Experts issue warning about teen suicides

Broward County has highest number of teen suicides in Florida

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. - Suicide is the third leading cause of death in teens after accidents and homicides, and Broward County has the highest number of teen suicides in the state, according to a federal survey.

"He had a beautiful smile and a personality and just they way he'd make everybody happy and pull everybody up," said Jelanie Zuccari about her son, Cody.

Cody, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Florida, committed suicide 15 months ago.

"I never would have thought such tragedy would come upon us just because that he was a fun guy," said Zuccari. "It was just so out of character."

Cody left a note for his family, giving details about how his roommate got caught selling marijuana and that police found drugs in their room.

"He probably thought he would lose his scholarship, disappoint his family, maybe face jail time," said Zuccari. "I think he was afraid and didn't reach out to us. I didn't think that he was so isolated that he could take it into his own hands."

Many parents told Local 10 they couldn't imagine their child ever attempting suicide, but the statistics tell a different story.

According to a 2011 survey by the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services, 12.3 percent of youths in Broward County attempted suicide. About 10.7 percent did the same in Miami-Dade.

"It is alarming," said Dr. Scott Poland at Nova Southeastern University. "Yet, I can tell you having worked in the schools for 26 years we are ignoring these numbers.. most personal involved in mental health or working in schools aren't aware."

Poland is an expert on youth crisis and teen suicide. He believes schools need more suicide prevention education and said parents can start at home.

"Talking about suicide does not plant the idea in a young person's head," said Poland. "Almost all kids know somebody who's talked about it. All kids know somebody that attempted."

The reasons for the increase is not entirely clear.

"I certainly believe adolescents receiving less medication when it was truly needed is a factor," said Jackie Rosen, the CEO of the Florida Initiative for Suicide Prevention. "I would also argue competition, the kid of pressure they face is also a very important factor."

Rosen said there are signs parents can watch for.

"Probably the most important things to look for are huge changes in the way the child is acting. Not being themselves, not doing things they normally do with friends, talking about dying and death," said Rosen.

"What I really believe is that parents know when they have a sad and unhappy child," said Zuccari. "But they are very hesitant to reach out and get mental health treatment for them."

Zuccari said while she doesn't believe her son had mental health issues, she often wonders if something could have been done.

"You know, you go back and forth on it. You say, Did I make life to easy or too hard? Did I expect too much?' You go over and over and over in it," said Zuccari.

Both Poland and Rosen said schools need to take a more active role in suicide prevention, and that parents should ask what type of coping programs and support are offered at their child's school.

The Florida Initiative for Suicide Prevention is starting the HOPE (Helping Overcome Problems Effectively) club in schools this year. The club plans of providing information on suicide prevention and mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse and bullying.

Teens wanting to speak with someone can call 1-800-SUICIDE.

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