Williamson County is lauded for its high quality of life, booming economy, top-rated schools and well-educated populace. It is one of the most business-friendly counties in the nation and one of the fastest-growing counties where families and businesses wish to settle and prosper.
Williamson County was even ranked as the best county in Tennessee for children’s overall health in 2015 by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth.
Despite these high accolades and rankings, some youth seem to be suffering.
The most recent statistics available from the Division of Health Statistics, Office of Policy of the Tennessee Department of Health, show that Williamson County holds the second highest suicide rate in Tennessee for juveniles ages 10-19 for 2014.
Meanwhile, Shelby County has the highest rate among that age group for 2014, while Davidson, Wilson and Knox counties tied for third in juvenile suicides during that time.
“We have the best of everything, yet there is something so dramatic in life [that a child would] want to take their own life,” said Franklin Police Chief Deb Faulkner, who has been raising awareness about juvenile suicide statistics during local speaking engagements.
“That hit me in the face when I became chief.
“Suicide crosses the whole spectrum – young, old, men, women, teens and military personnel – but when it’s teens, that really grabs you,” Faulkner said.
Statistics show the suicide rate statewide among adults and juveniles has been rising steadily since 2011.
According to the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, from January 2013 to March 15, 2016, in the unincorporated portion of the county, 10 juveniles attempted suicide with three deaths. The most recent of those to die was in early 2016.
The Franklin Police Department reported 14 juvenile attempts in 2015 within Franklin city limits. None of the attempts were completed.
According to the Brentwood Police Department’s figures, there were 13 juvenile suicide attempts from 2013 to 2015. By March 28, 2016, there were three more attempts. None resulted in death.
The state health department report stated juvenile suicide has increased 128 percent nationwide since 1980. Juvenile suicide has also become the second-leading cause of death in young people age 10-24. More young people die from suicide than cancer and heart disease combined and far more than birth defects, HIV infection and meningitis, the report stated.
Nationally 5,400 young people in grades seven through 12 attempt suicide daily and 100 of those attempts are completed.
The state health department also reported 48 juvenile suicide deaths statewide in 2013, an increase of six over the previous year. In 2014, there were 49.
In a Tennessee Youth Risk Behavior Survey published in 2013 by the Tennessee Department of Education, 15.2 percent of those surveyed had considered suicide; 13.5 percent of them planned how they would do it; and 9 percent attempted to take their own lives. Of those who attempted, about 48 percent required medical attention for injuries related to the attempt.
Suicide ideation affects high-achievers
The greatest myth society has to battle regarding juvenile suicide is the type of person who commits suicide, according to Tennessee resident Clark Flatt, founder of The Jason Foundation, Inc., an organization dedicated to the prevention of youth suicide, who calls it “the silent epidemic.”
According to Flatt, the stereotypical picture is someone who is undereducated or from a lower-income home.
However, he explained the real picture is that of a higher-achieving youth from a middle- to upper-income home.
“The number one young person we are losing is the better-than-average person – the cheerleader, the star football player, the leader in school,” Flatt said.
He speaks from personal experience.
Flatt’s 16-year old son, Jason, the namesake of the foundation, had that profile when he committed suicide in 1997. Jason made good grades, played sports and was active in his youth group. “
“It’s the young person excelling, who has everything to live for,” Flatt said.
“I would say the Williamson County student is the type who would be at higher risk of suicide ideation.”
Also at risk of suicide ideation are children who have experienced the trauma of losing a loved one, living with non-biological caretakers or who have been severely abused, said Marianne Schroer, executive director of CASA and a former child psychologist.
“Any child who has experienced trauma – whatever it looks like – is at risk,” Schroer said. “As a therapist I always asked if they had thoughts of harming themselves and if they had a plan.”
Leading causes of juvenile suicide, Flatt said, include higher expectations and greater demands to succeed from friends, parents and themselves; confusing societal norms; and children unprepared to handle situations in their lives.
“Each generation of parents say they want their child to have it easier than they did, not to have to struggle like they did,” Flatt said.
“Struggles in life are going to come. Protecting kids makes them less able to handle or cope with situations in life.”