Voices of Hope Transcript - Hour 2
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Good evening! I'm Doug Fabrizio for KUED. If there's any kind of theme that ties together all of these stories we've just heard, it's the importance of bringing to the surface the usually hidden aspects of mental illness. But undoing a social stigma is going to require an honest conversation with more than just a confused kid and his parents or doctor. Teachers and coaches and neighbors are going to have to get involved, along with political and religious leaders. For the next hour, we're going to continue this conversation about the challenges of mental illness and the tragic reality of teen suicide. We'll explore the elements of stigma, talk about those groups particularly vulnerable, and we'll offer resources to friends and family members--how you identify the signs and where you turn for help. Throughout this evening you can call for a free resource packet at 585-LINK.
This free package includes a copy of tonight's program, along with valuable information from mental health professionals about suicide prevention. We'll be showing this number throughout the evening. You can also visit kued.org to receive these free resources. Too often it's the accounts of tragedy that draw our attention to this issue, but perhaps just as instructive are the stories of success.
Joining us first this evening is Jacob "Jake" Short. He's one of the five teens whose video work you've just-- you've just seen. Since completing the piece, he continues to work at NAMI. He's active in mental health issues. To get a parent's perspective, we have with us Jake's mother, Vicki Short.
Also here is Shenandoah Drake. Shenandoah is currently a student at the University the Utah, and along with Jake's part of First Lady Mary Kay Huntsman's program “The Power in You. Seated beside Shenandoah is her father, Sam Drake. The Drake family took an interesting journey to find their present success, and we're glad they're here Glad you're all here. Welcome.
Thanks for being with us.
I want to start, Sam and Vicki, with you. Umm, and I wonder if there was a particular moment when you really knew-- you really knew that your kids were in trouble.
[VICKI SHORT] There was for us. He was, eight years old and he was doing his homework one night and he asked for some help. He was writing spelling words-- or spelling sentences, you know, with his spelling words and he couldn't do it. And he asked us to help him, so I tried to help him and he still couldn't do it. So I asked his dad to help him he still couldn't do it. He was getting more and more anxious, and finally his brother came in and said, "Jake, just write what I tell you to write. "Just write it down." And he couldn't, and he said, "I'm gonna run away." So he went and packed his bags and, of course, we thought, he's gonna run to the garage and come back, but he really left. And it was winter, it was freezing cold, and he really left. And so we got in the car and drove around, both of us looking for him, and he was gone for about an hour. And, of course, everybody's crying and upset, and when he came back, I came into the house and went in his room and said, "Jake, what would make you feel better?" And he said, "Just to be dead." So we knew then that we had a really big problem. That--That made you pay attention. You didn't think that was just something a kid was saying.You knew that there was something to that.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Mm-hmm, because he had been--
[VICKI SHORT] he had been a little different always, and really shy, really quiet, withdrawn. And school was a struggle for him, life was a struggle for him. But this finally was what said, we really have a problem here. And I called his pediatrician the next morning and said, you know, "I think we really have a huge problem," and we got him right in for testing.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Sam, what about you? Did you have a-- a momentary epiphany?
[SAM DRAKE] Well, not quite as clean and crisp as that one. Uh, it didn't happen until much later for Shenandoah. When she was...Well, probably only less than two years ago...Yeah, when she was, uh, and uh, I mean, when I really...She had had some problems. She ran away several times and there didn't seem to be any reason for it. I mean, it just didn't make any sense. She ran away, and at first, you know, we thought, well, this is a teenager, wanna be independent, which seemed to be the case. Uh, she ran away, she ended up taking a car, uh, she didn't come back, and so I turned it over to the sheriff's office, so she ended up in, uh, juvenile detention. And then after, you know, things seemed to get better for quite awhile and then repeated itself, and because she, at that point, was on some court-ordered probation, she ended back up in juvenile detention. She ended up in juvenile detention three times, and they actually, you know, to their credit, they had her, uh, diagnosed, but at that time she didn't have the problem, so, you know, she was able to, you know, fool the psychiatrist that they had. And then later, uh, I don't know... Things got really crazy one day, and, I mean, she thought we were trying to kill her. That's what she said. She thought we were gonna-- gonna kill her in some CIA plot, and we were gonna have her killed in a traffic accident or something like that, and I said, "This is crazy." I mean, that's when I ended up having her taken. Uh, I ended up calling the sheriff's department. They ended up sending over an ambulance and we had her taken up to the University Neuro-Psych Institute, and they did a pretty quick diagnosis of what the problem was. You kind of end up wondering why, you know, it took us so long to figure this out, but, you know, then in talking with other people, you know, maybe we caught it earlier than a lot of people did, so...
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Jake and Shenandoah, when there were those-- those moments that you thought about wanting to end your life, or not caring whether you lived or not, what is it that you figured you were trying to accomplish? What did you... How were you thinking about all of that? Jake?
[JAKE SHORT] Uh, I was just... Umm, it wasn't like that I wanted to end my life. I definitely had thoughts about it-- maybe I would be happier, my family would be happier. Uh, I didn't have the clear perspective, a good thinking process about how it would actually affect my family. Umm, but what I kept thinking about was my mom and how much she cared for me, and so it was more of a cry for help every time I did it. Every time I tried overdosing, I would immediately tell my parents or call my mom or whatever to make it so, you know, I was really crying for help, that something wasn't right for me, and so I needed help. But, uh, that was the first thing I noticed about, uh, when I wanted to try to kill myself.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] How about you?
[SHENANDOAH DRAKE] Umm, for me, I never tried, like, to commit suicide, but I definitely stopped caring whether I lived or not, and I just--I just wanted-- I wanted to die, but I never wanted to do it myself. Like if I died, then that would make me happier 'cause I just... Mine was just more ending the pain than anything. And I--I didn't think about like how my family would feel or anything like that. I just was mostly, you know, just trying to end 'cause my life was going to hell and it seemed like I was already in hell, and so mostly it was just kind of ending the pain.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] So the behavior your dad was talking about,this kind of recklessness, that was--that was an expression of that. You didn't really care what happened.
