For the past 15 years, advocate Clark Flatt has regularly talked to parents and educators about teen suicide. This Nashville father became an expert following following the tragic loss of his own son, Jason, who committed suicide on July 16, 1997. He was just 16.
As a grief-stricken parent, Flatt is hardly alone; suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Now, this impassioned father shares his knowledge through a nonprofit he launched in 1997 — The Jason Foundation — to educate the public about the warning signs of teen suicide. The organization has grown to 89 locations nationally (the local chapter is located in the Delta Medical Center). The foundation provides schools and communities resources to help adults talk about this important teen health risk.
Flatt says once he learned about what to look for, the warning signs were there.
“I lost Jason in July, but when I looked back as far back as January, I realized his grades had started dropping, he began to withdraw from his friends, he had mood swings that were uncommon for him, and he was losing interest in things he loved.”
Flatt says depression is a common culprit when it comes to suicide. Also at work is the increasing pressure kids feel to perform and succeed in academics, sports, even extra-curricular activities, such pressures can lead teens to becoming overly perfectionistic and hard on themselves.
“Kids have to deal with more pressure today than any other time.” By comparison, “The only things I had to worry about were my grades, playing sports, and working a summer job,” says Flatt. “Young people today have so many more pressures to balance.”
For some, that balancing act becomes too much.
Flatt's work has also led to the creation of the Jason Flatt Act, passed in Tennessee in 2007. It became the nation’s most inclusive and mandatory youth suicide awareness and prevention legislation for in-service teacher training. All educators are required to complete two hours of suicide prevention training annually to be licensed to teach in Tennessee.
WAYS TO HELP
The best way to help your teen stay healthy is to keep the lines of communication open. Talk to him regularly and learn what’s going on in his life. Find ways to connect. Be available to listen. Let him know you care and are willing to seek help if necessary.
To learn more, go to the Jason Foundation.
Four out of five teens who attempt suicide give clear warning signs.
• Threats of suicide or statements revealing a desire to die
• Previous suicide attempts or self harm
• A deepening depression
• Making arrangements; getting one's affairs in order
• Giving away prized possessions
• Out of character personality behavior
• A lost of interest in activities teen once enjoyed
How to Respond
• Keep calm and take threats seriously. Do not minimize the threat or assume it is a
joke or a way of getting attention
• Discuss suicide openly and directly
• Listen. Show your support and concern
• If possible, remove objects such as guns or pills that could be used to inflict harm
• Get professional help
— Sources: Jason's Foundation & Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network