- Ada, Oklahoma

Local News

June 13, 2014

Speaker talks about the silent epidemic: Suicide among youth

Ada — It’s been 17 years since a Tennessee insurance man went looking for his 16-year-old son, Jason.

On Thursday at the East Central Stonecipher School of Business, Clark Flatt told his own story with no less passion than the day he stumbled into his son’s room and fell on top of him.

Jason was dead, having used his father’s .38 caliber pistol to end his life earlier that day.

It launched a grieving father on a 17-year mission, hoping to prevent as many suicides among youths as possible.

“Nothing I can ever do will bring Jason back,” Flatt told a crowd that had assembled to celebrate the opening of two new group homes on the Rolling Hills Hospital campus in Ada. Flatt is the founder of The Jason Foundation, an organization that provides training for online professional development in youth suicide awareness and prevention.

The day of Jason’s suicide was July 16th, 1997. A father’s broken heart and shock led to an educational process for him. Flatt has been educating others ever since, hoping to catch “the silent epidemic” among the nation’s youth, ages 10-24.

Currently suicide is the number two killer of young people in that age category.

He wanted those in the audience to know about it.  Some of them, he realizes, are as uninformed about the dangers as he was back in 1997.

The students most affected, it turns out, aren’t the kids in the back of the room or the teenagers hoarding guns in a garage.

Flatt ended his discussion with photos of teenagers that their parents had given him to show.

Flatt wanted to make sure everyone knew what these kids look like. They weren’t gothic or strange or unusual. Identifying them from any other kids in junior high or high school would be impossible.

He spoke about his relationship with his own son, how much fun they had together and how he had not noticed clues that would have alerted him what was about to happen.

Flatt said most parents do not know how pervasive this silent epidemic is. Not every parent knows, for instance, that 100 teenagers a week in this country take their own lives. Nor do most parents realize that 80 of those lives could be saved each week if others could recognize and react to the signs suicidal youth give off.

While visiting a father at a hospital in Tennessee, he said the man told him he was wasting his time, that his son didn’t really need help. “He’s just trying to get attention,” the man said.

“He was right,” Flatt said. “I’ve yet to see a teenage suicide where the person really wanted to take his own life.”

But lives end, whether they’re trying to get attention or not. The point is, young people who need attention should get it. It may be a parent’s last chance to save their child’s life.

He warned parents of high-performing students and athletes who appear to be the picture of health not to lull themselves into a “not my kid” sense of false assurance.

“You’ve just identified one of the main groups we’re talking about,” he told a man who said he didn’t have to worry about his own kid, who is a football star and top student.

“I will never hug my son again,” he told the crowd. “But I can and will work alongside you, perhaps a friend or your neighbor’s child, a relative or even your own son or daughter.”

Teenage suicide can be prevented, he still believes.

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