Reno High School senior Sydney Menante lost a friend to suicide during her freshman year as COVID-19 changed a sense of normalcy for most teens. She decided then she didn’t want other friends going down the same path.
With her mother serving with the organization Hope Means Nevada to empower teens like her in a crisis, Menante chose to help on its teen committee and in time, she found a way to connect with others to provide the support they’d need in their struggles.
“I was the only person representing the north (part of Nevada),” she said. “I helped educate the teens on how to promote mental wellness. They listen to the teens. They research and hear what they want to say, and that’s how they go into the schools and introduce mental health resources.”
Representatives from Northern and Southern Nevada met virtually Jan. 17 for Hope Means Nevada’s (HMN) third statewide youth mental health discussion on the challenges in eliminating teen suicide.
Sara Clow, representing the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, said the gathering brought a number of thought leaders who could help push out the message and collaborate more effectively.
“We want to cross-pollinate and … in this case, it is helping the youth because we are seeing a significant shift in things happening in the teen population,” she said. “I would like to see us expand. There’s still a lot going on out there.”
Addison Clark, a teen committee member for HMN and senior at Sage Ridge School in Reno, which serves grades three through 12, said she became involved with the nonprofit because of Menante. Clark lost a friend in the seventh grade due to suicide and said she began exploring mental health issues as a middle school student. Clark said teens often don’t know how to deal with the emotions they face and worry nothing changes if they confront an adult about them.
“When Sydney reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to be a part of this, I said of course because she’s amazing and I really just wanted to be able to make an impact and knowing that I struggle with my own issues and knowing that I can be a voice for other students who struggle was amazing,” Clark said.
Experts shared their experiences seeking access to mental health resources or sharing with young people how to speak out in a crisis, such as suicide ideation, in a safe environment.
The event cited information from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and HMN, both of which have offices in Reno and Las Vegas. Student committee members were invited to speak about their experiences trying to help friends who committed suicide or had struggled with mental health issues at school and sought access to resources.
Richard Egan, suicide prevention training and outreach facilitator in the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health’s Office of Suicide Prevention, said the most recent data available indicates there were 48,183 suicide deaths in the United States in 2021, an increase of 4.8% over the previous year. Nevada had the ninth highest rate for the same year at 691 suicide deaths and was up 14.6%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Association of Suicidology.
Most agreed for anyone contemplating suicide or harming themselves needed safe supports or environments to fully communicate thoughts or feelings with someone they trust.
Keeli Killian, Washoe County School District middle school counseling specialist, said for teens, accessibility to other friends is one of the most important resources to offer in a crisis.
“One thing we’re hearing over and over again is to ask teens who they would go to,” Killian said. “They can name teachers or mental health professionals, but if we ask them, ‘What if you had a friend to go to?’ they would go to them right away. Teens seem more willing to access a friend.”
Nevada also saw an increase in teen and young adult suicides in 2021. For 12- to 17-year-olds, the state was 13th in the nation with a 22.22% increase, and among 18- to 24-year-olds the state was sixth nationally, up 27.4%. Firearms were used in approximately 60% of these suicides, which went down by 11%.
Questions throughout the day concerned eliminating the stigmas with even expressing feelings on the subject itself, Clow said.
“Teen suicide is not something anybody wants to know about, anybody wants to read about, anybody wants to hear about, but hearing teens talk about losing a friend and feeling like nobody cares that that friend has been lost is devastating to hear and that’s probably one of the things that has impacted me the most,” she said.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline number is the three-digit dialing code 988 or you can text “Home” to 741741 to reach the National Crisis Text Line.
Home Means Nevada is available online at www.hopemeansnevada.org and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
“People need to not be afraid to say the word ‘suicide,’” Clow said. “It is not a disease. It is not going to be contagious. I think parents and adults are afraid if the conversation happens or if there is any inkling of it that it is going to plant a seed, when the case is quite the opposite. Make sure you’re having the conversation to uncover the feelings and then follow through on what those feelings are and making sure you’re being real with them.”