[SHENANDOAH DRAKE] Yeah. I guess, yeah, that's probably a really good way to say it because I just, you know, started doing really reckless things because when, you know, you do something like, I don't know, drive -miles-an-hour on the freeway, it's, you know, you could kill other people, let alone yourself, you know, so I just stopped caring about life and...
[DOUG FABRIZIO] I'm gonna ask you, Sam and Vicki both, when you look back now... You, obviously, Vicki, knew fairly early on in Jake's life, but what are those signs that you--that you identified, maybe Sam, maybe you after the fact, that you identified, umm, that gave you a sense...You know, the other things that other parents-- you tell other parents to look for, to be wary of.
[VICKI SHORT] Umm, from the time Jake was little, he did strange things. When he was little, we didn't think of them really as strange. I mean, he would watch the same movie, like, times over and over again and he would dress up like the characters. And he would be that character for like a month while he watched that same movie. And then he would change to a different movie and dress up like that character. And he wanted to always wear the same clothes, so it was this kind of this obsessive behavior that he had. So the kids--my older kids used to get mad at me 'cause they'd--"Mom, you're letting him wear "the same clothes all the time," but it was essential to him to wear the certain pants and shirt and cowboy hat, cowboy boots everyday. And--And then he didn't ever want to be away from his family, but at that time he was the youngest, and so we just attributed it to that-- that he was just the baby. But he didn't want to ever be separated from any--any of us. And when he went to preschool, he cried like for the first two weeks. And my other kids, you know, maybe they would be a little nervous, but he cried and cried and cried. And same with kindergarten, first grade... He didn't interact with kids. He just kind of sat in the corner. Even as a little child, when he would go to a babysitter like once every other week, umm, he would never take off his coat and he would never leave the window. He would be there looking for us to come get him.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] How about you, Sam? See any sign?
[SAM DRAKE] I don't think we had quite as much early sign as--as that. I mean, Shenandoah--I used to tell people we went through the terrible twos, threes, fours, fives, six, seven... But, I mean, she was always kind of aggressive, and I knew school was gonna be really hard. I mean, she was very... I also used to call her the "bounce-a-matic" kid because she was just always bouncing up and down and running around doing things, and I knew school was gonna be really hard. And the first, you know, couple years of school were bad, and I used to come home with a... I remember one--one point we went for months, you know, everyday she'd get some kind of little report card on her behavior. But then, uh, sort of somewhere through second grade, you know, it seemed to switch, and actually things got a lot better. She seemed to then spend her energy, umm, trying to do well in school instead of trying to fight the system. Uh, and then, you know, up until, you know, into her th, you know, year, things seemed to go, you know, at least reasonably well. She was still, you know, really, really active, really hyperactive, but, you know, some of it got channeled into... She went on the cross country team, did well on that. Uh, so, when she was, you know, tending to do fairly well in school. And she always did, you know, reasonably well in school. Then, uh, when she got, you know, or so, and we thought, well, maybe it's just teenage rebellion sort of stuff and was wanting to be able to leave and think you could be on your own and all that, but when she ran away, it was just, you know... It seemed to be crazy. It didn't seem to have... There was no plan to it. That's what--That's what I noticed that was strange. If, you know, if I was gonna run away, you know, I would have had a plan. I would have done something. It's just like, you know, when Vicki said, he ran away when he was eight. It was the middle of the winter, probably didn't have much in the way of clothes or anything else. She did the same thing, except, you know, really could have gotten in a lot of trouble because, you know... At one point, was it in April or late March, April you left, you know, nothing really-- no heavy jackets or anything. No--No plans.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] You know, it seems to me... It seems like it would be incredibly frustrating for parents, though, how you identify-- and we'll talk about this as the program goes along-- so-called normal, sort of bursts of creative energy from young kids or normal sort of acts of rebellion from normal kids, and when they really have a mental illness.
It must be really frustrating and it must be, in some ways, confusing for parents.
[SAM DRAKE] Well, I felt, you know, I felt bad, you know, after 'cause I figured, well, you know, maybe we should have picked up on this sooner. But, you know, we didn't pick up on it until, you know, she had like been through juvenile detention three times. Uh, you know, and I-- and I don't fault...In fact--In fact, probably one of the things that they did that was really good was they provide somebody from, I think it was Utah Youth Village. They came in and try to provide counseling. And he was kind of... And I didn't even know about UNI, you know, University Neuro-Psych Institute. Uh, I'd never even heard of it. I didn't know where it was. And he was, you know, he mentioned this to me. He said, "Maybe you need to take her up there "and get her evaluated up there." And so when things really went bad, uh, one time, that's when we, you know, had her taken up there. And I knew she wasn't going to go up there willingly and I didn't want to get in a physical confrontation for her, that's why I ended up calling the sheriff's department first. I thought maybe they'd come pick her up and take her there, but they don't transport, so they ended up getting a... It must have been quite a scene for the neighbors. We had a fire truck there. And a couple of sheriff's officers-- I think about three sheriff's cars, and then the ambulance.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] You can laugh about it now.
[SAM DRAKE] Oh, I can, yeah, I can laugh about it. It's like antagonizing the moment.
I know what happened, so it's not-- it's not a, you know, point of, uh, embarrassment or anything.
It's just--it just happened, you know.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Yeah.How about you? Frustrating, confusing?
[VICKI SHORT] Oh, very. And we have two bi-polar children, and Jake was the first to be diagnosed, and our daughter wasn't diagnosed until she was probably about . And the same as you, Sam, we just she was just a really rebellious, bad teenager. And she was a lot like Shenandoah-- in trouble all the time and running and stealing and taking our cars and doing whatever. And she lived that really out there life. And so we didn't look at her and think she was bi-polar 'cause she was so different than Jake's bi-polar. So we just thought that she was a bad kid. So, yeah, it's really, really frustrating.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] So Jake and Shenandoah, what did-- what did you figure was wrong? Did you--Did you... In terms of the way you compared yourselves to your friends or whatever, did you figure you were different and you... Something was wrong?
[JAKE SHORT] Uh, for me, I was not able to communicate with others and I always, uh, wanted to be by myself. And, you know, I'd look at them and see that they would be able to do their school work and have fun doing school work and when you can pair up and do things like that with your friends during... You know, your teachers let you do that. I always wanted to work alone. I didn't like working in groups and, uh, I always thought I'd do better by myself, but I never ended up being able to do it. Umm, so I would just, you know, at times when I could be stable enough to be able to see other people's progress and mine getting worse is when I kind of started to notice that something was wrong with me. And I kept telling my parents that, but, you know, they were frustrated as well and didn't know what to do.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Shenandoah, you talked about wanting to end the pain, so you knew you had something there, right? Some kind of... Something that was different.
[SHENANDOAH DRAKE] Yeah, well, umm, there'd be... I'd have episodes, and bi-polar is a chemical imbalance of the brain, and what happens is you stop receiving information in the right way that the normal brain would receive information, and it starts blocking certain signals, and so you receive a message... You're receiving messages that aren't right, and I was receiving-- like when I'd have... Normal teenagers have fights with their parents all the time, uh, but the difference between that was I was receiving information that, you know, my parents are trying to kill me and hate me because... I'd be having a really big fight, and instead of saying, like, "I hate you," you know, and slamming the door, I'd run away and try and like leave, and just for my, like-- just run away from the problem because I was thinking they were trying to kill me. And I think one of the major things was I was only... I only seemed like I was bi-polar around my parents. When I was with my friends, I was completely normal, and for the most part, that was a little bit hard because, you know, I kind of led like a double life, and people were like, "Oh, she's normal." Or "It's her parents that are really..." "Oh, maybe they really are hurting her." And it wasn't the case at all. It was just that I was having fights and the--the information was coming back as different, and so...
[DOUG FABRIZIO] I want to ask you about, uh, the importance of talking about it and what that was like. And I wondered, Sam and Vicki, what did you do to get your kids to talk about it? Did you find any secrets about-- about sort of engaging them in conversations? What worked, what didn't?
[VICKI SHORT] With Jake, umm, because he was so little, he was--he was okay.
He just wanted to get fixed. He didn't... And so he was okay to talk about it with us, but he didn't want us to tell anyone else. So he'd always say, "Don't tell your friends," or "Don't tell my friends' parents." But then we'd have to remind him that they already knew he had a problem, 'cause when you're hiding under your desk and stapling your fingers together at school...
...they realize that you have a problem. But he--he would think that people couldn't see him doing that. I mean, he'd hide under the desk and I think he thought they couldn't see him. And so he... But he didn't want anyone to know. And it wasn't until he was probably about , after he had been, umm, in therapy and seeing... Actually, he had seen-- Dr. Gray was his first doctor. And, you know, kind of had had some therapy, and then he got involved with Vicki Cottrell and she had asked him to speak up at the Capitol. And it was after that that he was very willing to speak out on it when-- when he realized that it would help other people. But at first he was embarrassed. He didn't want anyone to know. So we had to really work on the fact that this isn't embarrassing.
This isn't any different than having diabetes or anything else. It's just an illness that's in your brain instead of in your pancreas or someplace else, and it's okay to talk about it so that you can get better and help other people.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] We're gonna talk about that idea of shame as we go along. What about--What about you, Sam?
[SAM DRAKE] Uh, you know, sometimes, you know, a lot of times,you know, I was really fairly close with Shenandoah and I could talk with Shenandoah and she'd talk with me, and then it just-- it just seemed to flip. And I remember one--one day in particular, you know, she'd had the car and she was gone off with some... She was with some of her friends. She'd had a problem with the car and we came up and fixed the car. I had a lab where I could actually pull the car in and worked on it a little bit and talked with her and things seemed to be doing... And then the next day, you know, it was just, you know, crazy. I mean, the next day we were the bad guys and I couldn't, you know, couldn't understand it. And sometimes, you know, I'd be a really smart person and sometimes I'd be a really stupid person. I didn't think I was changing. One of the things that, you know... She went off to another girl's house and stayed over, and, uh, this seemed to trigger it. And now I know what actually triggered it. I thought it was the other people, so we ended up blaming either the other girl or their parents or something like that, but what-- what was really going on was she'd go over there and sleep over and, of course, they didn't sleep, and one of the real triggers for bi-polar, I it turns out, is, you know, not getting enough sleep I and you start to get manic I and then you feel like you don't need sleep. And so I think, you know, right before we ended up having her taken to UNI, I think she'd gotten no sleep for probably hours, hours, maybe longer. You know, she'd had like no sleep and she was... You know, you feel, you know, you can do anything. Uh, one of the problems, you know, like I said, you know, you're ten foot tall and bullet proof, to pick up somebody's song line, uh, so this is, you know, major problem.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Well, we're about out of time for this section, but I want to ask Jake and Shenandoah this finally-- How are you looking at the future now? How are you seeing this, I guess, in retrospect of all you've been through at this point?
[JAKE SHORT] Uh, I used to have to look at the day that I was on-- that's as far as I could go-- and still be overwhelmed by just what the day has to bring. I'm kind of at the point now that where I can look maybe about six months ahead, so it's... I can't look farther than that. I still get overwhelmed by it, so I have to take it a step at a time and slowly progress further. You know, maybe in a year I can start looking a year ahead. But I have to be able to, umm, not just limit myself of things and hold myself back, but to still go forward, but to make it so I don't overwhelm myself with things that are just gonna-- that I don't need to overwhelm myself about yet. I--I usually like to deal with things when they come up and not so far down the road.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] What about you?
