In Depth: A deadly trend

November 22, 2017 06:38 PM

It's an alarming trend in the Capital Region -- teens considering and attempting suicide. It's not a new problem, but one that's been getting significantly worse in several local communities. A courageous young woman wanted to share her personal story about suicide and depression with NewsChannel 13. We also investigated why suicide rates are climbing and what we all need to do to turn this trend around.

Emmy Farstad, 26, has plenty of reasons to be happy. She's engaged, has family and friends and pets she adores and is at the top of her college classes. None of this seemed possible when she was a teenager and tried to kill herself.

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She says she was ready to end it at two different times in her life.

The first time, Farstad was in high school. She attended Shenendehowa. Her parents had divorced and she'd been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her meds caused significant weight gain - and kids were merciless.

"Peers were very cruel and they made up rumors that I was pregnant, that I had died, that I had cancer – spreading these rumors. Once, I was hospitalized. I told a couple close friends and that spread like wildfire," she recalled.

Counseling helped Farstad through high school, but college was another challenge. Suicide seemed again like the answer.

"I just sat in bed crying and I just said, 'I can't do this,' and I just poured some pills in my hand, took them, swallowed them. The second that I swallowed them, I panicked and I said this is not what I want," she explained.

Over the past 10 years, the Capital Region has witnessed alarmingly high rates of suicide among teenagers -- rates significantly higher than the rest of the state. For example, from 2014 to 2015, the suicide mortality rate for people ages 15-19 for New York shrank from 6 to 5.8 percent. However, in Albany County, it swelled from 8.4 to 12 percent. In Montgomery County, it increased from 6 to 16.1 percent and in Saratoga County, it jumped from 14 to 21.1 percent. That's just successful suicides – not stories like Farstad's.

"They're terrified. Parents are terrified," explained Dr. Kerry Murray-Pertchik, the inpatient services director at Four Winds Hospital.

She works closely with several suicide prevention initiatives and says certain communities are driving the numbers.

"Particularly honing in on cities like Clifton Park and Saratoga, which tend to have higher rates of teen depression and attempted suicide - particularly in girls," pointed out Murray-Pertchik.

There are plenty of factors to consider – pressure from school work, sports, divorce, even a break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. However, those aren't exclusive to the current generation of teenagers. Cell phones and social media are.

"That's actually huge in terms of social media. There's no break from the social pressures as there was maybe when you and I were young. You'd go home and it could be a safe respite where you put some of that stress aside," explained Murray-Pertchik.

It's a stressor they're taking seriously at Shenendehowa.

"Social media is probably one of the biggest pieces right now that we hear comes into play a lot -- Instagram, Snapchat. This person is here doing this with this friend. I'm left out," explained Rebecca Carman, the director of policy and community development.

WEB EXTRA: Impact of social media and smartphones on teen depression and suicide

Carman also oversees school counseling programs. In addition, she's had her own experience with family members battling depression and considering suicide.  

"It's real. These issues are real to students," she pointed out.

Shenendehowa recently reconfigured its counseling services and created a student center.

"It's a place where students can feel safe and can go to, to have a conversation or reach out for help if they need to," assured Carman.

In just its first year, the center serving primarily grades 10-12, had 6,000 visits.

"There are students struggling on a weekly basis," noted Carman.

So how can you tell if there's reason to be concerned?

"A child may actually appear to be distractible - acting out behaviors, lots of irritability," explained Kerry Murray-Pertchik.

What can be done?

  • Look for changes in behavior. Is the child withdrawing from activities they used to enjoy?
  • Limit exposure to social media.
  • Set a time every night when your children hand over their phones and devices.
  • Check their browsing history. Kids considering suicide today tend to research it first.
  • Above all else, talk with your children -- even if they resist.

"They often will say, 'You're crazy. I'm not going to answer you. Everything is fine,'" acknowledged Murray-Pertchik.

"We have got to reduce the stigma attached to it, because kids, adults, we have adults that are suffering and they're afraid to talk about it," noted Carman.

Farstad is not afraid. Talking about it has been part of her recovery. That, and having someone who will listen.

"I think you have to create an environment for your kids, for your students, for your family, where they say, 'You know what, I'm supported here,' encouraged Farstad. "There are a lot of feelings that are dangerous, but the most dangerous feeling is feeling alone."

The National Suicide Prevention hotline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

There is also the Crisis Text Line for individuals who need support but prefer more anonymity. The free 24/7 text line is 741-741.


WNYT Staff

Copyright 2018 WNYT-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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