Youth suicide concerns Casey DeSantis, state’s Children and Youth Cabinet

C&Y Cabinet 1
Suicides trending younger in recent years.

The Children and Youth Cabinet, a policy priority of First Lady Casey DeSantis, convened Monday in Tallahassee and the topic was as serious as it gets: Youth suicide.

DeSantis noted the problem starts as young as the age of five: “Whether it’s stigma or Floridians don’t know where to turn, we need to do much more.”

Thomas Joyner, a FSU psychology professor, spoke of the societal reasons for suicidal ideations trending younger.

“We in the suicide prevention community are swimming upstream,” Joyner said, with the opioid crisis offering an example of unique pressures.

Americans are “cavalier” about violence, he added, noting that guns can be an issue. Also, “fragmentation” at the “community or family level” offers challenges, as well as adverse childhood experiences.

American suicides are spiking, even as global trends are in the other direction.

Mary Bowers talked about her daughter’s suicide at the age of 31, a result of bullying from her childhood. Bowers’ daughter was herself blamed for causing her high school boyfriend to kill himself.

Much of Bowers’ testimony addressed the process of mourning her daughter, a process that saw her isolated from even her husband.

Therapy helped, and the “anguish diminished … over time.”

“I survived,” Bowers said, “and so can you.”

Another mother of a suicide victim spoke as well, noting the existential despair and the questions of “what could be done differently.”

Anita Whitby Davis noted that her son had attempted suicide after two schoolmates attempted the act.

These “suicide clusters” concerned Mrs. DeSantis.

Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said it’s key to recognize when children need help: “We need to do better,” Rivkees said, “and we can do better.”

Schools are now focusing on suicide prevention on the instructional level.

Districts are required to provide five hours of instruction in grades 6-12 “related to youth mental health awareness and assistance, including suicide prevention and the impacts of substance abuse.”

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran noted the increase in resources for suicide prevention and removing the stigma.

However, work remains to be done, including “rebranding” so-called “suicide prevention schools.” Some school districts are balking at the name.

“This is an important issue to get right,” Mrs. DeSantis said, asking board members to help “move the needle forward.”

“Today’s meeting of the Florida Children & Youth Cabinet was a positive first step in our efforts to respond to the epidemic of youth suicide,” said First Lady DeSantis.

“The growing trend of this tragic cause of death is alarming and we are going to have to work quickly and creatively to change it. Together,” DeSantis said, “we can identify meaningful solutions and quality care for families to address the suffering and stigma surrounding this issue. It is through a proactive approach that these Floridians will find the help and hope they need to heal.”

Expect more discussion in December from this group on this subject.


A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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