PENDLETON – A Maple Ridge sixth-grader took the microphone and shared her heart-wrenching experience of considering suicide two years ago.
“I was scared to ask my parents for help. How can I get through life without these negative feelings?” she asked tearfully.
Her question was for Jenna Scott, whose 14-year-old son Hudson Scott committed suicide more than three years ago.
“If you trust your parents, I strongly encourage you to tell them. If that's not an option, talk to an adult at school,” Scott said. “I know it's hard. I've been in your shoes. I know it's horrible, but it does get better, I promise you.”
Scott, who founded Brownsburg-based Project Hudson with her husband, Wesley Scott, was at Pendleton Christian Church to share her story and dispense suicide prevention advice for parents and students at a program titled “It Is Okay to Not Be Okay.” The hundreds of people who came far exceeded the 26 that previously had been her largest audience, she said.
“If a child expresses mental health concerns, we as parents, we as friends, we as community members should know the next steps,” she said.
Juvenile suicide is on the minds of parents and students in Madison County and the surrounding area following the high-profile deaths of students at Highland Middle School in Anderson and Shenandoah High School in Middletown. However, the program originally planned by the church to talk to girls about social media recently was expanded because of concern surrounding the incidents.
Maj. Joey Cole of the Madison County Sheriff's Department said in speaking with the county coroner, he learned the county had 28 adults and juveniles who died by suicide in 2017 and 26 in 2018.
Scott described her son Hudson as a gentle giant who had come out as bisexual and had been bullied for it at Brownsburg High School. She said most people attempt suicide an average of 25 times before they are able to complete it, and shortly before his death, Scott learned Hudson had tried at least once.
Scott admitted missing many of the signs of trouble.
“We had no idea he was using alcohol to sleep. He was searching online for (suicide) methods. He started going to bed when we did instead of staying up. He went from listening to pop music to listening to sad, emotional music,” she said.
Several audience members said they believe the issue of teen suicide is serious enough that it should be considered part of the mandated health class.
Mike Taylor, director of counseling at Pendleton Heights High School, told the audience the district has partnered with Centerstone Health to provide a class segment on suicide prevention.
“As a corporation, we see it, we know it and we try to take corrective steps,” he said.
South Madison schools also offer the Bully Box, where students can leave anonymous messages for staff, Taylor said. Those are advertised on the school's website and occasionally during school announcements, he said.
Taylor said parents also need to have courageous conversations with their children about their feelings.
“You have to be prepared for the answer. And if you think you're prepared, you better practice again,” he said. “Is it going to hurt? Is it going to knock you off your feet? Absolutely.”
Scott offers the following advice for parents to help keep tabs on their children and any possible mental health concerns:
• Don't feel guilty about invading their children's privacy by going through their phones, belongings and social media. Note the content your child posts, check their followers and those they follow for people and organizations that have damaging ideologies and note the posts they “like.”
• Whether or not you have reason to suspect a problem, periodically ask directly whether your children are considering or ever have considered suicide. A prime time to bring it up, she said, is when it happens in their school or community.
• “Do not debate the value of life. Do not minimize their problems. Refrain from giving them advice,” she said. Just be available to listen.
If there appears to be a potential for suicide, Scott said, lock away anything that can be used to carry it out, including children's aspirin.