The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that suicide
is the third leading cause of death in Florida for young people ages 15-24.
The fall of 2017 began a dark time for Lake County when at least five teen suicides took place in a span of a few months. Lake Minneola High School in Clermont received the brunt of the horror as a student took his life on campus during school hours. Teachers took action immediately to keep the students safe, many of them praying endlessly for the terrifying situation and all those affected.
Another child as young as 13 years old took her life, leaving the charter elementary school she attended shattered. There were others, and before the schools dismissed for Winter Break, countless young people in schools across Lake County were influenced by the awful turn of events.
School counselors flooded in from nearby institutions to meet with students and help walk them through the trauma and grief. The heart of every educator, administrator, parents, student and friend ached for months. Many thought, How could this happen?
Feeling the weight of the mission, teachers and parents got to work organizing candlelight vigils and town hall meetings to discuss how to better provide resources for kids suffering in silence.
As the schools slowly recovered from the initial shock of the multiple suicides, one thing was on everyone’s mind.
How can we prevent this from happening again?
No matter where you live, what you do or who you encounter on a regular basis, we all must educate ourselves and pay attention to the children and young adults in our lives. Their cries for help may be barely audible and it our job to listen carefully to the emotions bubbling beneath the surface.
There are many things of which we can be aware.
1. Mental Illness is often prevalent in suicide victims.
- According to National Alliance on Mental Illness, (NAMI) more than 90% of children who commit suicide have a mental health condition, and 50% of adults with mental illness report experiencing symptoms before the age of 14; 75% before the age of 24.
- The victim feels desperately alone and unheard. “People who attempt suicide typically feel overwhelming emotional pain, frustration, loneliness, hopelessness, powerlessness, worthlessness, shame, guilt, rage and/or self-hatred. The social isolation so common in the lives of those with mental illness can reinforce the belief that no one cares if they live or die.” 
One way to come alongside young people who are suffering is to encourage them that they are not alone. Expressing concern and your desire to help is a good start, but the person may be struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental illnesses that need to be addressed. Seek professional help, especially if the person has talked about hurting themselves.
2. Be aware of triggers in the student’s life that may lead to a mental health crisis.
Home or Environmental Stressors
Changes in relationship with others (boyfriend, girlfriend)
Losses of any kind due to death, estrangement or relocation
Conflicts or arguments with loved ones or friends
Trauma or exposure to violence, trauma, terrorism
School or Work Stressors: Worrying about upcoming projects or tasks
Feeling singled out by peers; lonely
Lack of understanding from peers, co-workers, teachers or supervisors
Real or perceived discrimination
Failing grades, losing a job
Pending court dates
Using or abusing drugs or alcohol or changes with medication
Emotions are very powerful in a child’s life and circumstances may lead them down a path that quickly spirals out of control. Walking the student through their emotions may help prevent them from focusing on the negatives and feeling worse about their situation. They need companionship through their pain, and hope on the other side to discover in time.
3. Mental Health Triggers: It’s important to look at many aspects of the individual’s life to determine what may be causing such deep, emotional pain and conflict. There are inner and outer realms that may trigger a mental health crisis.
a. Individual level: history of depression and other mental illnesses, hopelessness, substance abuse, certain health conditions, previous suicide attempt, violence victimization and perpetration, and genetic and biological determinants
b. Relationship level: high conflict or violent relationships, a sense of isolation and lack of social support, family/ loved one’s history of suicide, financial and work stress
c. Community level: inadequate community connectedness, barriers to health care (e.g., lack of access to providers and medications)
d. Societal level: availability of lethal means of suicide, unsafe media portrayals of suicide, stigma associated with help-seeking and mental illness 
Navigating the winding road of suicide prevention can often feel overwhelming. These small steps open up awareness in our community and that is often where change begins. It’s important to open our eyes and recognize the need before a tragedy is among us.
The good news is our community is stepping up to be prepared in helping young people fight against the perils of mental illness such as anxiety and depression. Be Free Lake launched a pilot program in Lake County called, “You’re Not Alone” and graduated 49 students in April as student ambassadors for mental health. The students are trained to look for signs that their peers are struggling, and privy to the resources available. How much stronger will our student bodies be when they have compassionate, servant-hearted classmates who have undergone specific mental health training? This program is sure to be one of many spreading through Lake County. 
Suicide prevention starts with a listening ear, a kind heart, and the knowledge to guide others in the direction toward professional help. No one has to face life’s struggles on his or her own. As each of us learns how we can pay attention to the needs of others, fewer children will feel alone and hopeless.
That is our goal and our mission and we will not give up.
To learn more about navigating a mental health crisis, read this guide published by NAMI- https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI/Publications-Reports/Guides/Navigating-a-Mental-Health-Crisis/Navigating-A-Mental-Health-Crisis.pdf
Crisis Text Line: text START to 741-741