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Words matter, and it’s okay to get help

Last Tuesday, the unthinkable happened in Winterville — 12-year-old middle school student, Kayla Plotzke, died by suicide. Behind that tragedy, her family says bullying was the underlying cause. In the broader scheme of things however, Plotzke’s death is part of a rising tide of youth suicides in the United States.

According to an October brief from the National Center for Health Statistics, the latest data from 2017 ranked suicide as the second leading cause of death for Americans ages 10-24. The same data shows that the suicide rate for ages 10-14 declined from 2000 to 2007 before tripling in the ten years following, a 56% jump according to the Center for Disease Control.

It’s an alarming trend, and it’s not entirely clear why it’s happening. In Kayla’s case, and many others, bullying was to blame. Coupled with rising use of technology and social media among adolescents, one thing is clear — today’s generation is facing a new kind of bullying that is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and its playing a part in the overall trend of young people taking their own lives.

In the overall scheme of U.S. Health, suicide was the 23rd leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2017. Yet data from the National Institute of Health showed that suicide ranked 172nd in terms of federal research funding, receiving an estimated $111 million in the upcoming fiscal year. Suicide prevention, meanwhile, is estimated to receive about $59 million.

But the fact of the matter is we can’t wait for government-funded research to fix the problem. Preventing youth suicide, and suicide in general, requires us to look after our own. It requires a robust set of resources locally to ensure that people experiencing suicidal thoughts and taking potentially suicidal actions can get the help they need.

It means talking with our young people, and reminding them that the words they use, online or in person, can have real consequences. It also means telling our kids that it’s okay to reach out for help when they’re being bullied or put in a bad situation. We need to encourage them, and our fellow adults, to speak out and let them know that there are people willing to listen.

While you’re reading this article, take a pen and write down these two important phone numbers. The first, 252-940-6545, is the Beaufort County Schools Anonymous Tip Line, which can be used by parents and students to report violence, bullying, suicidal thoughts, abuse and harassment. Tips can also be reported online at www.beaufort.k12.nc.us. Please tell your kids it’s okay to ask for help.

The second number to write down is 1-800-273-8255. This is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It’s a powerful tool, staffed by trained counselors who are available to talk 24/7. If not for yourself, please save this number to share with a friend or loved one who might come to you in a time of crisis.

Suicide is an act that is often surrounded by stigma, and sometimes a sense of shame. But to address the problem, we have to break that down and remind those we love that it’s okay to talk.