CASTLE ROCK, Colo.—The first hint that something was wrong last week came when parents in this picturesque town just south of Denver received emails from the local middle and high schools advising them to check and double-check their teens for the warning signs of suicide, due to recent “incidents” at both schools.
While the school district declined to provide more information on the incidents, interviews with students at the school revealed that three teenagers—maybe more—tried to commit suicide and one, a 13-year-old, eighth-grade girl, was in critical condition. The middle school library remained closed for two days as school and district mental-health teams turned the room into a giant counseling center for students. Administrators told students that “real friends” inform an adult if they think a friend is struggling with suicidal ideation or self-harm, such as cutting. Some tear-stained teens voluntarily asked for help. Counselors pulled other students from class to be interviewed after friends reported them. Over the weekend, the middle school principal sent an email to the parents announcing the eighth grader’s death.
National teen suicide rates have been on the rise since 1999. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports suicide is now the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, accounting for 20 percent of all annual deaths in that age group. For even younger children, between the ages of 10 and 14, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death, according to TeenSuicideStatistics.com.
One of the most troublesome trends is the rise of “suicide pacts,” an agreement between two or more people to commit suicide together. Several Castle Rock students and a local church email said as many as 17 girls might have been involved in the pact that ended with the three attempts. The school district would not confirm or deny the pact as the investigation is ongoing, said Michelle Yi, the public information officer for Douglas County.
Bill Freund, youth pastor at Grace Chapel in Castle Rock, has spent more than 25 years reaching out to struggling teens. At last week’s youth group meeting, Freund addressed the issue and told the students only God could give them hope, no matter what they were going through. Then his cell phone “blew up.”
“I was getting all kinds of texts from students: some saying, ‘I’ve had suicidal thoughts,’ others asking how to help a friend considering suicide,” Freund said. “And others who were just sad and felt helpless about how to talk to their friends about the situation.”
Freund said the biggest problem is that no matter the reason for considering suicide, students come to believe the “destructive narratives” running through their minds. Many secular programs try to treat these negative thoughts with self-esteem building programs.
But Freund sees a flaw in that approach: “Self-esteem is based on self. So, what if my ‘self’ isn’t doing so well? I need something that is steady no matter where I’m at. Students need something that will give them a true identity and a true narrative: That only comes from Christ.”