Clark Flatt, president and creator of the Jason Foundation, held a seminar in FAMU’s Grand Ballroom on Thursday, Jan. 31, to bring attention to the rising number of youth suicides.
“We’re not here to make you an expert, but to raise awareness of this silent epidemic and move you to action,” said Flatt.
In July of 1997, Flatt came home to find his son Jason had shot himself in the head and left two suicide notes. His son’s tragic death is what motivated him to create this foundation and promote intervention and prevention.
The Jason Foundation is one of the country’s oldest and largest suicide prevention organizations. They provide educational and awareness programs for parents, educators and youth.
They trained approximately 228,000 teachers last year and have never made anyone pay for their services, as they are funded by large organizations such as the Hospital Corporation of America, Acadia Healthcare, Strategic Behavioral Health, and others.
According to Flatt, suicide is the leading cause of preventable death. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than cancer, pneumonia, aids, stroke, birth defects, lung disease, heart disease and influenza combined. The U.S. loses approximately 118 people a week to suicide, and findings from the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Youth Risk Behavioral Survey show that one out of every nine students surveyed had made a suicide plan in the past 12 months.
“If this were a virus, it would be front page news,” said Flatt.
According to Flatt, four out of five people considering suicide will demonstrate clear warning signs before the attempts. Event attendees learned how important it is to observe warning signs, especially because peers and educators are often the first to pick up on something being wrong. These warning signs include mood swings, increased substance abuse, giving away possessions, or threats like, “No one would miss me if I weren’t here.”
“I gained a plethora of knowledge from this event, I wasn’t aware that youth suicide was such a serious issue in our country. The numbers were astounding, and I was fascinated by all the support groups and organizations in the Big Bend area. I wasn’t aware of the multitude and magnitude of things our community has in place for suicide prevention,” said John Patrick Whitley, a senior social work major at FAMU.
The Jason Foundation president encouraged the audience not to be scared to ask if someone may be considering suicide, and that the following steps should include listening without judging, and reporting what you’ve heard to the national suicide prevention lifeline or calling 9-1-1. The morning Jason took his life he called two friends and told them what he was going to do, neither of them reported.
“You can be someone’s glimmer of hope. Not saying I can fix it but I can be here with you, you’re not alone,” said Flatt.
The Jason Foundation promoted the “A Friend Asks” app which assists with reporting suicide and observing warning signs. The foundation has also started a social media challenge to increase awareness to youth suicide called #IWontBeSilent.
Flatt said, “I’ve talked to hundreds of youth that have attempted suicide, and I’ve never met one that wanted to die. They got to a point in their life that felt hopeless and didn’t know how to handle it. They wanted to choose death over handling that pain. We have to find a way to tell them nothing is hopeless. We have to find another option.”
According to Flatt’s presentation, from 2006 to 2016 youth suicide rates have increased 70 percent. The national suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273- TALK or 1-800-273- 8255. More information on the Jason Foundation can be found on their website jasonfoundation.com.