Suicide is the leading cause of death for people 10 to 14 years old.
AFN file photo

Motivated partially by the self-inflicted deaths of seven East Valley teenagers in a space of six weeks this summer, a conference on teen suicide will be held Monday, Nov. 6, at Desert Vista High School.

The conference, featuring a panel of experts ready to answer questions will be 6:30-8 p.m. at the school, 16440 S. 32nd St., Ahwatukee.

A 2016 report by the Arizona Child Fatality Review Program showed an 81 percent increase in child deaths by suicide since 2009 in the state.

The report found that 98 percent of suicides were preventable, that the majority involved children 15 to 17 years old and that drug use and family discord were leading factors.

“This special town hall will discuss ways to support students today and how connecting with them is critical to their success in both school and life,” a spokeswoman for Tempe Union High School District said.

Speakers will include representatives of Community Bridges, Teen Lifeline, the Gurian Institute and the National Center for the Development of Boys, NotMyKid, Crisis Preparation and Recovery, Terros Health, Aurora Health and Addiction Haven.

A similar conference in Gilbert in September drew hundreds of concerned parents in the wake of a so-called suicide cluster involving seven teens between 13 and 18 from Gilbert, Queen Creek and Chandler between July 24 and Labor Day. Of the six boys and one girl who died, six hanged themselves and one used a gun.

The youths did not know each other, lived within a 12-mile radius of each other and were all described as high-achieving and outgoing teens.

Katey McPherson, executive director of the Gurian Institute, an educational consulting firm that focuses on brain development and learning, said she also knows of four teens from Tempe and surrounding communities who have committed suicide in the past five years.

“Nobody is getting to the root’’ of the suicide problem, McPherson said. “There are many prevention things we can do.’’

She said mental wellness issues need to be addressed with children – even if it’s in a very general way – when they are in elementary school, before their identities are already set in high school.

Jennifer Liewer, a spokeswoman for the Tempe Unified High School District, said a counselor at Desert Vista attended McPherson’s first mental health conference on Sept. 14 at Campo Verde High School in Gilbert, along with about 350 other parents and teachers.

The counselor came away impressed by the focus on prevention and saw value in having a similar conference in Ahwatukee, she said.

But mental health advocates such as McPherson and Lorie Warnock, a Mountain Pointe High School English teacher whose son committed suicide, said well-meaning gestures are not enough to stem the problem. They want to see more systemic programming aimed at preventing suicide.

McPherson said she has been monitoring teen suicides for the past year, since Warnock’s son, Mitchell, 18, a Corona del Sol High student, killed himself. Another boy committed suicide a year earlier on the school’s grounds.

At the first conference, the focus was on prevention, including recognizing warning signs, improving communication between parents and their teens, monitoring social media closely, getting help immediately for those in crisis and removing “lethal means” of committing suicide, such as guns and belts.

“We have to get in front of this story. We don’t have any choice. We can’t afford to lose another child,” said McPherson, a former Gilbert school administrator.

Natalia Chimbo-Andrade, director of education and community outreach with Community Bridges, a major East Valley behavioral services provider, said she has heard that a dozen teenagers in the region killed themselves during the past year.

She said suicide statistics are sometimes hazy because of the stigma attached. A death might be classified as accidental, for instance, instead of suicide.

CDC data reported by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention ranks suicide as the eighth leading cause of death in Arizona, with 1,276 people taking their own lives in 2015.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for people 10 to 14 years old.

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