Cole Ellis was a high achiever. He was close to his family, played football and loved to hunt.
He fished, played baseball and was active in his church.
On a Monday morning, Oct. 26, 2009, the 13-year-old Trinity Middle School student was getting ready for the day. Cole was dressed for school. His father was already at work. His mother had talked to Cole that morning and was getting ready to take him to school.
Before they ever got out of the door, Cole had taken his life.
“We think still today, it was more probably situational for him,” said his mother, Rebecca Ellis. “Just some things going on in his life as far as a relationship involving some (inappropriate) texting back and forth.
“The best we can tell with Cole, he was just overwhelmed with attacks on his integrity and decisions he had made and just feeling he had let others down. And he didn’t handle the situation right.”
The family didn’t know of the situation they believe led to his death until about 72 hours before he died.
Teen suicide is a growing health concern. It is the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24, surpassed only by accidents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The suicide rate among teen girls doubled from 2007-2015, reaching a 40-year high, according to new analysis from the CDC.
From 1999 through 2014, the age-adjusted suicide rate in the United States increased 24 percent, from 10.5 to 13.0 per 100,000 population, with the pace of increase greater after 2006, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
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The percent increase in suicide rates for females was greatest for those aged 10-14, and for males, those aged 45-64.
It has also increased by 30 percent among young men, according to the CDC. The uptick in teen suicides is a noticeable development amid a general increase in suicides since 2007, and health professionals are looking at the socio-political and economic environments of the internet age as possible influences.
“There were no signs with Cole,” Ellis said. “He never seemed depressed. He was just that kid that was always going, doing. We were a very close family. And there’s just no going back.
“He chose a permanent solution for such a temporary problem. People always say that of suicide. It was just like a bomb just blew off in our family.”
Reaching into schools
After former Gov. Robert Bentley signed The Jason Flatt Act (SB11) on May 10, 2016, into law, the Alabama State Department of Education formed an advisory committee to design a curriculum for all educators and school personnel who are now required to have at least one hour or more of education on how to recognize suicide risk factors and warning signs and to get help for students.
The Jason Foundation is dedicated to the prevention of the “Silent Epidemic” of youth suicide through educational and awareness programs that equip young people, educators/youth workers and parents with the tools and resources to help identify and assist at-risk youth.
Alabama was the 18th state to pass The Jason Flatt Act since it was first passed in Tennessee in 2007.
Because of this act, Jennifer Hartley, the suicide prevention coordinator at the Family Sunshine Center, trained Montgomery Public School counselors in suicide prevention the beginning of this school year.
And through a $47,000 Alabama Department of Public Health grant, she has brought the QPR program to those who work with teens. The “question, persuade, refer” program educates them on how to talk to someone about suicide.
“The myth is that if you speak about it, you’ll plant that seed into their head,” Hartley said. “That is not so.”
The grant money also allowed Hartley to become certified three weeks ago in a student-evidenced suicide prevention program called Lifelines, which educates students on suicide facts and their role in prevention.
Hartley will present her first Lifelines program at Georgia Washington Middle School next week.
“Students’ roles are to be good listeners, to know what the risk factors are, to know what protective factors are – knowing who to go to,” she said. “It helps provide information on where to find resources in the school setting and community.
“It targets the whole school community. We want parents involved, because kids might go home and ask questions. We want them all to be speaking the same language. Suicide is so taboo.”
The issue has always been there, and it is not going in the direction the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention wants, said its Alabama and Mississippi director Ashley Foster.
“But now that we’re finally talking about it, it will hopefully encourage those who are hurting to not be scared and do that,” she said. “If we don’t start talking about it, I don’t think we’ll ever bring that rate down.”
The middle school years
Amy Smith brings talk of relationships to her “Girls Talk” group she started five years ago.
It is a way she can communicate to them about actions and consequences, and about how they treat others matters. The group of girls in sixth grade through eighth meet for a Bible study every week in the summer and once a month during the school year.
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“The girls come to me and feel different things like depression and anxiety,” she said. “Not talking about it makes them more scared to talk about it. They feel they can talk to me and their mom. If they come to me to talk about something (harmful), I will talk to their moms about it. I’m very ‘pro mom.’”
Smith, who serves as the girls minister at First Baptist Church, is a St. James School and Auburn graduate who currently is in seminary. She was a sophomore in high school when Cole Ellis died at age 13.
