07/18/2018 — Atlanta, Georgia — Vernon Keenan, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, speaks during a press conference held at the GBI headquarters in Decatur, Wednesday July 18, 2018. The press conference was held to introduce a public service announcement aimed at advising parents on how they can work to help prevent youth suicides in Georgia. Standing with Director Keenan was Sakema Harmom, Assistant Division Director of Field Operations, (left) Teressa Stann (second from left) Cheryl Benefield, of the Department of Education, (second from right) and Walker Tisdale, Director of Suicide Prevention at Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (right). (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

With youth suicide on the rise, outreach targets parents

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is rolling out a new public service announcement aimed at combating a rise in youth suicides. The video features parents and other family members of young people who either took their own lives or attempted to.

“We’ve had children 6 years old commit suicide,” GBI Director Vernon Keenan said in the PSA unveiled Wednesday. “They’re in the GBI morgue to be autopsied. What a tragedy. A grade school child commits suicide?”

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in the nation for people between the ages of 15 and 19, according to the CDC. Since the beginning of 2018, 23 youths under the age of 17 have taken their lives in the state.Within the past five years, there have been 211 — all of which were autopsied by the GBI’s Medical Examiner.


RELATED: Juvenile suicides show sharp increase

RELATED: CDC says suicides up in Georgia


The number of suicide attempts might be quadruple that, Keenan said. The GBI estimates that for every death by suicide there are 25 attempts. That’s based on the volume of hospitalizations each year.

07/18/2018 — Atlanta, Georgia — Vernon Keenan, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, speaks during a press conference held at the GBI headquarters in Decatur, Wednesday July 18, 2018. The press conference was held to introduce a public service announcement aimed at advising parents on how they can work to help prevent youth suicides in Georgia. Standing with Director Keenan was Sakema Harmom, Assistant Division Director of Field Operations, (left) Teressa Stann (second from left) Cheryl Benefield, of the Department of Education, (second from right) and Walker Tisdale, Director of Suicide Prevention at Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (right). (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

The GBI partnered with Voices for Georgia’s Children, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the state departments of Education, Human Services and Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to produce a series of PSA’s.

The first was aimed at encouraging children to help other children. The latest PSA targets parents. It shows adults sharing their experiences with loved ones and suicide.

That’s an important first step, according to Child Fatality Review program director Trebor Randle. Historically, organizations have avoided using the word “suicide” out of an abundance of caution to prevent copycat suicides. But that won’t fix this issue, Randle contended.

“If we don’t start talking about this, we will see an increase in these numbers,” Randle said.

Teressa Stann, founder of the LRJ Foundation, a local nonprofit which focuses on suicide prevention, agrees. 

07/18/2018 — Atlanta, Georgia — Teressa Stann speaks about her experience with youth suicide during a press conference held at the GBI headquarters in Decatur, Wednesday July 18, 2018. Stann’s brother committed suicide more than 5 years ago. The press conference was held to introduce a public service announcement aimed at advising parents on how they can work to help prevent youth suicides in Georgia. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

In 2011, Stann lost her brother Louie Ruspi to suicide. She said he was “the world’s greatest actor” — neither his friends nor his family knew the extent of his emotional duress.\

Walker Tisdale, Director of Suicide Prevention at the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, said focusing on “protective factors” is also an important part of suicide prevention. He urges parents to look for warning signs — such as social isolation — in their children’s behavior that could indicate they are considering some form of self harm.

“If you have a young person at home with 10,000 Facebook friends, but only one real friend, that’s a problem that we want to invert,” he said.

07/18/2018 — Atlanta, Georgia — Walker Tisdale (left), Director of Suicide Prevention at Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, speaks during a press conference held at the GBI headquarters in Decatur, Wednesday July 18, 2018. The press conference was held to introduce a public service announcement aimed at advising parents on how they can work to help prevent youth suicides in Georgia. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

But one of the most vital parts in prevention is developing a support system, Cheryl Benefield said. Benefield, who is the Family and Community Engagement Specialist at the Department of Education’s Project AWARE, found out about her son’s plans to attempt suicide before it was too late, and she hopes that opening dialogue will help other parents and educators to do the same.

The Department of Education held a series of summits last years to help educators recognize signs that a student might be under duress. It’ll be hosting four more trainings this year in response to schools that have asked for more training, Benefield said.

“I encourage educators to be that person for your children,” she said. “Be that person who a child can turn to. Be the person.”

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