Lines for Life advises how to talk to kids about suicide

Human Interest

How to support kids through a grieving period

Lines for Life Chief Operating Officer David Westbrook. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The death by suicide of a fourth-grader at Holcomb Elementary School in Oregon City has sent shock waves through the community.

While the school is providing psychologists and counselors to support their students, we reached out to Lines for Life to learn the best way to speak to kids about death and suicide.

Chief Operating Officer at Lines for Life David Westbrook said it’s rare to hear of a suicide of a child so young, but not a completely new phenomenon. Most suicide prevention plans are for youths age 10-24, Westbrook said.

“The closer you get to college age the more likely you are to die by suicide,” he said.

Westbrook said students at the school will have a serious grieving period and that the adults in the community will need to support them.

“Really at this point what we want to do is wrap our arms around those students and come and help them process this grief and obviously for anybody this young it’s going to be something they haven’t experienced before,” he said.

Westbrook said the big emotions are even larger for youth.

If you or someone needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

“If young people have an opportunity to process their feelings, and see hope on the horizon, we can save a lot of lives,” he said.

As for warning signs to look out for in suicide prevention, Westbrook said there is no one thing, rather typically a number of things that compound.

“A bad day becomes a bad week becomes a bad month,” he said. “It can be hard with a kid to know what’s going on.”

He cautioned that young people haven’t had the life experience of an adult and a bad day or moment can easily trigger them. He said they need to connect with a trusted adult in their lives.

“If you see someone who is struggling, ask them who is meaningful in their life and who they would feel comfortable talking to and facilitate a conversation happening there,” he said.

Help is 3 digits away

The Associated Press reports federal regulators are setting up a new three-digit number to reach a suicide prevention hotline in order to make it easier to seek help and reduce the stigma associated with mental health.

Once it’s implemented, people will just need to dial 988 to seek help, similar to calling 911 for emergencies or 311 for city services. Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (8255). Callers are routed to one of 163 crisis centers, where counselors answered 2.2 million calls last year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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