[SHENANDOAH DRAKE] Umm, for me it's like I-- I've always wanted to be a veterinarian since I was a little girl and so it's nice that some things haven't changed because now I'm going to the University as a pre-vet student, and then I'm gonna go to vet school and become a veterinarian. And, uh, mostly I'm just happy 'cause I...
When I went to UNI-- University Neuro-Psychiatric Institute-- they did diagnose me and they diagnosed me right away and correctly, and so that's when I got my life back because they gave me medications, and now I take medications every, you know, meds everyday and it just keeps my life on track and so I can be myself and I'm not that crazy girl running away anymore. I have my life together, I'm doing well in school and so that's basically...
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Good. Shenandoah, Jake, Vicki, Sam--thank you all. Thank you. Thank you. As you can tell, getting young people to actually express their feelings of anguish or hopelessness is a crucial first step in preventing teen suicide. In fact, it's the core of an innovative program in the Provo School District.
[GREG HUDNALL] Early in the morning on a New Year's Eve, I got a call from a police officer,
Sergeant Duvall in Provo, that informed me that they had a body that they couldn't identify, and I was involved in that. And I--I remember walking away from that experience saying to myself that, you know, we can't let our children die. There's something we have to do as a community, and--and so out of that came the Hope Task Force-- individuals in the community that volunteer. We come together and-- and I really believe that, you know, suicide cannot be an option for us as a community or as a society.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Greg Hudnall is Director of Student Services for the Provo School District and the Executive Director and Founder of the Hope Task Force. It's a suicide prevention support program.
[GREG HUDNALL] Suicide is a taboo word. We don't want to talk about it. We whisper it or we don't talk about it because we're afraid it's gonna give children ideas to go out and complete or attempt. Where the reality is, the research shows that 90-95 % of the students who have attempted and/or threatened have previously thought about suicide. Now, they may not term it suicide, but they're thought about taking their own life, they've thought about hurting themselves, they've thought about not wanting to live anymore, and so we need to talk about it.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] According to Hudnall, research shows that adolescents respond best to other adolescents, so he created the Hope Squad-- a peer-to-peer suicide prevention program for high schoolers. At Timpview High, the program is under the direction of Social Worker Wendi Christensen.
[WENDI CHRISTENSEN] I think the Hope Squad has helped in the schools because, first of all, it's brought a huge awareness to our faculty and then secondly, it's bringing a huge awareness to our students. They're able to see more suicide awareness, prevention awareness. We've had a suicide prevention week that was very successful in the school, and then we also have a high-risk group class that meets.
[RAVEN ALARD] The Hope Squad is a way for teenagers in Timpview High School to talk amongst other teenagers of what they're feeling right then, whether it's of a serious nature or it's escalating to that type of feeling. And we're like a doorway so that we can open the door for them to talk to counselors, and we keep it very confidential so that they can feel safe with us, but know that we're there to get them help.
[SUZANNE WILSON] Sometimes people just don't know who to turn to when they're feeling confused about things that are going on in their life. Sometimes they don't wanna necessarily explain all their feelings to adults right off the bat, so we listen to them and then we can help take the transition to a counselor or an adult who knows more and can help them maybe get therapy.
[WENDI CHRISTENSEN] We teach the Hope Squad members that they are not counselors. They are there to be a friend, a support system. They're there to listen, and that they are not a counselor. They're not supposed to help these students as far as, "Let me solve your problem." They are taught to refer to a counselor or to an adult or to get help in the community.
[MARIA STONE] If you have a problem, if you're feeling suicidal, you should not keep it a secret. It's not something that you can handle by yourself.
[GREG HUDNALL] Too many times I've gone out to homes and I have met with young children who are in the despair of their soul because their friend had said, "I'm gonna take my own life," and the friend didn't tell an adult. Either they didn't believe them, they didn't know what to do, or the student had said it a long time and the friend got tired of hearing it.
But for whatever reason, that young person didn't tell an adult, and that child is no longer here. And if I could tell anything to the youth is tell someone. Have the courage--'cause that's what it's gonna take-- it's gonna take guts, it's gonna take all the will power you have, and it may take a lost friend for a short period of time. But if you have the courage to get help, you may save your best friend's life.
[EMILY GILLESPIE] If someone came to me with a big problem like that, I wouldn't let them out of my sight, and I'd find a counselor or an adult or their parents and get them to talk and just get it so that it's open and not...like a threat. It's something that we can work through and solve.
[KATHERINE ROBINSON] I had a friend of mine commit suicide when I was in middle school, and none of us really got the signs. It all--It all took all of us by surprise. And to have a thing like the Hope Squad, it lets you teach the signs and you know how to look out for it.
[TANNER PERRY] Suicide is a big problem in Utah. It's rated as one of the highest in the country, and I just think that we need to show the students, people that suicide is not an option and that we need to help them.
[GREG HUDNALL] Children need to know that there's someone who cares about them and there's someone who's gonna help them through that problem. Umm, we as adults--we have a tendency to tell our kids, "Just get over it," you know, because we've had those experiences. The reality for a child is that immediate problem, and they see no tomorrow. And the pain is either so hard that they have to deal with it, or learn how to have the pain go away and they don't know how to do that. And so somehow we have to create in our system that suicide cannot be an option.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Joining us now is Greg Hudnall, the Executive Director and Founder of the Hope Task Force in the Provo School District. Greg, welcome. Thanks for being here.
[GREG HUDNALL] Thank you.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] I think I want to start with this idea... We had referred a bit earlier in the program the idea that it's more than just a thing between a parent and a doctor and the child-- that there are more people involved in this. That, I think, as you said, this is a community effort. Talk about the importance of that.
