Out of the Darkness

Preventing Teen Suicide

by laura tode

A scar running almost the entire length of Rayvan Bramble’s forearm reminds him every day of how precious life is. The scar is the evidence of an attempted suicide four years ago. He was 19, and it was a dark time in his life.

“I just didn’t care anymore,” he said.

Rayvan suffered from bouts of depression with spikes of mania, he experimented with drugs and over time, his ties to family and friends frayed. He had even spent some time in jail.

“I thought dying would be the best option because everything in my life was inevitably not going to change,” he said, remembering the emotions of that day.

Luckily, Rayvan’s girlfriend found him before he bled to death.

Now, the change he was sure would never happen, has come.

Rayvan lives in Miles City and works with the developmentally disabled. He’s studying to be a nurse and has a son. He’s being treated for bipolar disorder and someday hopes to work as a psychiatric nurse in a treatment center for children and teens. His future is bright.

“It’s remarkable how much can change in an instant,” he said.

Alarming statistics

Rayvan’s story is not out of the ordinary. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people in Montana, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)

Joan Nye, Chair of the Montana Chapter of the AFSP, said those statistics, while alarming, may be understated.

“There are many car accidents and unexplained deaths that are probably suicides, but won’t be called a suicide if there isn’t enough evidence,” she said.

Joan lost her teenage son to suicide 11 years ago, and has been advocating for suicide prevention and awareness for the past six years. She’s hoping to change those alarming statistics for Montana teens and adults.

About 8 percent of Montana high school students who took the Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2009 reported attempting suicide, and about 17 percent said they had suicidal thoughts.

Research suggests that girls are almost twice as likely to have thoughts of suicide, compared to boys. However, more boys die from suicide, likely because the means of suicide they chose are more lethal. Typically, girls choose drug overdose or cutting, while boys use guns, hanging or jumping from heights.

Link to mental illness

Studies have shown that although most depressed people are not suicidal, most suicidal people are depressed, and depression is fairly common among teens. About 27 percent of high school students who took the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey experienced symptoms of major depression, which is described as feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more to a degree that they stopped doing something they enjoy.

Other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and conduct disorder can also increase a teenager’s risk of suicide. And drug and alcohol use, which is often a way teens cope with feelings of depression, mood swings or anxiety, also increases their risk of suicide.

Normal hormonal changes in teens can trigger depression or it can be brought on by a traumatic or upsetting event. Mood disorders often first manifest in teens and young adults.

Rayvan’s experience follows that typical storyline. He was diagnosed with depression as a freshman, and later diagnosed as bipolar. His first attempt at suicide, which he described as “a cry for help” happened when he was a sophomore. He also went to in-patient drug and alcohol treatment while in high school.

Understanding depression

One of the greatest barriers to suicide prevention is the stigma associated with depression and mental illness. The hopelessness and desperation a depressed teen feels can be hard for adults to understand, but it’s important to remember that depression is a treatable illness like asthma or diabetes, Joan said.

“With depression, you can’t talk a person out of it, you have to listen and help them find treatment,” she added.

Because depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, it usually doesn’t go away on its own. However, most people who are treated for major depression find relief within a few months. Treatment can include medication or counseling or a combination of both.

“Most people who commit suicide don’t want to die, they just want to end the pain, whether that’s physical or mental,” Joan said.

As part of her work with the Montana Chapter of the AFSP, Joan teaches a free course for educators and youth leaders to help them recognize the symptoms of depression in teens and what to do to get them treatment. The program, which is called More Than Sad, includes lesson plans and a DVD for use in the classroom. Joan’s goal is to have the More Than Sad program used in every high school and middle school in the state.

When he thinks about his attempt at suicide, Rayvan can’t help but consider the blow his death would have been to his family and friends. He considers his child as he tries to imagine the grief and loss that everyone around him would have experienced if he had died.

“My whole world would fall apart without my son,” he said. SFM

Out of the Darkness Community Walk

Sunday, Sept. 19,

Veterans Park at 13th Street West and Poly Drive.

Check-in and program begins at 12:30 p.m. At 2 p.m., participants will walk about three miles together to raise funds for suicide prevention programs in Billings and the surrounding area. A shorter walking route is laid out as well.

The event, now in its seventh year, is sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and open to anyone who has lost a friend or family member to suicide or is concerned about suicide in the community. Participants can seek pledges as individuals or get together to raise money as part of a team. T-shirts and prizes will be offered.

The funding is used to provide suicide prevention programs and curriculum to educators, law enforcement and church and civic groups and to distribute free literature and DVDs for suicide prevention. The local chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention also hosts support groups for people who have lost a friend or family member to suicide.

For more information or to register for the walk, log on to www.outofthedarkness.org or call Joan Nye, event organizer, at 322-8587.