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    Erin Trojovsky creates a chalk drawing of Marie Curie outside the University Memorial Center in 2008. Trojovsky was one of several artists participating in the Don't Erase Your future suicide prevention campaign, which showcased historic figures who tried to commit suicide. Photo by Tyler Walton/Camera

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    Participants at a Highlands Ranch Out of the Darkness suicide walk look at photos and cards for loved ones. University of Colorado-Boulder student Kayla McFadden lost her friend David King to suicide at Highlands Ranch High School and organized an Out of the Darkness walk on campus last spring. Courtesy photo


Get help

CU mental health, available 24 hours a day: 303-492-6766 and press 2

Counseling and Psychological Services: https://counseling.colorado.edu/

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Suicide Statistics

– 38,364 suicides in 2010 (most recent data available)

– Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for Americans

– Someone dies by suicide roughly every 13.7 minutes in America

– Young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 10.5 (per every 100,000 people)

Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

University of Colorado-Boulder junior Kayla McFadden still remembers every detail of the day suicide came into her life.

That’s why she organized the Out of the Darkness Walk on CU’s campus last spring. She hoped to raise awareness about suicide and depression, and make students and faculty members more aware of the warning signs that someone might be feeling depressed or contemplating suicide.

McFadden’s good friend, David King, took his life when they were juniors at Highlands Ranch High School.

Now at CU, McFadden is still healing but wanted to take action and help prevent more deaths by suicide, especially among young people.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 38,364 suicides were reported in 2010, which means someone died by suicide ever 13.7 minutes. Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death that year, according to the foundation.

By talking about suicide in public at the walk, McFadden said she hoped to reduce some of the stigma around suicide, mental illness and depression. She wants CU students and others to know that asking for help is OK, and that suicide or depression shouldn’t be a secret anymore.

“College campuses can be so big and so broad and deaths do happen,” she said. “It kind of gets pushed under the rug a little bit and no one really talks about it.”

With pressure to find a job, student loans, homework and relationships, McFadden said she wants students to know where to go when they need help. Social media especially can wreak havoc on the lives of young people, she said. In a highly publicized case earlier this month, a California teen took her life after allegedly being sexually assaulted and having the photos posted online.

“Especially at our age and with social media where it’s at, we need to realize what we’re dealing with,” McFadden said. “There’s so much more pressure, so much more stress. We need to realize there are things we can do, places we can go.”

CU Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) psychologist Glenda Russell said college can be an extremely difficult transition for young people. The CAPS office sees more than 1,000 students each year for a number of reasons, Russell said, including struggles with being away from home, stress from schoolwork, being lonely and other reasons. Mental illness, stress and depression affects more people than we know, she added.

After David’s death in 2009, McFadden said she developed a close relationship with his mom, Sheri Cole, who now heads the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Colorado chapter. Both women decided to take an active role in preventing more deaths by suicide after losing David. Cole has organized several walks in Colorado, including one in their hometown of Highlands Ranch.

“There’s a healing aspect to (the walk),” Cole said. “You come together and see that other people have been impacted, and you feel less alone. You realize through education and awareness and being able to talk, it truly is an illness. It makes you feel like you’re able to do something that’s proactive to make a difference.”

Recognizing and reacting to signs of suicide

Cole and McFadden both say they wish they would’ve paid closer attention to changes in David’s behavior in the months leading up to his death.

“I kind of felt like something wasn’t quite right, but I had people tell me, ‘That’s normal teenage hormones,'” Cole said. “I wish I knew what I know now.”

Signs of depression or suicidal thoughts can include weight gain or loss, changes in sleeping patterns, lack of interest in normal hobbies or activities, feeling restless or slow and many others, Cole said. She added that many teens won’t go to their parents first, so it’s important for friends and peers to be vigilant and make note of changes in their friends’ behavior.

CU psychologist Russell said in addition to behavioral changes, often people will drop hints like “I’m feeling really bummed out” or “I’m feeling overwhelmed.”

If you notice these signs, Russell said, it’s important to validate the person’s feelings and not brush them off as something that will pass. Don’t try to explain the feelings away, or chalk them up to it being finals week or a bad breakup, she said. Say the feelings make sense, she said.

She recommended talking to your friend, asking directly how he or she is feeling or if he or she is having suicidal thoughts, and then advocating for therapy or counseling if your friend admits to being depressed.

Emphasize the fact that asking for help isn’t a weak or cowardly thing, she added. Most important, try to get help for your friend as soon as possible.

“You can say, ‘I’ve seen a therapist and found it helpful,’ or ‘I’ll walk with you over to the counseling center right now,'” Russell said.

–Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.

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