[GREG HUDNALL] Well, one of the things that you find out as a parent-- and I'm a parent of four children-- that you go through phases with those children that they will turn to an adult or a leader or a friend when they're struggling and sometimes not to their parents. Or sometimes a colleague or a friend will notice something different about your child that you don't notice, and I think it's very important that the community... Suicide is not a school issue. A lot of people believe that, but suicide is a community-- it's a society issue, and I believe that the only way we're going to help prevent it in the future is to help educate the community and bring all of those community members together to prevent it.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] I wonder if, umm, you talked about the thingthat sort of got you started doing this program. And it was--I guess it was a traumatic experience where you had to go identify a body. What is it that you started thinking about. I mean, this obviously made you want to prevent it, but how did you... How did that motivate you to start thinking about this?
[GREG HUDNALL] Umm, you know, it was pretty traumatizing to me, and I was walking back to my car. I was a high school principal and I had been involved with three or four other suicides, but they were away. This suicide happened in a park right next to my school. And, uh, I remember, it was pretty emotional for me, and I remember getting to the car and--and just kind of challenging myself that from that moment on, whatever it took, I was going to do something, umm, to prevent other children from taking their lives in Provo.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Do you think that, umm, teachers, coaches, religious leaders, umm, are very well informed on these issues, I mean, in any sort of mainstream way?
[GREG HUDNALL] I--I don't. We do trainings and presentations all over the state, and I remember just a little while ago we did a presentation to a large amount of scout leaders, and, umm, our focus is on education and prevention, and then referring them to programs that can help them, like NAMI and other entities in the community and in the state. And I remember a group of probably scout masters and--and scout leaders that came up to me afterwards just frightened because of some of the things that we had shown in our presentation that they were aware of of young men in their scout troop, and they had no idea. And so they came asking, "Where do we go from here? "How do we get help for those kids?"
[DOUG FABRIZIO] What do you think the obstacles are,
[GREG HUDNALL] umm, I guess the sort of societal obstacles that keep us from having these, because it seems to me that you have to have a very candid kind of conversation. It's going to be uncomfortable for--for--for teachers and coaches and people like that. You know, I was invited to go to a community and do a training, and the mayor came up to me and said, "I don't want you to mention suicide in my community." And I looked at him and I said, "Why?" And he said, "Because I don't want you "to cause other kids to get the idea "to go out and take their life." Suicide is a word that's a taboo. We're very afraid of it. We're--We're afraid that if we even mention it it's gonna give kids ideas. And--And I think that there are appropriate, professional ways that we can train individuals and educate youth leaders and parents and adults on what to look for, how to be aware and how to get help with dealing with suicide. We're afraid to deal with suicide, and that's why I'm so proud of KUED for taking this on. Aside from this question of whether or not there will be, you know, copycats or it'll suddenly occur... How ridiculous is that, though, I mean, that it will just suddenly occur to someone if there's a conversation about suicide? I mean, does that-- does that actually happen? Well, what the research shows is that, you know, most of these children that look at taking their life or consider suicide as an option have already thought about it. It's already been placed in there from their own personal experiences, etc. And when you deal with that, when you're sitting down with a child... And it's been amazing the number of kids that as a principal that I was able to meet with and ask them, have you thought about taking their life, and they would go, "How did you know?" Because their parents are afraid... And you do-- you're afraid that if you even mention that to your child that you're going to place that, you're going to plant that seed in their mind, where the reality is they've already thought about it. And what they really need is someone to listen or someone to get help for them.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] This, umm, peer-to-peer counseling that's so crucial to this program,
what do they talk about? What do they-- What do they want to hear? What do they discuss?
[GREG HUDNALL] You know, the Hope Squad at Timpview High School-- and we now have it in our elementary schools and our middle schools-- they don't talk about suicide. You know, they don't go out and say, "Have you thought about killing yourself today" or whatever. But what we're training them to do, and what the social workers and the schools' counselors and psychologists do so well is they teach them to listen. We have too many kids that get lost in the shuffle. You know, when you're an , student body, it's easy for a child to be a nobody. And, uh, we teach these peers to listen, uh, to be able to be there as a support. Every child needs a significant other in their lives, and unfortunately we're a fast-paced society and many students don't have that other child or that other teenager who's there for them. And so we teach them to listen, to be supportive, and then also to have the courage to get help for that child. And so... Or help for their friend. Umm, a parent came to me the other day-- actually a school board member-- and she said, "My son came home today and three..." He heard it three times-- uh, three of his friends had talked about taking their own life, about committing suicide. She goes, "He didn't know what to do." And so what we try to do is teach those peers that are peer helpers, the Hope Squad, then to go to a counselor-- to be able to convince that friend, "Let's go get help." And sometimes it's just having someone to talk to that they can get through that pressure. Not always--sometimes it's deeper than that, but hopefully it's trying to get help for them.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Okay... Greg Hudnall, stay with us as we continue this conversation. We remind you that you can call any time this evening for a free resource packet to help you understand the intricacies of teen suicide. The number is 585-LINK. There's so many layers here. Mental illness, of course, plays the leading role, but the social dynamics involved can further complicate the picture. Young people can feel out of place for many reasons-- for race and class, sexual identity. Experts say there are signs-- clues to watch for, but families are never prepared when the worst happens.
[DAVID JENKINS] Our son, David Jr., uh, was a very intelligent, uh, good young man.
In fact, he gave us, uh, hardly any trouble growing up. He was very, uh, studious. He served an LDS mission to Mexico, and when he came home from his mission, he began studies at BYU. And at that time, uh, he became where he had some problems with obsessive/compulsive disorder and anxiety, and so we sought some professional help, and we saw a psychiatrist and he prescribed, uh, some medicine for David.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] The Jenkins sought every possible treatment for their son, but after years of struggling, he chose to end his life. He was attending medical school at the time of his death. Erin Haley's younger brother, Jeff, completed suicide when he was 16 years old. Erin was 18 at the time.
