Families, mental health advocates look to reverse rise in youth suicides

Leah Mishkin, Correspondent | September 15, 2017 | Health Care

“Kenny was just a great kid, he had a kind heart. He was thoughtful, he was considerate, he was a hard worker, he was a good student in school and then all of a sudden we started seeing a switch in his schoolwork mostly. He had a mental health disorder, he was hospitalized over six times, he struggled for over three years trying to get well.” said Tricia Baker.

That’s how mom Tricia Baker described her son Kenny and the beginning of his experience with mental illness.

According to the Bakers, Kenny was hospitalized over six times for anxiety and depression.

“Suicide is a symptom of an illness and that’s one of the main messages that we’re trying to get across to children to parents. It’s not anything that they need to be embarrassed or afraid about. The sooner you start treatment, the more likely the success of that treatment.”

“We had been helping him,” said Kurt Baker, Kenny’s father. “We had been trying to find a solution for him, but we ran out of time.”

“The last conversation I had was, ‘Kenny, I love you.’ And the last words he said to me were, ‘Mom I love you too,'” said Tricia.

Kenny Baker was 19 years old when he committed suicide.

“It was a horrific experience. I don’t want anybody to go through ever again,” said Kurt.

Trisha and Kurt Baker attended a suicide prevention conference in Belle Meade to speak out about their experience. They share their son’s story with their organization Attitudes in Reverse as a way to start a conversation about mental illness.

“Suicide is a symptom of an illness and that’s one of the main messages that we’re trying to get across to children to parents. It’s not anything that they need to be embarrassed or afraid about. The sooner you start treatment, the more likely the success of that treatment.” said Tricia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate among children ages 10 to 14 more than doubled between 2007 and 2014. That’s the first time suicide has passed car crashes as a leading cause of death for that age group.

Shauna Moses is with New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the organization that puts together the annual suicide prevention conference.

“A lot of students, I feel, are pressured to be perfect and that’s got to be very hard to deal with,” she said.

Moses said she understands because she also struggles with a mental disorder and has attempted suicide.

“When people say they failed at suicide, I hope that phrase goes away because that’s not a failure — that’s a sign that they need to be here,” said Moses.

At the conference, there were 269 pairs of shoes laid out, representing the number of 10- to 24-year-olds in New Jersey who took their lives between 2013 and 2015.

Each shoe included a tag printed with thoughts that go through the minds of people of all ages who have suicidal thoughts.

Kenny’s parents pointed out a pair of their son’s shoes in the display. The words on the tag read, “Teachers don’t understand my illness and say hurtful things.”

All are words – and signs – Kenny Baker left behind.

But when asked what his son might have said today, Kurt Baker replied, “Get help, get help. Find out what works for you. There are solutions that are out there.”