Survey: Local youth suicide attempts up

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 25, 1999

A survey of ninth-graders revealed last year’s local freshman classes ranked fifth in the state for having attempted suicide.

Saturday, September 25, 1999

A survey of ninth-graders revealed last year’s local freshman classes ranked fifth in the state for having attempted suicide.

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The 1999 Minnesota Children’s Report Card states 16.5 percent of the county’s ninth-grader’s answered &uot;yes&uot; to the question, &uot;Have you ever tried to kill yourself?&uot;

The report card was released by Minnesota Planning, a state agency providing information about issues to policy-makers and the public.

Last year’s ninth-graders ranked high, but fell below top-ranked Nicollet County, with nearly a quarter of the south central Minnesota county’s students surveyed saying they have attempted suicide.

Local counselors and a county psychologist said the students aren’t revealing their attempts to them.

&uot;That seems high to me,&uot; said Wendy Walker, licensed psychologist and supervisor of Freeborn County’s Children’s Mental Health program.

&uot;We see a bit of it, but not that much,&uot; she said.

Still, she said some students might be more willing to admit to attempting suicide in an anonymous survey, rather than a counselor’s office.

&uot;It wouldn’t surprise me,&uot; she said.

Albert Lea High School Counselor Stephanie Shea said students are also more likely to confide in another student.

&uot;Kids can be secretive,&uot; she said, noting that many take a &uot;vow of silence&uot; when talking about issues like suicide.

&uot;It’s not frequent at all that I hear about it,&uot; she added.

Shea said classmates need to break that vow when it comes to such topics. She said they need to turn to counselors or other adults to get their friends the help they need.

&uot;I don’t think kids know who to go to,&uot; she said.

The school district offers a variety of resources for students suffering depression of feeling the need to harm themselves.

Likewise, Walker said the county offers ways to help.

The Mental Health Center can be reached at 377-5440 and provides services to all county residents.

Walker and Shea encouraged parents to also get involved if they think their children might be suicidal.

&uot;It’s certainly worth a call if people are worried about their children,&uot; Walker said.

Shea said her office is also available to concerned parents.

That contact is crucial for finding help, they say.

Jim Munyer, Southwest Junior High School counselor, agrees.

Although he can’t recall a suicidal student in the recent past, he said that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

&uot;I think it’s a high statistic,&uot; he said.

He said the nature of the survey could skew results, with children either being more honest or not taking it seriously.

&uot;It could run either way,&uot; he said.

All three counselors, however, said they take such numbers as a need to stay aware of any red flags.

Walker said one of the biggest signs of being suicidal for teens is the act of giving away their possessions.

&uot;Kids tend to do that more than adults,&uot; she said.

Other signs include long term depression, changes in eating and sleeping habits, violent actions and neglect of personal appearance.

Still, counselors say it’s hard to explain why local numbers of attempts are so high.

Walker said the local economy could have a large impact on the numbers.

&uot;That’s such a big deal for kids,&uot; she said, noting that the inability to buy certain clothes or other items will cause feelings of sadness.

As many families struggle with changes in welfare policies and low-wage jobs, Walker said children might feel added pressure.

Munyer said the county’s high teen pregnancy rate and teen’s high use of alcohol and drugs could also contribute to problems.

Shea agreed, noting that a mix of all those circumstances can lead to troubled feelings.

&uot;It seems there are a lot of kids living in conditions where I can see why they feel helpless,&uot; she said.

While the recent numbers of ninth-graders reporting suicide attempts rose in the 1999 report, from 12.5 percent in 1996, the numbers are going down for local senior classes.

Last year, 11 percent of Freeborn County seniors said they attempted suicide. Although it’s still above the statewide average of 9.9 percent, it was a drop from 14.5 percent three years ago.

In 1994, the children’s report card stated 15.6 percent of seniors had attempted suicide and 17.1 percent of ninth-graders had.