[ERIN HALEY] My brother Jeff, umm, was a very sweet boy. He...and I were very close. We were both born in October, and so we would celebrate our birthdays together. We went to high school together my senior year, and, umm, things were a little bit difficult for him in junior high and high school.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Stacy Hone's son took his own life when he was 16 years old. At that time, the Hones had no idea he was troubled.
[STACY HONE] My son was, umm, just a happy, busy little boy when he was young-- full of laughter and had a little bounce in his step, and we called him "Tigger" when he was little 'cause he was so full of energy and a little bounce. And in th grade he wrote a little poem that said, "I am cool. All people like me. Super at math, expert at reading. I am young and cool." But then as he began through puberty and got older, he was more serious and more sober and he was quiet and shy and a good young man. As he got older, he didn't want to be involved in as much, slowly and gradually in boy scouts or activities for youth. He, umm, pulled away more from friends-- didn't ask them to come over as often or have sleep overs or parties or go to them as well. But he had good friends that were also kind of homebodies, so we didn't think too much about that. I don't think I have words to adequately describe how devastating, uh, it was to receive that phone call that our son had died, that he'd taken his life.
[DAVID JENKINS] Umm, my wife and I would talk with him and he would tell us sometimes, you know, "I just... I don't think I'm gonna get better.You guys would be better off without me. I just feel like I'm worthless." And, of course, nothing was further from the truth. Uh, he was an integral part of our family. No one really understands how completely a suicide affects a family unless you're in the family.
[ERIN HALEY] Umm, in my experience, I felt that I lost my parents as well as a brother.
I felt that my parents became completely different people from the people that I grew up with. I couldn't talk to my parents anymore as I once did. Umm, my parents had once been a major support to me, and they no longer were, mostly because I didn't feel I could turn to them because my feelings and emotions, umm, caused them to have feelings and emotions, and I didn't want them to hurt anymore.
[STACY HONE] One of the very hardest things when someone ends their life is the question "Why?" It just echoes and echoes through your mind when they pass away. And we did not know why, and I had to search my mind from his life from birth on-- from when he had the cord wrapped around his neck at birth, to hospitalizations he'd had with pneumonia and asthma, to parenting, to school, to--to his school work. I, you know, frantically looked through all of that and got on the Internet and started searching and talking to other people who were willing to come and tell us their stories. And we found out that one of the big components, we believe, that our son had was that he did have many signs of depression. We didn't realize someone could get up and go to school everyday even though they were very depressed, 'cause he did get up and go to school everyday. Umm, we--we think that, umm, he may not... He was only 16 at the time that he ended his life. He may not have even realized that he had this illness and that there was help.
[DAVID JENKINS] We're taught from the time we're little boys to be tough--don't cry. If you get hurt, pick yourself up and shake it off and go on. And--And this is okay, as it should be, uh, but when you get into a serious illness, uh, if a young man or young boy develops cancer, uh, his buddies or his parents or the adults aren't gonna tell him to get up and shake it off. Well, the same thing is true with a--a serious mental illness. You can't just shake off depression or bi-polar disorder.
[STACY HONE] I would like parents to be able to ask their young men, just even around the dinner table, what their feelings are about everyday occurrences because I think that we need to practice that with our young men-- "What do you feel about this?" or "How do you feel about that?" and then go to more personal things so that they are used to talking about their feelings.
[ERIN HALEY] There's always someone that you can talk to. There's always one more person that you can talk to, so if the first person you talk to doesn't respond in a positive way or help you in a way that's necessary, umm, there's always one more person. And if you think hard enough, you'll find one more person that you can talk to.
[STACY HONE] There is a stigma that families feel, and also people who feel like ending their life feel, that keeps them from asking for help. They think that they may be weak or abnormal. They think that they're alone.
[DAVID JENKINS] The first step to de-stigmatize mental illness is going to be a very good understanding among education, uh, educators and the community at large that these are real illnesses. They're just like any serious physical illness.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Joining us now are some professionals who have worked in the trenches of teen suicide prevention. Douglas Gray is with us. He's a child and adolescent psychiatrist specializing in youth suicide prevention. Dr. Michelle Moskos is also with us, a member of the research faculty at the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Utah's School of Medicine. Sherri Wittwer is here-- the Executive Director of NAMI Utah. NAMI is, of course, National Alliance on Mental Illness, a non-profit organization which focuses on public education issues that surround mental illness. And also here still with us is Greg Hudnall from the Provo School District. Welcome to you all. It seems like there's an underlying question here, sort of a broad question about why it is that mental illness is treated different from--from physical illness, I guess. And Dr. Gray, I want to start with you 'cause I'm not sure quite how to ask the question because I don't want it to presume that mental illness isn't a physical-- uh, you know, isn't an ailment like a physical ailment, but I do wonder what role environment factors play in mental illness, in the question of teen suicide. For example, being ostracized by a social group or conflict or abuse at home. What factor does that play in all of this?
[DR. GRAY] When I evaluate a patient, I'm trying to look at the biological factors. Asthma runs in families, depression runs in families. I'm also looking at environmental factors, but I also did that when I treated asthma as a pediatric intern, so, umm... I had a teenager come in who was doing perfectly well, and his parents announced that they were getting divorced. And the divorce got very rocky and the kid started getting in fights and failing school, and that was clearly environmental. And I've had patients come in who get depressed for no reason. They have a wonderful family, they're doing well in school. Then you found out the mother got depressed also at years of age and so did the grandmother. They each fell into a depression during their teenage years for no reason, and that's very biological. And then, of course, there are patients where it's both. They have a predisposition for depression, but it's some--some type of an environmental stress that sets it off. But, you know, back to the asthma example. You've got...
