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Alarming increases seen in youth calling suicide prevention hotlines

Mental health
Posted at 8:28 AM, Nov 01, 2021

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - News 3 has been working on a series about youth suicide and what is done to help kids suffering from mental health.

Alyssa Pentz was standing just inches from her first love, David McClung, when she witnessed him pull out a gun and shoot himself.

Suicide is a rampant problem impacting too many young people across the country.

According to the CDC, it is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15-19 years old. The first leading cause of death is due to accidents.

“We were arguing about something and he took out a gun,” said Pentz.

She said he threatened suicide and seemed unstable.

She said it wasn't the first time she was put in this position around him.

“I was just not phased by it and then he actually did it, so it’s important to take people seriously when they say those things,” said Pentz.

On that day in 2014, 19-year-old MuClung’s words turned into actions.

Pentz watched as he tragically took his own life.

Prior to the shooting, Pentz said she was worried McClung would pull the trigger if she called for his mom who was downstairs.

“I was just kind of thinking that if I didn’t call her, he wouldn’t do it. He did,” Pentz.

Deana McClung was heartbroken by the devastating loss of her son.

“Literally seeing his lifeless body on the floor literally brought me to my knees and I’ve been feeling like I’ve been trying to stand up ever since,” said McClung

They called 911 but it was too late. Pentz said they were all questioned by police.

David had dreams of being a rockstar and a funeral director.

His mom said he was emotional but a good kid. Her grief has been unbearable at times.

“The guilt and anger and confusion, the simple fact that your world is devastated but you see the rest of the world going on usual,” said McClung.

Unfortunately, that level of grief is felt by many families in Virginia.

News 3 obtained the following numbers from the Virginia Medical Examiners Office:

Suicides among the 10 to 19-year-olds in the state of Virginia:

2015: 56 suicides
2016: 68 suicides
2017: 68 suicides
2018: 84 suicides
2019: 66 suicides
2020: 87 suicides
2021: 54 suicides----This is preliminary and incomplete.

Suicides of residents of Hampton Roads from 10 to 19-year-olds by year:

2017: 17 suicides
2018: 10 suicides
2019: 14 suicides
2020: 17 suicides
2021: 8 suicides—The number is preliminary and incomplete.

They said in 2021, for the first time in 15 years they confirmed a suicide among a child under 10 years of age.

In 2020, 87 kids statewide committed suicide.

What's also concerning is the increase in the number of kids calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in Virginia especially under the age of 12.

The total calls from January to September for children 12 and under:

2019: 24
2020: 33
2021: 81

Total calls from January to September for children 13-17:

2019: 249
2020: 396
2021: 1598

The nonprofit Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services works with the government to provide mental health resources in the state of Virginia.

Program Director Laura Mayer said previously they would get a handful of calls a month, but said the number of calls has increased.

They said the data from PRS CrisisLink shows the calls from children under the age of 12 have increased 143% in the past year, and the calls from adolescents ages 13-17 have increased over 300%.

They said while these statistics could mean increased awareness and marketing, especially since kids were sent a lot of resources when schools were closed to familiarize them with the Lifeline and local crisis hotline numbers, the real statistic of concern is how many of these young people are experiencing family violence (26%) and how many are experiencing active thoughts of wanting to end their lives (39%).

“Young people are feeling stress at home, feeling stress with the pandemic, feeling stress with social distancing and that's leading them to feel trapped and that leads to suicidal thoughts, so we are seeing what everyone else is seeing higher stress,” said Mayer.

She said what’s troubling more than the numbers is what the kids say when they call or text the Lifeline – especially since they’ve been back in school this year.

“The difference now is it's not just, ‘I don't want to be here tomorrow'. It's a wish to be dead and it's a wish to act on that and so we have individuals, very young individuals who have thought about plans for how they would complete their death and that's really where we start to get very concerned,” said Mayer.

The concern over the youth and increase in the numbers is what drives Deana McClung to now volunteer and work as an advocate for suicide prevention.

“Helping others is a big part of my healing,” said McClung.

“Mental illness is not who the person is. It’s not like any other sickness. They just need to be treated,” said Pentz.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 800-273-8255.

They say it’s important for parents to get help themselves when dealing with this.

Here are links with more information and resources:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

CDC: Facts about Suicide

What Parents Need to Know