Youth suicide can happen in any family

Joan Frable, left, seen here visiting her daughter Jessie on the Washington State University campus, urges other Arlington families to look for the warning signs of youth suicide. - Courtesy Photo
Joan Frable, left, seen here visiting her daughter Jessie on the Washington State University campus, urges other Arlington families to look for the warning signs of youth suicide.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

ARLINGTON — If the community learns nothing else from the ongoing series of youth suicide awareness forums, Arlington mom Joan Frable wants them to understand that suicide can happen in any family.

“Our family is so stable and loving and caring,” said Joan Frable, whose daughter Jessie committed suicide on Sept. 24, 2009, at the age of 22. “Jessie was on track and involved in the community and had so many friends. She was just starting to live by herself. I never could have imagined that this would happen.”

Frable was one of roughly a hundred Arlington community members who attended the first in a series of youth suicide awareness forums on March 30 in the Linda M. Byrnes Performing Arts Center. Jennifer Barron, deputy director of the Youth Suicide Prevention Program based in Seattle, explained to the audience that the Frable family is not uncommon, since even attentive and concerned parents can miss certain warning signs.

“We were lucky enough to be able to put together the puzzle-pieces afterward,” Joan Frable said, as she described Jessie as a high-achieving perfectionist who had little experience in coping with failure.

Jessie Frable had graduated as a valedictorian of the Arlington High School Class of 2005 and received a four-year accounting degree from Washington State University before she began studying for her master’s degree in accounting at the University of Washington the same month she died.

“It’s like they said in the forum, how things can happen quickly and stress can pile up into extreme panic and anxiety,” Joan Frable said. “When we talked to her the night before, we asked her how it was going and she said, ‘Oh, I feel a little overwhelmed.’”

Although Jessie Frable and her parents spoke for a while about those feelings, Joan noted that “she never reached out to us.” During the March 30 forum, Barron explained that suicide is often an impulsive act, with many youth suicides occurring between 3-6 p.m. at home. Barron added that, when a prospective suicide’s chosen means of committing the act is taken away — whether it’s a bridge without guardrails, an unlocked gun or unsecured medications — they often don’t have a “Plan B.”

“It’s normal for adolescents to be moody or irritable at times, but what you’re looking for are sudden changes in the behavior that’s normal for them,” Barron said.

Barron broke the risk factors for youth suicide into four categories, including biological, social, psychological and existential. Puberty and sexual orientation, academic and peer pressure, and bullying and abuse can contribute to a suicidal outlook, as can negative self-talk, low tolerances for distress and a failure to see the positives in life.

“A person’s school, family or community can be protective factors, as can individuals who those people can talk to without judgment,” Barron said. “Show that you car. Ask them the question, ‘Are you thinking about hurting yourself?’ They want to be asked. Your kids might not know what to say, because they might not want to tell you how unhappy they are when they know how much you already do for them.”

Barron asserted that young people need helpful adults who won’t be afraid to ask them tough questions about how they’re feeling.

“We as adults all need to be aware of this problem,” Frable said. “People don’t talk about it nearly enough.”

The next youth suicide awareness forums will take place from 7-8:30 p.m. on May 11, 12, 25 and 26 in the PAC.

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