Nine of the 16 students who attended a Monday night presentation at Farmington High (FHS) said they know someone who has thought about suicide.
"Youth Depression & Suicide: What Every Parent and Teen Must Know" was a follow up to a September community meeting that drew about 250 people to Farmington Hills city hall. Monday's meeting drew a smaller audience, with around 50 adults and teens in the school auditorium.
Following a presentation by Brighton resident Jeff Edwards, whose 12-year-old son Chase took his own life in 2003, students moved into the cafeteria for a peer-facilitated discussion. FHS senior Priya Adusumilli said she thought during the discussion maybe one person would say they had personal contact with someone who had suicidal thoughts.
"I was really surprised," she said, adding others were not. "We definitely have a lot of students interested (in learning more about suicide prevention). If there's an opportunity, we would take advantage of it."
If you or someone you know needs immediate help with suicidal thoughts, go to an emergency room or call 911. For help with coping with stress, depression, family crises, drug or narcotics abuse and other issues, contact Common Ground Mental Health and Crisis Intervention at 800-231-1127, Samaritan Counseling Center at 248-474-4701, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifelife, 800-273-TALK.
After the event, Adusumilli said suicide wasn't real to her until she heard Edwards speak about Chase. "You can't really judge people based on how they look," she said.
That was exactly Edwards' point. He said people have scatomas or "blind spots" when they look at others, and can't always see the signs of depression. He said he and his wife didn't know those signs, and so didn't realize how sick their son was before his death on March 3, 2003.
He pointed out that while there is no social taboo about jokes or flippant remarks related to suicide, people don't joke about diseases like cancer or diabetes. Likewise, a teen with cancer who returns to school after having chemotherapy would be far less likely to be bullied or made fun of than a kid who returned after treatment for a mental health issue.
"My kid had an illness," Edwards said. "He was sick, and he died. He went undiagnosed and untreated."
He likened recognizing depression to recognizing the ingredients of a recipe. The recipe for depression, he said, includes:
- Feeling sad
- Change in appetite
- Loss of interest in activities
- Change in sleeping patterns
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling helpless and hopeless
- Energy loss or fatigue
- Risk-taking behavior
- Extreme withdrawal from family and friends
- Giving away favorite possessions
- Neglect in school work
- Stomach aches and headaches
"Five or more of these ingredients baking for 10 days or more, that can be a big, red flag," Edwards said, "and it wouldn't be a bad idea to go in and get that checked."
The tragedy, he added, is that Chase had every one of those symptoms, "and I didn't know how to connect the dots."
He recalled chiding Chase about his poor performance in school, not knowing that difficulty in school might be one of the signs of depression. "When you lose a kid like I lost my son, every mistake ... every wrong thing you might have done as a parent, you remember every single one of them," he said.
Edwards urged parents to ask their family doctor for a referral to a mental health professional when they feel their child needs help, and to ask the "tough question" about whether a child is having suicidal thoughts.
"We never stop to think about protecting them from themselves," he said. "They don't want to die. They just want to make the pain stop."
Learn more by visiting the Farmington Area Suicide Awareness group on Facebook. Farmington Area Suicide Prevention Task Force meetings are listed on the Farmington-Farmington Hills Patch calendar.