Suicide answers explored

Posted 12/8/08

In the wake of a series of tragic teen suicides in Douglas County, parents and kids alike are searching not only for answers, but for ways to make …

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Suicide answers explored


In the wake of a series of tragic teen suicides in Douglas County, parents and kids alike are searching not only for answers, but for ways to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The community was grief stricken by the news of three teens who committed suicide within 24 hours of one another. While all of the deaths occurred in the same manner within a short period of time Nov. 16-17, investigators have not found any connection. Then, last week, news hit that another teen, a 14-year-old girl from Highlands Ranch, also had taken her life.

It is a rash of suicides unlike any other seen in the county’s history, and answers to questions surrounding the devastating incidents are hard to come by.

Although some symptoms exhibited by those who are suicidal can be obvious, others bury deep the feelings of hopelessness for no one else to see. It is critical to heed warning signs — whether direct or indirect — and take immediate action on behalf of someone who feels there is no other way out, said Laurie Elliott, clinical director for the Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network.

“If you have any inkling that [suicide] is a possibility, always intervene,” she said. “Err on the side of caution.”

The organization, which has offices in Parker and Castle Rock, is committed to helping the community recognize the symptoms in the hopes that it could save lives. Teens, in particular, tend to be more impulsive and, because the frontal lobes of their brains still are in the development stage, they are limited in their problem-solving capabilities.

Those who have thoughts of suicide often become inexplicably distant from family members or close friends. Some talk more about death or begin giving away prized possessions. Changes in behavior or sleep patterns or more blatant, direct threats against themselves also can be indicators of suicidal tendencies.

“If you think someone is suicidal, ask and be direct, and don’t be afraid that you are going to plant the idea in their head,” Elliott said. “Don’t minimize what they are worried about. Take them seriously and help them get assistance.”

In extreme situations when a suicidal person refuses to seek help, but is in imminent danger of harming themselves, authorities can legally intervene and physically take someone to a secure location where they are hospitalized and put on a 72-hour hold, Elliott said.

Sometimes it is life-altering events, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, or the suicide death of a close friend, that can bring a fragile person to the brink. Severe depression, the fear of losing control, or increased use of drugs and alcohol are also clear warning signs that someone might need help.

The alternative — not doing anything — is often much worse because it leaves family and friends of suicide victims wondering whether they should have done more to intervene.

Parents of teens should be particularly cognizant of behavioral changes and maintain an active dialogue with their children about their activities, who they are hanging out with and whether they are using drugs and alcohol, Elliott said.

Studies into the link between suicide and drugs and alcohol underscore the strong correlation between the two; illicit substances can lower inhibitions and exacerbate feelings of loneliness and depression, said Elliott, who has spent 19 years helping people with mental health issues.

“The main thing we do is help them find hope for the future, and that’s different for everyone,” Elliott said. “Our tendency as a society is to tell them things will get better, but it’s better to just listen and take them seriously. You’re not going to solve the problem by yourself. It’s better to just walk along side them.”

Elliott, a Douglas County resident, said the recent tragedies hit even closer to home because they happened in her own community. The teen suicides can be a catalyst for people to take action and possibly prevent another death.

Statistics from recent years show a disturbing trend forming among teen girls. Not only are suicides up among young women, but the means are becoming increasingly violent, Elliott said. Two out of the four recent suicide victims are girls.

The reasons why people commit suicide vary. Some can be connected to problems at home, chemical imbalances in the brain, relationships gone bad, a family history of mental illness and a multitude of other factors. Whatever the reasons might be, experts say it is vital to step into the situation before it is too late.

That’s why the Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network has partnered with Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree to develop strategies to combat suicide in Douglas County.

“We are always saddened to hear about suicides, especially with what has happened in the last few weeks,” Elliott said. “It affects the entire community.”

The mental health resource performs speaking engagements to inform the public and works closely with the Douglas County Department of Human Services to connect people with the care they need. Trained professionals also conduct evaluations and direct those in need to psychotropic medications that can help alleviate symptoms, Elliott said.

For more information about suicide prevention and awareness, call 303-730-8858, 1-800-273-TALK or visit


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