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African American teens experiencing rise in suicide rates: 'Eventually it was like there would be a day you just did it'

Thinking about how many people she knew who took their lives, there was a time Alleyah Getter wasn't sure she would have any friends left by the time she got to high school. Three had killed themselves, and Getter, now a 14-year-old eighth-grader, was beginning to have her own suicidal thoughts.

"It was like feeling like there was nothing you could do about it," she said. "Eventually it was like there would be a day you just did it. It just felt like pain was nothing. You couldn't talk to nobody. You just want to be alone and see if you can get through it yourself."

Getter did the thing advocates and survivors encourage everyone to do: She talked about her feelings. She told her father what was going on and eventually became part of a church group that helps children, teens and adults deal with mental health issues. Without opening up, Getter said, she doesn't think she would be alive.

"It kind of makes me feel happy that I actually made it," she said. "There's a lot of families whose kids actually did it, and they wish they would have stopped it."

A bleak picture

A study published in May from the Journal of Community Health found that the suicide rate for African American teenage boys increased 60% from 2001 to 2017. It was even worse for girls, who saw an increase of 182%. Suicide was the second leading cause of death for African American teenagers in that time.

Those who have been impacted by suicide have their diagnoses. There's bullying on social media, a harsh stigma for people dealing with mental health issues and so on. But these are disconnected anecdotes. There isn't enough information about African American teenage suicides.

"That seems to be a problem," said Jagdish Khubchandani, a health science professor at Ball State University and co author of the study. "We need larger samples and cohorts over time to figure out why this is happening with African American teenagers."

Khubchandani noted that it's difficult to do research on school-aged children, but the consequence is that it's hard to draw sound conclusions about what's behind the rise in suicide rates and how to help those who are thinking about killing themselves.

The study mentions that most of what's known about suicide, including methods to prevent it, are focused on white Americans, who have higher rates of suicide than African Americans.

It's difficult to get as full of a picture locally. The Marion County Coroner's Office could only provide data for suicide deaths from 2016 to 2018. The coroner's office investigated 47 suicide deaths in that time, but only two were teenagers, one in 2017 and one in 2018. Both were white males. Many more were in their 20s, including one Black female in 2017.

Coroners aren't contacted in the case of every death, and

the coroner ultimately determines whether to investigate, but their office is supposed to investigate known or suspected suicides.

STIGMA

People dealing with mental health issues are well aware of the stigma that comes with something you can't see or touch having such a profound impact on your life. That stigma is universal, but some worry it's especially bad with African Americans.

Dr. Jeanne Dickens, a medical psychiatrist at Sandra Eskenazi Mental Health Center, said well-meaning parents and others in the community can "actually discourage a young person from seeking mental health care" by instead putting an emphasis on being strong and dealing with it yourself. '

Joshua Jordan experienced this after his family moved from Chicago to Indianapolis when he was 11. He had no friends and was bullied. He attempted to kill himself for the first time when he was in eighth grade and went on to make more than 20 attempts.

Jordan, 29, now does crisis intervention with young adults. He said the African American community "makes mental health issues a problem. They make it something we can't talk about, when in reality it's something that should be spoken about."

Even when he thought his parents would be understanding, Jordan said, he hesitated to talk to them because he didn't want them to see him differently. Talking to parents about mental health issues can also be difficult because they may brush it off, thinking someone in their early teens can't possibly know what it is to be depressed or have severe anxiety.

"When we hear a child say they're feeling suicidal ... we have to always take it seriously," said Kelsey Steuer, the state's area director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. "We also get the question of, 'What if they're talking about this for attention?' We don't ever want to test fate."

GUNS

Advocates say it's important to look at suicide as a public health issue, and for many who are trying to prevent suicide, that means taking into account a deadly weapon that experts also argue needs to be seen in the light of public health: guns.

A 2018 report — "Confronting the Inevitability Myth" — from Giffords Law Center found guns account for 5% of suicide attempts but 50% of suicide deaths. The lesson is they're deadly and don't often leave people with a second chance. That's important because, according to the report, more than two-thirds of survivors don't attempt again.

Ari Freilich, an expert at Giffords, agreed restricting access to guns is the most important thing that could be done to prevent teenage suicide because 71% of people attempt suicide within an hour of deciding to do so, according to the report.

People who attempt suicide are not uniquely ill, Freilich said. Many people deal with mental illness at some point in their lives, if not chronically. The more accurate way to look at someone who attempts suicide is "like they're going through a tough situation that created a temporary spiral."

A 2014 survey of studies in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found the risk of suicide is two to five times higher in gun-owning homes for all household members. Andrea Summers-Cotton, mental health wellness specialist for Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), said the district is working with families so they know the importance of keeping guns locked away. "

"Our concern is that a lot of our families have guns in the home," she said, "and when you ask little kids where guns are in the home, they know."

Giffords publishes an annual gun law scorecard to grade gun laws in each state, where an A+ means that state's laws are best and working. Indiana got a Din 2018. Effective gun control laws advocates push for usually include universal background checks, waiting periods to get a gun and mandated safe storage.

