HEALTH

Va. mother pushes to break the silence around teen suicide

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WASHINGTON D.C. (WJLA)- Weeks before 15-year-old Ethan Griffith took his life last spring, his mother Gayle Griffith thought that slipping grades and sleeping later were typical for teenagers.

"I didn't know he was depressed, and they didn't either, and [his friends] still don't understand it." she says.

In an essay for his psychology class, Ethan confessed to suicidal thoughts after his Dad died from a heart attack the previous year. Gayle found the confession in his backpack after Ethan ended his life.

"Two weeks after he died, I was just angry at everything. And I started to study mental illness and depression. I couldn't believe it was the third leading cause of death in teenagers. I had no idea. No one talks about that."

Although there are many clinics out there to help mentally depressed teenagers, Dr. Rick Leichtweis, the Director of Inova Kellar Center, says the biggest problem is the overwhelming number of teenagers who need help.

"We don't have enough seats in outpatient and beds in psychiatric hospitals," he says,  "just today, we had a child and there was no bed in the state to go to."

The demand for mental health intervention is growing. In the last three years at Dominion Hospital in Falls Church, they've seen a 75% increase in teens, and a 25% increase in 5- to 12-year olds, needing to be hospitalized for exhibiting suicidal or homicidal behavior.

Griffith wrote to her neighbors, urging them to start a community conversation to break the silence that surrounds suicide. She and numerous health professionals agree that parents must talk with their teenaged children about stress, depression, and suicide.

Two Woodson High School parents took Griffith's concerns to heart and founded the group "Community of Solutions." Adults and teens meet monthly to help build a culture of trust, create a safety net, and engender resilience among adolescents.

Community of Solutions and Griffith have met with FCPS officials to improve mental health awareness in the school setting. On June 1st, Woodson High School, where six teens died of suicide in the last three years, and Langley High School, where two teens died of suicide this year, will become the first schools in the county to have access to the suicide prevention hotline CrisisLink by text. Also, FCPS plans to pilot a program at Woodson to train all teachers to identify the signs of depression and suicidal tendencies in students.

"We need to talk about it more. Brain illness or depression or anxiety ... And not to be ashamed. Then maybe families could talk and kids wouldn't be bottling things up and exploding."

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