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Safety Report: Recognizing Signs of Suicidal Thinking

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According to a Virginia Department of Health study, 4,344 Virginians died at their own hands over a 5-year period - and 11 of those were kids or teens in central Virginia.    Youth suicide rates in Virginia are the lowest of any age group but they're also the fastest increasing.     

In this NBC29 Safety Report, counselors share the signs of suicidal thinking that could help you save someone's life. 

Jane Wiggins, the director of the Campus Suicide Prevention Center of Virginia, works with Virginia's colleges and universities to prevent student suicide. The center is a partnership between the state and James Madison University. Wiggins provides training and intervention to make campuses protective places.

Wiggins stated, "College students are at about half the risk of suicide compared to their age mates who are out in the working world or not in college."

The warning signs of suicidal thinking include changes in eating and sleeping habits, risky behaviors, dropping grades and a loss of interest in school or activities. 

Previous suicide attempts should raise a red flag. Wiggins says if someone starts to talk about going away or not having a future, it's time to get help.

"If somebody's talking about suicide, the people around them need to pay attention to that and do something with it," she said.

Cassie McDonnell, a Safe Schools/Healthy Students counselor at Albemarle County's Burley Middle School, says she hears that from students. "That sense of hopelessness about the future. Kids who feel like nothing's fun anymore, like they're not enjoying anything."

A student climate survey of middle and high school students in Charlottesville and Albemarle County found 10.7 percent of middle school students admit seriously considering suicide in the previous year; 11 percent of high school student said the same.

"That can be anywhere from ‘I'm sad and I don't really see a future for myself and I feel hopeless' to ‘yeah, I've been thinking about killing myself,'" McDonnell stated.

The Campus Suicide Prevention Center and the Safe Schools/Healthy Students program offer suicide intervention training for counselors and the community.

McDonnell encourages parents to avoid angry reactions and instead consult a professional counselor to come up with a plan. One of the most important responses you can have is to calmly communicate with a kid or teen who may be considering suicide and guide them to help immediately.

McDonnell said, "The most important thing is to keep the communication open between yourself and your child." It is communication that can save a life.

Wiggins says it's important for young people to feel connected - like they're a part of something bigger than their problems. 

"Most people who think about suicide don't so much want to die as they want to change or escape or relief," she stated. "When people get help, they usually get better. They usually stay safe. They usually get better. Most don't go back to that dark place again."