Stillwater News Press

Local News

September 27, 2012

Statistics indicate suicide a very real problem

STILLWATER, Okla. — The numbers and figures show that suicide by Oklahoma teenagers and adults is a very real problem.

According to figures by the Center for Disease Control on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, Oklahoma ranked 13th in the nation for suicide rate among adults and teens in 2010. A youth risk behavior survey given in 2003 and 2005 by the Oklahoma State Department of Health found that nearly 28 percent of students involved reported feelings of depression, with the highest percentage among ninth-grade girls at 41 percent. Nearly 8 percent of all the students surveyed said they had actually attempted suicide.

“You look at those figures and suicide across the board for adults and teens and those are numbers that wouldn’t be acceptable as to how we see our community,” said Gary Wilburn of Edwin Fair Community Mental Health Center. “There’s always more that we could be doing.”

Stillwater Junior High School eighth-grade student Cade Poulos, a 13-year-old, committed suicide in the hallway of his school Wednesday morning. Authorities are still investigating the suicide.

Wilburn said there are signs for friends, families and mentors to be mindful of if they believe a youth has a problem.

“I think any change in behavior that is out of ordinary is something that they would want to look for,” he said.

“It may indicate a problem. Maybe if they’re isolating themselves more than usual. If they make those statements of hopelessness or that they don’t seem to have any alternatives to where they are in their lives.”

Other signs include talking about feeling like a burden, the abuse of alcohol or drugs, erratic sleeping patterns or extreme mood swings.

Wilburn said adults and youths contemplating suicide may have a sense of hopelessness and believe they have no one to turn to.

“It’s a crisis situation that a person finds themselves in and in that moment they don’t see the alternatives to it, so they react in that moment and certainly the ramifications, you can’t take that back,” he said.

Julie Koch is an assistant professor and training director of the Counseling Psychology Program in the College of Education at Oklahoma State University.

She has worked in collaboration with other schools, community agencies, OSU and many others from across the state to provide counseling at Stillwater Junior High following Poulos’ death.

“Today, I think we had about 50 (counselors),” she said. “Tomorrow, we have an additional 20 coming in.”

She said there are 20 counselors available at any given time.

“We would have groups of kids; some would come in individually, some would come in pairs and groups up to 10,” Koch said.

“There was not a moment of the day that we didn’t have a counselor occupied except for the lunch hour.”

She said the counselors asked questions and listened to every child’s story.

Many spoke about what they had seen, what they had heard and their memories of Poulos.

“They were trying to wrap their minds around what happened,” she said. “And as counselors we don’t try to give them reasons. We just try to help them come to terms with not being able to explain everything.”

Students were able to go back to school the following day after Poulos’ death. Koch said she is the parent of students in sixth, eighth and 10th grade.

“And what I believe and what I know as a past educator ... is that school is the safest place for kids to be,” she said.

Wilburn said some students might come to friends or family to confide in them about their struggle.

“I think it’s one of those secrets that whether we are talking about teens or adults, that’s a secret that we can’t hold on to,” he said. “We have to get that person some help.”

He said that may mean taking that person to get help or being with them as they seek it themselves.

“It lies with us as a community just to always be diligent and looking for those small signs that may indicate someone is in crisis and not think it’s something that we can put off until tomorrow because there may not be a tomorrow, so we have to address it quickly,” he said.

He said that also means in a team aspect. The work can be too much for one person to shoulder.

A number of sources are available for youth and adults, including the Edwin Fair Crisis Line at 800-566-1343 or the National Hopeline at 800-SUICIDE.

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