EDUCATION

Because parents and other adults aren't always going to be helpful when a child tells them they're dealing with mental health issues or are thinking about harming themselves, schools are often a first line of defense. Along with social workers and counselors, some larger school districts have specialists who focus on mental health and try to educate parents and students about how to deal with those issues.

Some IPS schools have as many as three fulltime therapists five days a week. Middle schoolers and high schoolers get information each year about what to do if they or someone they know is struggling and possibly thinking about taking their life. But Summers-Cotton said there's a culture" where families are "hesitant to embrace mental health."

To get a clear picture of what bullying looks like in schools would be difficult by just relying on data. In Marion County and across the state, schools likely aren't providing an accurate look at how often bullying happens.

Out of 57 schools in IPS, 22 reported no incidents of physical bullying in the state's report of bullying incidents for the 2018-19 school year. Many reported fewer than five. Only six schools reported any incidents of "Written Communication/Electronic Bullying," which includes cyber-bullying.

When it comes to cyber bullying, Summers-Cotton said schools mostly rely on students telling administration about instances since it usually happens outside of the school and not during school hours.

IPS spokesperson Carrie Cline Black attributed these low numbers to a discrepancy in how the district was giving data to the state. Going forward, she said, bullying numbers should "look a little bit different."

To be sure, this is not a problem unique to IPS. bout half of Indiana schools reported no incidents of bullying.

KIDS KINDNESS CLUB

Michael Finkton got tired of the bullying he saw at his elementary school and decided he had to do something about it. Finkton, 9, attends Guion Creek Elementary School in Pike Township. The school reported no incidents of any kind of bullying for the 2018-19 school year. "Me walking by, seeing that happen," he said, "I really didn't like it. So I went home and started thinking about it, and I was like, 'Oh, maybe I should form a club or something.'"

Finkton started the Kids Kindness Club, which was born out of an essay he wrote for the Bullying and Suicide Essay Contest put on by Sisters Standing Together. The group is sponsoring the Kids Kindness Club, which will be open for children ages 8 to 12. It will debut at Real Youth and Teens Talking, an event put on by Sisters Standing Together at 1 p.m. Aug. 31 at Watkins Park, 2360 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St.

Finkton said he's been bullied at school and was embarrassed to talk about it with his parents or teachers. He encouraged those who are experiencing bullying to tell a trusted adult what's going on and hopes his club inspires other children to get involved.

"I really don't want to be the only one out here helping," he said. "I just want more people to know, don't be afraid. Go out and do what you have to do. Show how confident you are to stop bullying, stop suicide, whatever's going on out here."

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE: 1-800-273-8255

The suicide prevention hotline is free and confidential and open 24/7. A live chat is also available at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

OUT OF THE DARKNESS WALK

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention hosts an annual Out of the Darkness Walk for survivors to meet each other and get connected with resources.

When: Sept. 14. Registration begins at 12:30 p.m. and the walk begins at 3 p.m.

Where: White River State Park Celebration Plaza, 801 W. Washington St.

Cost: Free, but you can set a fundraising goal Learn more: Contact Tammy Lundy at 317-426-1750 or email indyoutofthedarkness@gmail.com

LOOKING FOR HELP?

If you are someone you know is experiencing mental health issues or thinking about taking their life, consider these resources.

• Sandra Eskenazi Mental

Health Center, 3171 N. Meridian St.l

eskenazihealth.edul

317-880-8485

• National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greaterl

Indianapolis, 911 E. 86th St. Suite 70

namiindy.orgl

317-257-7517

• Options Behaviorall

Health System, 5602 Caito Drivel

optionsbehavioralhealthsystem.coml

844-515-8232

• St. Vincent Stress Center, 2001 W. 86th St.l

stvincent.orgl

317-338-2345

• Community Health Network, 1500 N. Ritter Ave.l

ecommunity.coml

800-777-7775


Tapping into the wisdom of elders who have been there, done that

From the pessimist's point of view, elders are a burden. They require more care, become forgetful and move slower than a fast-paced world is willing to accommodate. This is a very narrowed focus on aging.

Elders have so many life experiences. Getting to practice virtues such as patience, taking first and second and third cracks at love, even learning how to deal with loss and grief — these are the things that make elders wise. They have a lot to share, and many are just waiting on someone to ask. With National Senior Citizens Day coming Aug. 21, this is the perfect time to do it.

Dennis Ross has been in Indianapolis his whole life. He grew up in a poor family with a single mother and four sisters. He was the only boy. Ross, now 64, was in his early teens and lived on the near northwest side when Interstate 65 was being built in the late 1960s and early '70s.

Ross' family moved around a lot, as poor families are often forced to do. He lived on the east side, downtown and in Haughville. His mother took the family to centers where they could get bags of clothes to wear. It was a test, but not his greatest.

When he was 19, Ross' mother was shot and killed with her youngest child in her lap. Five years earlier, Ross was in a car accident that killed his older sister. The car caught on fire, and she was badly burned. She was also pregnant, and the unborn baby died.

When it comes to dealing with tragedy, Ross said it's important for young people to remember "that they're important, that they're somebody, that things will pass."

"Don't give up," he said. "When you do make it, try to give back. Try to go back and help the unfortunate."

Ross, a retired city worker, said he's happy with his life now. He lives on the east side and keeps busy by driving a school bus part time for Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township Schools. He also still works out by walking, biking, lifting weights and playing basketball in his driveway.

One of his happiest memories, he said, is when Barack Obama was elected president. He has three Obama autographs on two pictures and Obama's book, "Dreams from My Father."

Ross was married twice and has 10 children, 28 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. He said if he could go back in time and teach himself a lesson, it would be about the importance of education. Ross graduated from Crispus Attucks High School but didn't go to college. Asked what his advice would be for younger people today, he said it's important to "be yourself."

"Use your morals that your parents gave you, and stay away from crowds and partying at a young age," he said.

Pearl Carter is a lucky one. She's 76 years old, and her mother is still alive at 102. Carter is an only child, as was her mother, so their relationship hasn't had any restrictions from other aging family members over the years.

"My life is based on trying to take care of my mother," she said, which basically means taking her wherever she wants to go.

Carter has lived her whole life in Martindale-Brightwood, but the area is slowly changing into something she doesn't recognize.

"All of the people that were here when I was growing up, they've either moved out or they're just old and sitting here," she said. "... We're all just old and waiting."

Waiting on what? That's too morbid of a thought to say out loud, Carter said.

Carter married in her 20s and stayed married for about 10 years. She has two sons and four grandchildren. Asked what young people need to know about love, she said it's important to be sure it's what you want.

"A lot of kids, I've noticed, they fall in love with love," she said, "and they don't have any honesty. They're not honest with each other."

Carter worked in nursing out of high school and wishes she would have stuck with it. Instead she took a job at now-closed Western Electric for more money. Like Ross, Carter said she regrets not going further with her education.

In both dealing with grief and making love last, Carter said God needs to be at the center.

"I personally pray a lot, and I believe in God, and I know God can do anything," she said. "It's a matter of just putting my faith and trust in him."

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.


KKK flyers distributed in Bloomington

Some residents in Bloomington woke up on the morning of Aug. 5 to a disturbing sight. Flyers announcing a "Neighborhood Watch" featuring a hooded person appeared at several locations around the college town. The flyers were meant to be recruitment tools for the Ku Klux Klan.

The Bloomington Police Department opened an investigation into where the flyers came from. Asked for an update on the investigation, Capt. Ryan Pedigo said the department is still trying to figure out who distributed the flyers. Pedigo said the flyers were found in various neighborhoods in Bloomington, and it's unknown if any locations were chosen for a particular reason.

William Vance, president of the Monroe County branch of the NAACP, noted Bloomington's population is only about 4% Black, so he isn't surprised a white supremacist group feels like Bloomington is a place it can take hold.

"We've always known that it was possible," he said. "We know that Salem's not far away, and we know its reputation. We know the reputation of Martinsville and Greenwood."

Indiana University junior Isaiah Ware said he was not shocked when he first heard about the flyers through social media. Though he hasn't experienced much racial tension on campus, he said he knows it exists and believes it's worse outside of campus.

"It's not surprising," he said. "I just wonder why people are taking the time out to hate."

Justin Freeman, also a junior at Indiana University, found out about the flyers by reading an article in the school newspaper, the Indiana Daily Student. Similar to Ware, Freeman was not surprised by the KKK recruitment flyers.

He believes it is not something unique, but instead the unfortunate reality of America.

"At first I grazed over it," he said. "It caught my eye, but it didn't get a reaction out of me. I am not surprised, but it's a cowardice act."

Freeman said he thinks there are people who have seen the flyers and will follow up with the KKK.

"People with white supremacy ideology are in Bloomington," he said. "People are racist, and they are hiding behind the flyer."

The incident came about a month after a Ph.D student at Indiana University wrote a letter to the Bloomington Farmers' Market Advisory Board demanding that a vendor be removed because of ties to a white supremacist group. Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton suspended the city-run market, which is sched

uled to reopen Aug. 17.

There was also a mass shooting carried out by a white supremacist in El Paso, Texas, which has killed at least 22 people, with more still battling injuries. The shooter wrote in a manifesto about a "Hispanic invasion," echoing words often used by far-right nationalists, including President Donald Trump.

At a press conference Aug. 13 outside of the Indiana Statehouse, clergy leaders who are part of Faith in Indiana — a religious group that advocates for racial and economic justice — gave a letter to Gov. Eric Holcomb, in part urging him to denounce white supremacy.

"Today, white nationalist rhetoric from the nation's highest office, coupled with easy access to guns, has created a white terrorism crisis," said Rev. Suzanne Wille, pastor of Episcopal Church of All Saints in Indianapolis. "We have a moral responsibility to condemn the ideology of white supremacy fueling this crisis and pass gun safety laws to protect Indiana families."

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.