Some of the top professionals from the Loudoun County mental health community gathered at John Champe High School on Monday evening to arm parents and students with the know-how to prevent another life lost to suicide.
The town hall meeting was organized in response to the growing number of suicides among Loudoun County’s public school teens. Four students have killed themselves this school year, a worrisome increase in a county that typically loses one student to suicide every other year.
“We’ve had a lot of stuff that we’ve been dealing with in our own community, both in Loudoun and Fairfax—that’s why we’re here,” Susan McCormick, a marriage and family therapist and founder of The Wellness Connection, told an audience of about 150 Monday. “Here’s the one thing I want all kids to know about suicide: Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
McCormick and several others who spoke stressed a common theme during the two-hour meeting: suicidal thoughts are common, and people should talk about it.
Jeff Jackson, a licensed marriage and family therapist and assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Department of Human Development, said not discussing suicide, severe depression or other mental health disorders compounds the problem.
“Most of you in this room have probably felt suicidal at some point, but because of social stigma we don’t talk about it. So when people think about suicide they feel alone,” he said.
Both the therapists encouraged parents to not brush off comments from their kids that indicate they are considering ending their lives.
“If you hear anyone talk about suicide, take that seriously,” Jackson said.
“Talking about it won’t put the idea in their brain,” McCormick added, and she encouraged parents to ask their children about their concerns and take the time to listen.
When the concern arises, he said parents should get professional help immediately, whether by calling 911 or the suicide hotline, 800-273-TALK. Then, to seek ongoing help from a counselor or therapist.
Jackson noted that people who have meaningful relationships and strong cultural or religious ties are much less likely to attempt suicide. “One of the best things you can do as a parent is to stay connected to your children,” he said.
Suzie Bartel, who formed The Ryan Bartel Foundation in response to her son’s decision to take his own life, told the group that it’s important to get youth involved in the effort to curb suicide. She shared the strides students have made at Woodgrove High School, where her son Ryan was a senior, and she encouraged parents, students and teachers at schools throughout the county to launch their own initiative.
With the help of Bartel and school counselors, the students formed the We’re All Human club and held a walk and assembly that prompted classmates to share their struggles with depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses.
“The students were invested in coming up with solutions—that makes all the difference,” she said. “They themselves encourage a social change of behavior, and all of a sudden the rest of the student body sit up and pays attention. … What we’ve started at Woodgrove is something we can spread across the entire county.”
Loudoun Youth Inc. organized the meeting, and plans to host similar events to raise awareness about suicide and mental illness. Contact the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find more resources for individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental illness at prsinc.org/crisislink.