A Silent Epidemic: Teen Suicide - KATV - Breaking News, Weather and Razorback Sports

A Silent Epidemic: Teen Suicide

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by Heather Crawford

It's a silent epidemic, young Arkansans taking their own lives. Heather Crawford tonight investigates just how often it's happening and what's being done to prevent it.


Suicide is something we don't talk about a lot. But the statistics are staggering. Here in Arkansas one young person between the age 10 and 24 commits suicide every week. And for every one who dies one hundred others attempt suicide.


Alex Blackwood was known around the nation for his ability to train and perform with the American Quarter horse. The 19 year old UCA freshman seemingly had it all.


Steven Blackwood says, "An overachiever, beloved by all. Always the go to guy. Happy go lucky, never a concern in the world."


But then on an October day in 2009 his life came to a screeching halt. Alex committed suicide.


"It was devastation…A couple days before I visited with him and he said he wasn't feeling well. That he didn't want to get up in the morning and he couldn't sleep at night. We kind of laughed it off because that's a problem we all have. I really didn't think that much more about it."


Blackwood tried to make an appointment for his son to see a counselor, but says the wait at most places was between two to six months.


"I did manage to get a hold of a referral who was going to see him the day he actually died."


While his story is tragic, it's not an isolated case. Young people are taking their lives more often than you might expect. Suicide is the leading cause of death for white males in Southern states age 18 to 24 and it's the second leading cause of death for that same age group nationwide.


Shelby Rowe, Executive Director of the Arkansas Crisis Center says, "When you look at that statistic that every week in Arkansas 100 young people are making an attempt it is a silent epidemic. Nationally we lose 34,000 indivIduals to suicide ever year. That's bigger than the population of most of the towns in Arkansas."


 Rowe says we all need to pay more attention and know what to look for so lives can be saved. Some of the signs: depression, roller coaster moodiness, and substance abuse.


Rowe says, "It's also other things like your over achiever, perfectionist, students who have unrealistic high expectations for themselves are also at a high risk."


The push to raise awareness in Arkansas has an unlikely supporter. Actor Judge Reinhold who starred in the hit movies Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Beverly Hills Cop has taken on a new role. Since 2008 he has been an advocate for suicide prevention.


Reinhold says, "Statistically speaking every day in Arkansas someone dies by suicide and every hour of every day someone in Arkansas receives medical attention for a suicide attempt. That's really the main reason I got involved. These are avoidable deaths not like a terminal disease."


Reinhold, who lost someone close to him to suicide, first decided to get involved after learning about the number of Arkansas National Guard Soldiers taking their own lives. Since then he has helped produce public service announcements to let the public know about the Arkansas Crisis Hotline. The PSAs seem to be working. The volume of calls has gone up 30 percent.


Reinhold says, "The first thing I would say is you're not alone. That we have all suffered and no matter how great your suffering is it's so important to talk, and to not take all that anger on. Pick up the phone and talk to somebody."


If you don't feel like talking there is another option for help. The foundation set up in Alex Blackwood's memory has helped fund the state's first online emotional support system for suicide prevention. Arkansans can now anonymously reach out for help through their computer or text messaging.


Blackwood says, "It may be too late for me and my family but it's not too late for you and your children. It's not too late for your friends, for the other who are out there. It's imperative they realize the seriousness of depression and the fact that we don't discuss it. I believe it has to become a household word before we can gain the momentum that we need to even scratch the surface.">


Blackwood's mission now is to break the silence and help everyone realize just how common and treatable depression can be.


Reinhold says, "Don't ever underestimate the power of one person who believes in you, one person who really does care. It can save somebody's life."


The Arkansas Crisis Hotline is manned by trained professionals 24 hours a day. If you need to talk to someone call 1-888-crisis-2. You can get crisis help online from 4pm to midnight seven days a week at www.arcrisis.org.