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Shaler Area to host suicide education presentation for parents

| Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017, 10:12 a.m.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 24, according to Jennifer Sikora, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Western Pennsylvania chapter area director.

Even well-meaning parents might not have enough education about suicide's risk factors or warning signs, she said in a statement. The foundation will present “More than Sad: Suicide Education for Parents” 7 to 8:15 p.m. Nov. 9 at Shaler Area Middle School.

“It can be a very scary topic for parents to talk about mental health and suicide prevention in young adults and teenagers,” Sikora said. “So part of the presentation is really helping them to understand and break down what they need to know as parents.”

The free seminar will help parents understand increased risk factors and warning signs for suicide, mental illness treatment myths and ways to encourage someone to start and maintain treatment. The session also will provide guidance for parents on how to handle bullying and exposure to social media content and the Netflix drama “13 Reasons Why.”

According to Sikora, a child could appear fine one year but start to show symptoms the next. Parents should watch for symptoms in the areas of talk, behavior and mood.

In the talk category, Sikora said those contemplating suicide might mention wanting to end or hating their lives or lacking hope.

“In young people they might share that type of talk via social media or via messaging to their friends more than they might through in-person face-to-face communication, so parents should keep an eye on the types of content that their young people are sharing,” she said.

Behavioral changes include the following: depleted energy, a lack of motivation to fulfill obligations like schoolwork or participate in activities he or she previously enjoyed, reckless actions, use of alcohol or drugs to cope and appetite changes.

“And sometimes mental health issues like depression and anxiety can start to create other health issues. Like, for example, someone who is having extreme anxiety might start to have stomach problems or chronic nausea or sleeplessness.”

“Having a bad day or a bad couple of days is normal and getting anxious from time to time is normal, too. But what you want to look for in terms of mood is: Is that excessive, and is that over a period of two weeks or longer?”

Stigma is one of the biggest barriers for young people accessing suicide prevention treatment, Sikora said.

Adults can help by taking mental health issues seriously.

“If your child had chronic headaches for several weeks or chronic stomach problems for several weeks, there typically would not be hesitation to take them to a doctor, to their pediatrician to get evaluated. The same is true here. If your child appears to have a change in mental health, persisting over several weeks or longer, there should not be hesitation.”

She said parents also can offer their children hope that things will eventually improve. She said that, like with most other illnesses, mental health treatment is a process requiring patience; the best thing one can do is get evaluated and start treatment.

Sikora said that young people in crisis may text any message to 741-741 to have a Crisis Text Line counselor respond, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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