Kids in Crisis: La Jolla students and parents learn how to SPEAK about suicide

By Jenna Jay


Suicide is an equal opportunity killer that affects people of all ages, sexes and ethnicities. According to Suicide Prevention Education Awareness Knowledge (SPEAK), however, the fastest growing group for suicide is children, ages 10-14.

SPEAK is on a mission to change that statistic.

The program, part of the San Diego Unified School District’s Mental Health Resource Center, uses grant money awarded through San Diego County Mental Health Services for suicide prevention programs for youth.

During the week of Feb. 14, SPEAK members spoke to seventh-grade students at Muirlands Middle School and ninth- and 11


-graders at La Jolla High School. In support of these talks, SPEAK also gave a parent presentation on Feb. 15 in Parker Auditorium at La Jolla High School. About 30 guests showed up.

SPEAK provided La Jolla parents with resources for identifying risk factors to prevent suicide in their school-aged children, presenting an adult version of what the students learned in assemblies. SPEAK told parents how to be lifelines for children in need of emotional and/or professional help.

"Essentially we want parents to know what the warning signs of suicide are," said SPEAK program coordinator Jean Foster. "We want them to know exactly what things they see or hear in a youth that should alert them that there's a problem … that a child is suicidal."

They advised parents what to do for children suffering with thoughts of depression or self-inflicting injuries, which are often times due to the issues kids face — like bullying, trauma, relationship woes and stress.

Above all else, the presentation placed emphasis on its acronym: SPEAKING.

"We want to destigmatize the conversation around suicide and make sure we're starting that conversation about mental illness," Foster said. "That's really our objective, to get people talking about mental illness so it's not such a scary subject. By


about it, we're really


something about it."

In association with the San Diego chapter of the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program, the SPEAK workshop included a suicide prevention video that students at Muirlands and La Jolla High also viewed during the week.

SPEAK intends its message to touch children in need who haven't received treatment for potentially dangerous issues.

"We feel there are a lot of kids who might be depressed who aren't in treatment," Forster said. "We want to make sure we identify and get them the help they need."

Going forward, SPEAK coordinators hope to keep suicide prevention and awareness talks circulating to keep more San Diego youth from becoming suicide statistics.

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Warning signs of suicide

  •   Talking, reading or writing about suicide or death
  •   Talking about feeling worthless or helpless
  •    Visiting friends to say good-bye
  •  Self-destructive behaviors, drug/alcohol abuse
  •  Giving things away
  •  Buying a gun, stockpiling pills or drugs
  •   Having a definite plan to end one's life

If any of these apply, seek help immediately.

San Diego County 24-Hour Access & Crisis Line:

1 (800) 479-3339

Symptoms of depression

  • Feeling sad, empty, tired or numb
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless
  • Feeling angry or moody, excessive crying
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Avoiding friends; feeling alone when with friends
  • Loss of interest in things that used to be fun
  • Eating less or more than usual
  • Recurring headaches, backaches or stomachaches
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  •  Thinking about, planning or attempting suicide
  •  Risk taking behaviors: slashing, drinking and driving, games of risk - race with a train.

Statistics on Suicide

• On average, 34,000 Americans die by suicide every year. Of those, 5,000 are ages 15-24.

• Suicide is the second leading cause of non-natural death among ages 10-14 in San Diego County.

• Suicide is the third leading cause of non-natural death among ages 15-19 in San Diego County.

• For every death by suicide, there are 100-200 suicide attempts by youth.

• 13.9 percent of San Diego high school students reported having seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months.

• 80 to 90 percent of suicide deaths involved some form of diagnosable mental illness, usually depression.

• More males of all ages die by suicide than females, though females attempt suicide twice as much as males.

• The highest rates of suicides are among white and black males, 15-19.

• 75 percent of people who completed suicide had given a warning sign about seriously considering it.

• More than 50 percent of the youth who complete suicide are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Sources: SPEAK, 2009 San Diego School District Youth Risk Behavior Survey, Community Health Improvement Partners, CDC, and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention



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