Hale, says another way they keep his memory alive is by spreading awareness.
“It was just really hard to talk about at the time, but I feel a lot better talking about it now. I just talked about how we need to talk more about suicide and stop being so scared about it,” Hale said.
Marshall University professor and suicidologist Paula Rymer isn’t just an expert. She lost her daughter to suicide 15 years ago. Rymer explains the best form of prevention is a simple one – talk about it.
“Don’t’ be afraid to ask your child, ask your teenager, what’s going on,” Rymer said. She added to be genuinely interested.
Spencer’s sister, Shelby, offers additional advice.
“I don’t think that parents should necessarily shame their kids or punish them for feeling certain ways or not being comfortable in their own skin,” Smith said.
While Spencer’s memory will continue on with his sister and cousins, so, too, will their fight to make suicide a talk we can all handle.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255, is free, confidential, and open 24/7 to provide support for people in distress and has resources for loved ones as well as professionals.