After recent deaths, parents asking teens about suicide

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (WUSA9) -- In the past month, four teenage boys from Fairfax County high schools have committed suicide, devastating their families and friends. In the past 3 years, 15 Fairfax County teens have taken their own lives.

Now, the family of a teen who took his own life 5 years ago is sharing what they now know, and wish they knew then.

"We have to get educated on mental health and we have to get comfortable talking about it," said Sue Anderson.

She and her family have come a long way from their depths of grief in 2009 when their youngest child, 17-year-old Josh, killed himself. He had been a student at Langley High School, the same school attended by two teenage boys who killed themselves last month. Two weeks ago, two Woodson High School boys committed suicide.

"If it prevents one, it's worth the effort," said Lt. Christian Quinn who helped bring a new course on suicide prevention this week.

This week, a group of 30 Fairfax County Police school resource officers, school security officers and school counselors are receiving suicide intervention training. They're learning the signs to watch for in students.

"Generally, we're talking about behavioral changes, threatening messages. Sometimes its less of a police lens, and more of a change in grade, change with associates, change in activity outside of school," said Lt. Quinn.

In one of the most recent suicides, close friends of the 15-year-old say he showed no signs of depression or suicidal thoughts. That's why experts say its important for parents to ask their teens about those things, even if they think it's unnecessary.

"I think a lot of parents shy away from ever saying, 'have you thought of hurting yourself? Have you ever considered of hurting yourself. Are you depressed? Are you worried about the future? Are you afraid?" said Lt. Quinn.

Josh Anderson's parents wish they'd known about the signs.

"If I had known more, been educated more and seen some of those signs in Josh, I think I would've acted differently. But I really had no idea," said Sue Anderson.

The family is educating others through the Josh Anderson Foundation and his sister Lauren serves as executive director. She's organized suicide prevention discussions and training for students and parents at 19 local schools so far.

"Our whole program and our foundation is geared toward making sure that families don't have to go through what we went through," said Tim Anderson.

Tim Anderson says some high schools have been reluctant to bring in their foundation's suicide prevention discussions. He thinks it has to do with the stigma of suicide.

Lauren Anderson says we need to think about mental illness like a physical ailment. She says "You'd never ignore cancer…yet mental illness can be just as deadly."

The main focus of the foundation's message is to teach teens that they themselves are their last line of defense. Girls are more likely to attempt suicide, but boys are more likely to do it because they're more impulsive, she says. The foundation teaches teens to recognize the signs, and get help before making a fatal decision.

Here's a link to their foundation:

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1.800.273.TALK (8255)


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