Mental health advocates; CMS team up to prevent teen ‘suicide spark’ during holidays

School district normalizing suicide conversation

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - An eye opening number, suicide is now the second leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 17 in North Carolina.

During the holidays, experts say something called the “suicide spark” can spike among teenagers.

It happens at this time of year - when families are together during the holiday break - and instead of enjoying the cheer of the season, these young people are in dark and dangerous places.

“This is an everybody problem," says Suicide Prevention Advocate, Fonda Bryant.

Bryant says its an issue almost every school district in the country faces, and here we are no exception. The most recent data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human services speaks for itself.

Statewide, 44 children and teens took their lives in 2017. Five of those children and teens were in Mecklenburg County.

Bryant says bringing that number to zero, starts with a conversation.

She says you wouldn’t know from looking at her, but she has depression.

“I have a mental health condition. You would not know,” she says. "It has no face and it does not discriminate.”

WBTV Education Reporter, Chandler Morgan, was at Hough High school as Bryant shared her own story with these underclassmen; an age group she considers to be high risk.

“Because of that depression, 24 years ago, I almost died by suicide," explained Bryant, to the students.

She says suicidal thoughts do not discriminate— not by age or skin color.

“In the African American community, we have always been taught, pray about it, don’t claim it, give it to God… White people have mental health problems we do not. Which is not true," Bryant says.

One student, so inspired by what was said - chose to share, too.

"It can save your life.”

The student explained they "tried to drive a knife through [their] heart.. the only thing that stopped [them] was all of the thoughts and memories [they] have of [their] life, come rushing to [them] all at once.”

The numbers indicate that student isn’t alone. We asked seniors if their peers have suicidal thoughts.

“I think its extremely important because it’s a growing issue.”

Conor Cronan works alongside a group of nearly 70 student and teacher mentors in the school, called Sources of Strength. They too, want to end the stigma around suicide, and give students a mentor to turn to.

We asked them how often they find that students coming to the group seeking that strength?

“I’ve seen more people coming to me and the bigger effect its having on Hough," says Cronan.“But also because its been proven that having a mentor can lower the rates of sucicde by a really larger percent.”

Student mentors like Morgan Sutton have received formal mental health training—so when students need someone to turn to, not only can they relate, but they can help.

“For me personally my junior year I was personally battling stress.. its easier to relate because you’ve gone through it yourself," says Sutton. “Coming into high school knowing how to deal with that stress will definitely help them in the long run rather than getting to their junior year and them having all of this stress and they don’t know what to do about it."

Is it working?

“I think it has worked, I’ve seen a big impact around school, students are more willing to come forward.”

Although a slow change, it s a steady one. Bryant says its a change that can be a lifeline - and a lifesaver.

“You just never give up.”

Bryant’s outreach extends to parents and adults - she says the suicide awareness conversation must be a responsibility of theirs, too.

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