You know, you can't make asthma go away-- you're born with it, you have it, it runs in families.
But if somebody smokes in the home, it will aggravate it, umm, and if you don't take your medicines, it will aggravate it. So there are environmental factors as well, whether you're talking about depression or asthma.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] When we're talking about some these, umm, environmental factors, I wanted to ask Dr. Moskos about the groups that are vulnerable. What are the--the groups that are particularly vulnerable, I guess.
[DR. MOSKOS] In research, groups are broken down often times in demographic factors-- age, sex. And what we found more predominately in the Utah Youth Suicide Study is that the group that's most vulnerable is the group that's socially isolated, and social isolation can occur for several different reasons. It can be for ostracization. It can be because they don't have the communication skills or relationship skills to interact. Uh, it's not that they don't want to. It's just they don't know how to, and...
[DOUG FABRIZIO] I wanted to ask how it plays out for, you know, adolescents with sexual identity questions. Umm, you know, who may be gay or lesbian and don't quite know what to do with that information. They're being ostracized by their, you know, peer groups at school. How does that issue play out for--for that group? I wonder--they must be particularly vulnerable I would think.
[DR. MOSKOS] Having worked with gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer-questioning kids in Salt Lake City, in fact, we found that the youth were more at risk for suicide attempt, umm, than they were with suicide completion, and that they were struggling every minute of every day for someone to listen to them. And sometimes that is someone else who identifies, umm, sexually as gay or lesbian, but sometimes it's not. Uh, it's someone who will allow that person, that young person to be who they are, to be true to themselves and to be able to express themselves the way that's most natural for them.
[DR. GRAY] When you look at groups that are under stress, uh, kids who are gay for example, umm, they have higher rates of anxiety and depression and suicide attempts. But when you start looking at suicide completion, you're talking about 90 percent of those kids having a mental illness-- most commonly depression, but also bi-polar disorder, psychosis, uh, obsessive/compulsive disorder, those kinds of biological disorders.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Let's not forget, uh, Native American young people. I'm wondering-- that's a particularly vulnerable group too, I would think, feeling isolated, culturally and socially as well.
[DR. MOSKOS] Well, and there is, uh, more than one way to define Native American in Utah. We have Native Americans who live on the reservation and they're within the Utah state boundaries however, they really don't come into much interaction with, umm, the larger community. There are those on the reservation that do come into interaction through the juvenile courts or through schools or through other programs. And then we have, uh, Native Americans who live and they're dispersed throughout our community. I think again that it's a lack of finding a place where they fit. Umm, I think that that's... It's--We want to-- We want to polarize and we want to make it really simple, as if we can just focus in and, umm, do something specific. And I think it's important to recognize each person's cultural background and cultural identity-- umm, the different, uh, races, ethnicities that blend and how they find a place in every day life. I think it's their inability to find a place in every day life that can be a challenge.
[GREG HUDNALL] I think that's important for us all to remember, especially parents, because we dealt with a junior high student that fit that-- those demographics. Not, uh... More isolation, feeling left out. He was dealing with depression and other things and had been receiving help off and on, but had withdrawn completely from his support group and from the rest of the students, and had been made fun of by other students, etc., and really felt that he was left with no options but to take his life. And so I think anytime someone feels that isolated and dealing with the depression, it's very difficult for that young person.
[DR. MOSKOS] Well, in fact, our research showed that, umm, almost 50 percent of, both females and males umm, under the age of 21 who had died by suicide, they actually did not have one friend we could interview. We interviewed parents and friends and siblings and aunts and uncles. We wanted to understand the minute-to-minute context of what led up to that event. What had, you know, happened two years ago so we could try to put together the puzzle of each young person's life. And when we-- when we looked at that, we were very surprised. You hear that, you know, females have no problems making friends, and so we expected actually that rate to be lower-- umm, that percentage to be lower for the females, and it wasn't. Umm, but what they did have in common was that they were isolated. If they had had friends, they didn't have those friends. If they, umm, they could have different friends, but it's... Then again, it depends on how you define "friend." It's the nature of the relationships, and I think that's what... We kind of look at labels naturally in our society and we look at boxes that we can put people in, and I think we have to start looking at people and we have to look at their thoughts and their feelings and, umm, make it okay for them, you know, to express their fears and that they don't know. You find that a lot. A lot of the high school kids have... They all have the same question, umm, but who is it that's gonna raise their hand.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Sherri, I want to get you involved in that conversation too.
Do you want to react-- react to this notion of being isolated and that--that sort of thing as well.
[SHERRI WITTWER] Well, I--I think it ties in with the stigma too-- what come first?
We know that people who are depressed and are dealing with mental illness feel isolated. But we also know that people feel isolated because of the stigma that tends to surround mental illness and the ways that we as a society deal with that. So a good portion of what we do at NAMI is to try and raise awareness about mental illness. What is it? And try and help eliminate the stigma that surrounds it, to encourage people to seek treatment, get help and know that they're not alone.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] How do you--How do you explain the fact that there is a stigma associated with it? Umm, what is that-- what is that stigma? It seems odd in a sort of... We regard ourselves as kind of more enlightened these days, but it's still a pervasive stigma, is it not?
[SHERRI WITTWER] It's-- It's very pervasive. We that, there again, families are suffering alone. They're suffering alone as they're trying to cope with a loved one who has a mental illness and trying to get them the services they need. They're alone. They don't share their pain. They don't share their experiences. If it was another illness, they would be receiving casseroles and help from their neighbors, but they're ashamed to share that. And, you know, there are... I think we just have a lot of myths associated with mental illness. What is it? We think it's because of a lack of character or a lack of willpower. It's the result of sin. There are a lot of things that we need to educate and help people understand that mental illnesses are biological brain disorders and they're illnesses like any other. But it's not...