“People say talking about it gives them ideas, but I think talking about it also gives them awareness and helps them talk about things,” she said. “I was friends with Cole. God has given me a different perspective seeing both sides.”
So, she keeps open communication with Girls Talk, which is not associated with First Baptist.
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“I always tell them … it’s so easy to send something without thinking about it,” she said. “You can’t get away from what’s on your phone. When you’re being cyberbullied on your phone, that’s hard. They’re home at night, and they are getting comments and texts about them and they can’t get away from it.
“They (think) the only way to get away from it is to commit suicide. And that’s why they need to realize how dangerous their phones are. I tell the girls to think how they think someone would feel if it was them. If someone posted a video of them, or making fun of them. I feel girls can relate to that a little bit.”
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The center in east Montgomery is overseen by Richard and Alisa Jones. Teens coming to them, Richard Jones said, sometimes struggle with depression.
“Depression and anxiety are big trigger words right now,” he said. “They are used to explain a lot. In so many of the cases, it’s some type of isolation. For girls, it is that feeling of, ‘Wow, all these other girls are prettier than I am, more popular than I am.’ And so all of a sudden you get very isolated.”
Jones will start asking questions. His goal is to get to know the teens.
“My goal is for them to leave here and know someone heard them,” he said. “I think, usually, it seems like so far that with most teenagers, that’s what they’re coming in with. They’re coming in with, ‘Yes, I know my parents love me and want the best for me, but for whatever reasons, I’m getting a feeling they’re not willing to understand me.’”
Sometimes, he said, people in the home are just too close, too tied in.
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“If a teenager does come in with suicidal thoughts, we’ll do an assessment. We’ll ask questions of intent, whether they have a plan. We’ll talk openly with them. Our goal is to have that individual to have a safe place to talk about whatever they need to talk about. Sometimes it can take a month or so to realize they can trust.”
Parents, Rebecca Ellis said, are still parenting from a couple of decades ago.
“There was no internet,” she said. “They think they can just tell their children no, and if their faith was strong enough, they wouldn’t get involved in things. They’re kids … but they’re being raised as little adults from the time they’re tiny.
“I want teenagers to hear me and that (suicide) is such a bad choice, and the rippling effect that comes from suicide. It’s devastating. It overwhelms. It never goes away. It doesn’t stop. It didn’t solve anything. It didn’t change anything accept for people are sad.”
Did you know?
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. And Sept. 11-16 is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Week. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 if you need help.
Want to text?
The Crisis Text Line is available by texting 741741 and then the word “start.”
Alabama Crisis Teen Line: (205) 328-LINK (5465)
Depression and Bipolar Support Groups
When: first Thursday evening of every month
Time: 7-8:30 p.m.
Where: Frazier United Methodist Church
6000 Atlanta Highway, Room 3101
When: third Saturday afternoon of every month
Time: Noon-2 p.m.
Where: Montgomery City-County Public Library
245 High Street
When: second Tuesday of every month
Time: 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Where: Office of Dottie D. Skipper, LPC
4137 Carmichael Road, Suite 100
The office is located behind Heing Furs. Follow the rear parking lot to the right, then follow the sign pointing to Suite 100.
Working for the children
On Sept. 21 from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. at Church of the Highlands on Taylor Road, counselors, church leaders, school youth leaders and those who work with youth in the community will gather for a youth initiative that will focus on identifying what areas of mental health are affecting youth. The goal is to prioritize the issues and design and conduct future workshops. The event is not open to the general public. To pre-register, go to the Samaritan Counseling Center’s website at tsccenter.org/education or call 262-7787.
Walk for the cause
Out of The the Darkness Walk on Oct. 7 at Buddy Watson Park brings awareness to suicide prevention. For more information, visit online at afsp.org/montgomery.al or call FeLishia Franklin at 435-5802 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Possible warning signs
Talking about dying, recent loss, change in personality, change in behavior, change in sleep patterns, change in eating habits, fear of losing control, low self-esteem and no hope for the future.
Help on college campus
The Alabama State University Suicide Project works through student leaders, faculty and staff to provide training, information, awareness and education regarding mental health, substance use, suicide prevention and intervention.
The purpose of the ASU Suicide Project is to reduce suicide attempts and deaths among college students on the ASU campus. For more information, contact: 337-442-7398 or email email@example.com
Hope City Counseling
Located at 2000 Berry Chase Place. For more information, visit online at hopecitycounseling.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 721-3592.
Source: Kym Klass, Montgomery Advertiser