For teens, social circle weighs heavily on mental state

‘Involved, engaged’ parents key to suicide prevention
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Who to call

Friends for Survival: For more information on this local support group for families and friends who have lost a loved one to suicide, contact Gail Beeman at (530) 269-0729.

Local suicide prevention crisis hotlines: (530) 885-2300 or (530) 265-5811

National suicide prevention crisis hotline: (800) 784-2433


One thing Hannah Olson’s father said he had been thankful for was that she had a friend who spoke up to get her the help she needed.

In the days since 14-year-old Hannah Olson committed suicide Saturday at her Auburn home, her father, Amos Olson, has been working to raise awareness about some of the issues she dealt with in hopes of preventing future tragedies.

Hannah had also attempted to take her own life two years ago, and before both attempts, she had a friend who spoke to a counselor and her family when she started noticing warning signs, Olson said.

“We emphasize how important it is for you to report a friend that says they’re feeling depressed and suicidal,” he said. “If you’re one of those individuals and recognize that thought process … get help, because there’s no shame in having those thoughts. The sad thing is if you don’t get help and have the same end that Hannah has.”

Nearly one million people attempt suicide every year, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.

Most people with mental illness do not die by suicide, according to the foundation.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 38,364 suicide deaths had been reported in 2010 – 274 of those had been children aged 4-14, the fewest amount of any grouping it reported. The next older age group, 15-24, had 4,600.

A person dies from suicide every 13.7 minutes in the United States, according to the CDC.

Dr. Florina Yuger, a clinical psychologist at Sutter Center for Psychiatry, said when it comes to a teen’s state of mind, social stressors outweigh those from family because typically they spend more time with peers and at school.

“Teenagers, a huge amount has to do with their social world, their social circle,” Yuger said. “Their primary support group is usually their friends.”

Sudden changes like breakups or a bad grade that adults may view as less of a burden can weigh more heavily on the minds of teens, she said, and bullying is another social issue she hears about a lot.

Identity development is fragile at that stage in life, and LGBT teens are a risk group for suicide, she said.

Substance abuse, dropping grades, disinterest in activities they usually enjoy, overeating or undereating, oversleeping or undersleeping, are some warning signs that should raise a red flag, Yuger said. A lot of these on their own can be normal in teens, so it’s important to evaluate it against their baseline behavior and personality, she said.

“Watching those things and having a place to talk and ask questions and check in, I think it’s really important,” Yuger said. “And if those things are being noticed, again, talk to your child, get professional help as well – whether it’s from a therapist or counselor or calling a help line, there’s so many out there.

“But definitely be involved, be aware and engage with your kids so that they don’t fall through the cracks.”

Gail Beeman of Auburn had her son take his life eight years ago, and she has been advocating suicide awareness, education and counseling ever since.

“The awareness I would like to see is people can talk about anxiety and depression openly without being stigmatized, and I think that’s the goal our groups would like to get into the schools so that it’s not a bad word,” said Beeman, who is involved with Friends for Survival, a support group that meets monthly at 6:30 p.m. every third Thursday at Valley Springs Presbyterian Church in Roseville.

“If you say someone is taking antidepressants, right away there is a stigma.”

As someone who has gone through grieving for a family member lost to suicide, Beeman said community support can have great healing power. Support groups can be a haven for those feeling ostracized because of their ordeal, she said.

“People avoid them,” Beeman said of families coping with a suicide. “People don’t know what to say, and all you need to do is treat it the same way as if they’ve been killed in a car accident, but unfortunately, people don’t.”


Jon Schultz can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews