A candid conversation about the 'S' word everyone's afraid to talk about

Debbie and Stewart Wilder's 17-year-old son Cameron died by suicide a little over two months ago. They knew he battled depression, they didn't know he was succumbing to the disease of depression.

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by Dee Sarton

Bio | Email | Follow: @deesarton

KTVB.COM

Posted on November 14, 2013 at 11:02 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 18 at 5:59 PM

BOISE -- Of all the statistics concerning Idaho, this one may be the most disturbing.

Idaho is ranked sixth in the nation for the number of young people who die by suicide per capita - and that's not a new statistic. It's been that way for a while.

But a major effort is underway to change that.

The state was just awarded a $1.3 million grant to begin the Idaho Lives Project, which will focus on training the people who most often come in contact with our youth, including their peers.

They'll teach how to effectively respond when a young person exhibits suicidal tendencies. It's a project with proven results in other states so there's great hope it will have a significant impact.

But one Boise family is speaking out about depression and teen suicide now, just months after losing their own son.

Debbie and Stewart Wilder's 17-year-old son Cameron died by suicide a little over two months ago.  They knew he battled depression, they didn't know he was succumbing to the disease of depression.

"There's no owners manual, if you will, to losing someone to suicide, especially a child. We have to wake up to a nightmare every morning that will not go away," said Stewart Wilder. "There's no glorification in what he did obviously." Debbie adds, "He made a really bad choice and had he just told us, reached out to us. I wish I would have known that he was so sad."

That not knowing is driving the Wilders to do everything they can to spread what they believe is a life saving message -- that talking about depression openly should not be taboo for kids or parents even if you're afraid.

"If I talk about it, maybe it's gonna happen or maybe there's something wrong with us as parents, and it's not that way," said the Wilders.

"People have to learn to become much more comfortable asking the dreaded S question," said Peter Wollheim, a counselor who specializes in treating people who are suicidal.

"Is asking the question going to make it worse? No. You're actually giving the person permission to be honest, and you're just saying, ok, if that's what it is, I'm glad you trust me. I appreciate you telling me. Let's see where we can go from here," said Wollheim.

And from here is very hopeful according to Wollheim. "Suicide is preventable. It's the most easily preventable form of death that we know of. You don't have to be a cancer surgeon. What you have to be is a good listener."

And since so many adolescents don't run to their parents when they need someone to listen, Wollheim and the Wilders say it's important to be open and available to the kids that are in your world.

For Stewart and Debbie that includes their son's many friends.

"We've told the kids if you need to talk, come over, but we're not trained to help you through this, but we will get you to the people who are trained to help you through this," said Debbie.

"Children need positive role models," said Wollheim. "Establish positive relationships with as many children as you can now. Make it easier for children to come talk to you about anything."

"Make sure your kids know they can talk to you or somebody else and that you're there to help them," Debbie said. "I mean our job as parents is to keep our kids safe."

Studies show that teens most often tell a friend what they're contemplating. Those friends are urged to get trusted adults involved immediately.

A Boise State freshman who has suffered from depression and now shares her story in schools and churches made KTVB aware of a dangerous trend among teens - texting their suicidal thoughts to each other. Friends who bear that burden and try to help but are woefully unprepared to do so.

Watch her urgent message to fellow teens or anyone facing the issues of depression and suicide.

If someone you know needs help one place to start is the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline. The number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

For more resources on suicide prevention, click here or here.

To watch the November 17 edition of Viewpoint that talks about youth suicide, click here.

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