[GREG HUDNALL] NAMI has a great commercial that I, umm, that we use a lot, and it shows three construction-- I think four construction workers, and they're sitting there and they're big and buff and they're steel workers. And it shows a gentleman off to the side and he opens his lunch box and he takes a couple of pills out, and I believe they're anti-depressants or whatever, and the other three buddies are sitting there, and one hits his buddy and says, "Look at John over there. "He's crazy. "He has to take pills." And then the one person looks at him and says, "But don't you take heart medication?" And then he turns to the other one and says, "Well, don't you take cholesterol medication?" And so it really helps you to understand exactly what Sherri's saying, but because he was taking anti-depressants, he's crazy, but everybody else is--is okay.
[DR. MOSKOS] You know, when we think about kids, uh, when I work with kids, one thing that I... The question that I pose to them is-- if you were going to call in sick, you would call in sick for the flu. You broke your leg... Uh, you don't really call in sick and say, "I'm battling my depression today." "I'm struggling with my bi-polar," or "My mania has acted up." That's not something that, you know, that would be perceived as within the norm or that... It's just not something that you do. You can't call in and... But you may have physical systems. You may have headaches and stomachaches, and so that's what the kids are calling in with. They're calling in with headaches, and I have stomachaches, and I have, you know, the anxiety is getting easier. But it's-- it's a different... It's the same as physical illness, but our culture doesn't recognize it as such.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] You know, Sherri, you mentioned that idea of it being regarded in some circles as sin, sort of underneath it all. Vicki Cottrell mentioned that in the piece we saw earlier. And I'm wondering, Dr. Gray, are religious leaders-- let me just sort of take that component of it-- are they aware enough of the questions to counsel it, to speak from, I guess, you know, podiums and congregations, umm, to deal with this question? Are they confronting it? Are they dealing with it, I guess?
[DR. GRAY] They're interested, and we have, in our community, put on clergy training, and we've invited religious leaders to come in and they show up and they learn, but we're just starting that process. I think it's gonna take a--a long time. I can tell you some-- some good news. The stigma is breaking down and I can... In simple ways you can sort of see it. Uh, I'll go to my kids' school or to a restaurant and one of my patients will be there, and years ago, of course, I wouldn't make eye contact or focus on my pa...
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Hmm, right.
[DR. GRAY] Now these kids are coming across the restaurant and say--saying, "Come meet my grandparents. "Come on over to the table and say hi." Or at school they come up and say hi to me and walk off, but, umm, I certainly respect their privacy and I don't expect them to do that, but they are. So that tells me the stigma's starting to break down. It's an important point to get out this evening resources for parents, and for young people as well.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Talk about that, would you? Maybe some of the signs, and where you go,
what you do.
[GREG HUDNALL] Well, I--I think one of the things we try to work with school teachers and counselors is to education the parents. You know, all of us go through trials and react to circumstances and things differently, but, you know, when you see your child acting differently and they're withdrawing themselves from their peers and you see them, you know, change in dress, and they're sleeping in and staying up all night and then sleeping in and not going to school. And then, probably the most critical one that we've learned from the last six or seven suicides we've been involved in is they're giving away their most prized possessions. We have a young man that gave a watch that his father had given to him at Christmas, and his most prized possession, and he gave it to his friend and said, "I'm not going to need this after tomorrow." So I think those are some of the things that as parents we can watch for.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] What else, Dr. Gray?
[DR. GRAY] Well, I think, uh, that question comes up about teen rebellion, and I think that you can look at the situation. If a teenager's having a limit set on them-- they want to go to a party, the parents are saying no. Uh, they yell, slam a door-- that's pretty normal. Uh, if they don't want to go out with their friends or the friends are noticing changes or their schoolwork's slipping-- they used to be a good student, now their grades are coming down. If they're isolating themselves, then you've got to be a lot more concerned than if you're just setting a limit and seeing a response, which is pretty normal.
[GREG HUDNALL] And Doug, don't you see over a period of time, that's, you know...
It's amazing-- we do the training and the presentations and the... Every middle school parent comes to me and says, "That's my child." And I say, "No, those are the stages "that children go through." And what I have found is it-- it's that longer period of time when they really withdraw. You know, the isolation may be 'cause they've lost a boyfriend or failed a test or they're embarrassed over something or something happened at school or with their peers, and then they come back. But it's that, over a period of time, that I start to get worried about that I tell parents,
"Maybe you need to seek professional help, "and, you know, get some support that way."
[DR. MOSKOS] I think it's important to recognize that with kids and parents and teachers, that they're also people struggling possibly with mental illness. And so when we say seek professional help, what does that mean? Uh, a first good step, or actually the programs that the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill offers-- they have a bridges program and they have a family-to-family program so that if you're the person struggling with the illness, whether you're the kid or the parent or you're a teacher, you know, despite what your role is at that time, it comes back to your illness, and--and you're a person throughout all of those things. And so sometimes "professional help" doesn't necessarily translate into going to see a doctor. Of course, it should be complemented, you know, with seeing a psychologist or a psychiatrist to understand the diagnosis, but your biggest support will probably be coming together as a family.
[DOUG FABRIZIO] Okay. I'm grateful you could all join us. Thanks very much. And we thank you for joining us as well. It's a difficult subject, obviously, but it's important to talk about it. Once again, if you'd like a free resource packet, which includes a copy of tonight's program, you can call 585-LINK to find out more information. You can also visit the program's website at kued.org. For KUED, I'm Doug Fabrizio. Good night.
[ANNOUNCER] Voices of Hope is made possible by Sound Partners for Community Health-- a program of the Benton Foundation, with support provided by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson foundation. Additional funding is provided by Norman and Barbra Tanner, the Ester Foundation in partnership with Countrywide Loans, the Robert D. Kent Jr. Charitable Trust Fund and the contributing members of KUED. Thank you.