"We were too late" - A deeper look into teen suicide trend devastating local community
TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- Suicide, it's a taboo topic we're just not talking about enough. Recent reports from our local students are showing things needs to change.
This week we learn one in five high school students here in Washington admitted they seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months.
This isn't just a national or a Washington issue, it's a tragedy hitting right here in the Tri-Cities.
Jake Smith, a senior at Hanford High School took his own life in 2015, shocking an entire community. Now his parents live every day looking back on what they could have done to save him, so they can save another family from this devastating trend.
“It could be any day and any of us,” said Scott Smith, adding “I thought I was too successful or too good of a parent for anything like that to happen but it could hit anybody."
The tragedy hit the Smith family out of nowhere.
“He stayed home from school on a Monday and we just thought it was senioritis," said Scott.
But their 17-year-old son was dealing with something much worse - a battle with depression and suicidal thoughts that he masked so well.
Jake had just celebrated a special night with friends at a high school dance.
“The pictures that we have of that night, which was less than 48 hours before he died, he was smiling,” said Jake’s mother Kathy Smith. “Before he went to the dance that night he was talking about future plans.”
Jake ended his life just days before his college acceptance letter came in the mail.
“I came home from my class about 11:00 in the morning to find him,” said Kathy, adding “He had sent a text message to his sister and she called frantic because from the text message she knew that was goodbye."
It's a goodbye our community is forced to face far too often.
Action News dug through the data and found in 2015, we lost 47 people to suicide in the Tri-City area. Of these deaths, 10 of them were teens with their whole lives ahead of them.
The Smiths say the way we can change this is by talking about it more.
“One of my biggest regrets was that Jake was trying to help another boy battling depression and one of the things I said to him was I'm uncomfortable with you spending so much time with him because I think it can rub off,” said Scott.
"We need to erase the stigma, raise the awareness and education is the only way," said Kathy.
From Walla Walla to Kennewick and Richland, our districts are now teaming up with youth suicide prevention experts to train teachers and students about the warning signs of suicide.
“With that information we found out that we have kids in this building that are struggling with suicide ideation and mental health issues and are reaching out for help," said Richland High School counselor Chandra Markel.
Markel has launched eight new programs in the past six months. With each effort, she aims to put a focus on encouraging students and parents to continually talk about this taboo topic.
Last week students took part in a special project, painting rocks with moving messages of inspiration.
Students are also creating videos inspired by the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.
“Since doing this, I would say that I have had more referrals from kids,” said Markel, adding “They are more apt to say my friend is really struggling, I don't know how to help them, can you help me?"
Both Markel and Smith’s believe these questions and conversations are what can save another son, daughter and classmate.
“If we save one life then it was all worth it,” said Markel.
“We would do just about anything to help prevent another family from going through what we have gone through,” said Kathy.
Aside from training, each local district says they're putting a new emphasis on having increased access to intervention specialists and grief counselors for their students and staff.
There's also updated safety plans in place for students who come forward with suicidal thoughts.
For more details on what Walla Walla and other local districts are doing to save students from suicide head to this link.