Canal Winchester mother's loss highlights families' needs to talk about suicide
Talking about suicide can be difficult for families, but it’s an important conversation.
Experts say the rate of suicide is increasing in our country and that includes young people. Suicide is a serious public health problem that is impacting Central Ohio families.
According to experts at The Ohio State University, it’s increasing in teenagers, in boys and girls, over the last 10-15 years, but there is no clear reason why.
If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-271-TALK (1-800-273-8255). It is free and confidential. You will be connected to a skilled, trained counselor in your area.
Chanel Weaver, of Canal Winchester, wanted to share her story as a way to help others, in memory of her son.
“He had an awesome smile,” said Weaver, remembering her son Ahmad Graham, Jr. “Ahmad was my best friend. My son was a wonderful kid. He was a very charismatic boy. Very popular.”
She said Ahmad also had a dark side. Four years ago, doctors diagnosed him with bipolar disorder. The family explored many resources for help.
“Ahmad’s been in the court systems,” said Weaver. “He’s been in NYAP (National Youth Advocate Program). NYAP is a wonderful program. He spent a year at the Buckeye Boys Ranch. He’s been in Pomegranate (Health System). He’s been in Children’s Hospital. He’s been at Ohio State.”
But then, on April 6th 2017, the family found Ahmad on the playground outside their home. He was only 16.
“I looked up and my baby was just hanging there,” said Weaver, tearfully remembering that day. “He’s just hanging and I just was paralyzed. I couldn’t move. I don’t ever want to see those monkey bars again.”
It hasn’t even been six weeks since the loss of her son, but Chanel knew she needed to speak up.
“I’ve been crying for days and I’m tired,” said Weaver. “What would he want me to do with this? I can’t just sit on this.”
WHO IS AFFECTED?
“Any race, any age, any background, any socioeconomic status can all be affected by suicide,” said Jessica Stafford, MD, The Ohio State University, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “There has been an increase nationally in the rate of suicide in all age groups. It’s increasing in young people, in teenagers, in boys and girls over the last 10-15 years.”
Experts said there is no clear reason why. There is also no single factor leading up to a suicide.
Those closest to someone who is struggling might notice: personality change, excessive sleeping, losing interest in things they used to enjoy, sudden decline in grades, isolating themselves or giving away their things. The CDC offers other risk factors as well.
Even if families don’t notice these behaviors, they can still start an important conversation about suicide.
WHERE DO FAMILIES BEGIN?
“I think that a good starting point would be to just ask the question, ‘Have you ever had thoughts like this?’,” said Patrick Hopping, Psychiatric Social Worker at The Ohio State Harding Hospital.
He said parents and loved ones shouldn’t be afraid to ask.
“There’s a misperception out there that if you ask the question, you are kind of planting the seed and that’s really not true,” said Hopping.
These experts said that families must lead this conversation with teens.
“If you don’t talk to them about it, it’s their peers that are going to talk to them about it,” said Dr. Stafford. “In some ways, it can parallel the whole discussion about ‘Do I talk to my kids about sex? Or reproduction?’ If you don’t talk to them about it, it’s their peers that are going to talk to them about it.”
It can be part of a bigger conversation about the importance of mental health.
“We really want to take away the stigma of getting help for a mental illness,” said Hopping.
Chanel treasures her memories of Ahmad, especially his music.
“His music was his therapy,” she remembers fondly. “So, he talks all about mental illness in his music.”
She wishes he could be here today to hear a new song, “1-800-273-8255”, recently released by the rapper Logic. The title of the song is actually the number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Chanel said she hopes the interview is just the first step in her healing process, with the hope of impacting other families and saving lives.
“I can’t believe that my son died for nothing,” she said. (A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help the Graham's with their funeral expenses)
Chanel also has a message for young people. If you have a friend who is talking about dying or having suicidal thoughts, go to an adult right away.
Experts agree with that message.
“You’re keeping them safe,” said Hopping about speaking up for a friend.
Experts also want parents to know that there is no certain age to have this conversation with the young person in your life.
If your child isn’t comfortable having this conversation with you, then offer the opportunity to speak with another relative or trusted family friend.
“We have to open up our eyes,” said Weaver. “This is a real thing.”
- If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-271-TALK (1-800-273-8255). It is free and confidential. You will be connected to a skilled, trained counselor in your area.
- You can also reach out to someone through the Crisis Text Line.
- Locally, HelpLine of Delaware and Morrow Counties, Inc. provides a local 24/7 hotline to help those struggling with thoughts of suicide or support to survivors of suicide. You can go to their website or call 1-800-684-2324 for free confidential help.
- There's also Franklin County Loss, a local outreach to suicide survivors