Sophie Henney of Paducah chose two days after her 14th birthday to tell her story of depression and thoughts of suicide. She wanted to share her story—and her name—to help others who may be in the same situation, Genevieve Postlethwait reports for The Paducah Sun.
In Kentucky, 15 percent of teens say they’ve thought about committing suicide, according to the 2013 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s 2013 data, 11 out of every 100,000 young people die by suicide. Every year between 1999 and 2013, Kentucky ranked 16th in the nation for rate of deaths by suicide for individuals between ages 15 and 24.
On the way to church on New Year’s Eve night, Sophie told her mom, Peggy, “I wouldn’t hurt myself, but I don’t want to go back there to that school. I’d rather be dead.” Sophie attended a small private school and hadn’t had a pleasant fall semester: the other girls in her class were excluding her, and she had thought some of them were her friends, Postlethwait writes. “We found out several months later she was actually formulating a plan to do it,” Peggy said. “As much attention as I was paying to her, I still didn’t know. I beat myself up for several months, thinking that there was more I could have done.”
Both Sophie and her counselor have released Peggy of the blame, but she still feels responsible. “I could have lost my child,” Peggy said. “And there are people here who have lost their child. . . . We can talk about texting and driving; we can talk about drinking and driving; but we can’t talk about suicide. We’ve got to start changing something.”
The stigma surrounding suicide and a lack of information about it are two main things that stand in the way of changing the way people talk about suicide, said Laurie Ballew, medical director of Lourdes Behavioral Health. She said people didn’t used to talk about cancer because of the stigma. “Now we talk about it,” Ballew said. “We’re out about it, we’re loud about it, and we’re educating about it. That’s what we need to do with suicide and mental health issues.”
Gretchen Roof, site administration at Four Rivers Behavioral Health in Paducah, “said at least once a week a child comes to them at Four Rivers who they worry may be a suicide risk.” When that happens, there are several options. Children may see a counselor once per week or every other week. They can go to Four Rivers every weekday after school. In more severe cases, “‘partial-hospitalization'”is an option, where the child attends school at the center while also participating in therapy from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekday,” Postlethwait writes. Most of the schools in the area allow Four Rivers counselors to spend approximately one day per week in each school, which removes the need for transportation and the stigma associated with entering a mental health facility.
Roof said that parents, teachers, preachers and kids should not be afraid to talk about depression or suicidal thoughts in themselves or observed in others, Postlethwait writes. “If you have or know a child who appears depressed, or is having some sort of significant change in their behavior, a change in appearance even . . . be especially tuned-in to that child,” Roof said. “Don’t be afraid of saying, ‘I’m concerned about you. What’s going on?’ and don’t be afraid of asking, ‘Have you thought about hurting yourself?'” Something people are afraid to ask such questions because they think they will give the person ideas, Roof said, but research shows that is false. “They will tell you, and you are the intervention that has been waiting to happen for them.”
Sophie said, “I was very relieved when we went to Christmas break, and by New Years Eve, I was like, I don’t want to go back. I want this to be over. I don’t want to see them again. The only thing I can really think of to say is, get help. That’s what made me better. Tell somebody. Talk to somebody. don’t just keep it quiet.”