Prior to November 2018, if you had asked my husband or me if we thought any of our children were at risk for suicide, we would have responded with something along the lines of, “We are very involved and communicative with our children so we would know if they were hurting” or “No, our children are too young to be at risk” or “Our children regularly see a doctor or a psychiatrist so we aren’t worried about that.”
While these were all true responses, our family was stunned by the suicide attempt of our seventh grade son, 12, in November 2018.
Gabe felt tired after school and went to his room. This was the last time that we saw Gabe alive. We can’t express how shocked we were at his passing. Gabe was not depressed at home.
We chalked it up to teenage angst, with a few incidents at school and home. As we were planning Gabe’s funeral, we suspected that he had harmed himself by playing a prank on us or just plain silly.
Our naiveté was crushed when content from his electronic device at school was made available three weeks later. He had been searching for bullying, suicide and other inappropriate content during the past 11 days. It was evident that the school devices weren’t being properly monitored. We discovered that he had made comments about his death to friends, and that they were not taught to recognize the warning signs.
Losing a child to suicide is a parent’s worst nightmare. It was heartbreaking to learn that our bright, happy son, who seemed so outgoing and friendly with everyone, was actually suffering from depression. He also may have been a victim of bullying at school. Even more heartbreaking is the fact that we believe his suicide could have been prevented. We decided to work in Gabe’s honor to ensure another family doesn’t suffer the same loss of a child to suicide.
In 2019, we founded Gabriel’s Light. Our non-profit organization’s mission is to prevent youth suicide through education, cyber safety and kindness campaigns. We provide suicide prevention education directly for youth, their families, schools, and offer grants to organizations that support our mission. Peer intervention is a powerful way to help children who are struggling.
Today’s young people face huge challenges, such as gun violence, global warming, and pandemic-related difficulties, like social media addiction and anxiety. It is putting a strain on mental health. More than half of college and high school students worry about their mental health. Since the pandemic, suicide, depression, anxiety and bullying have all risen dramatically.
Good news is that almost 90% of people who seek treatment for depression are successful. Warning signs are seen in four out of five suicide attempts. We can help those in crisis and save lives by increasing awareness, education, and funding. There is legislation being worked on to hold Big Tech accountable online for safety and addiction.
Just recently, September was Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. Now October is National Bullying Prevention Month. While safety and mental health for children are important issues to be addressed year-round, these months allow us to focus on difficult topics with our collective passion and strength.
Many people ask how they can get involved and make a difference. We ask everyone to be aware of warning signs and how you can help people at risk. Youth can also get involved in service hours, and become advocates for their peers and themselves.
Remember that it is vital to maintain open communication with your children. Talking about suicide with children is not a good idea. Actually, it is the reverse! In fact, everyone has the power to save lives if we talk more about mental health and know the warning signs.
What to do if you see warning signs of suicide?
What to Look For:
- Changes in mood – feelings of sadness or irritability
- Activity loss can lead to a loss of interest
- Feelings that you are worthless or helpless
- Talking, joking, or writing about suicide or the death
- Isolating from everyone and everything in one’s life
- Giving up valuable possessions
- Addiction, self-harm and risky behavior
How to help someone at-risk
- Signs should be taken seriously, even when they appear to be joking
- Talk to a trusted adult, such as a counselor, parent, teacher, or doctor.
- Dial 988 to reach the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
- Don’t hesitate to call 911 or visit the Emergency Room for immediate risk
Youth Mental Health Programs to Explore
Training in Teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA).
Gabriel’s Light is offering teen Mental Health First Aid Training for kids ages 15-18. Certified instructors
Teach teens how to recognize, understand, and respond to the signs of substance abuse and mental illness in their peers and friends. Participants can earn as many as 15 hours of service. Email [email protected]
Youth Ambassador Programs
The Youth Ambassador Program gives teens and tweens the opportunity to volunteer, learn skills, and help with important causes. Our Kindness Campaign session in October will see middle school and high-school students create a kindness campaign to benefit their school and community.
Resources for Parent Mental Health
Download Gabriel’s Light’s Resource Guides
We’ve created a series of Resource Guides: How to deal with a Mental Health Crisis, How to address bullying Suicide: Surviving Loss. Feel free to download them and share them with anyone in need.
Cyber Safety – Requiring Social Media Platforms to Protect Kids
Congress is currently considering two pieces of cyber security legislation. Click the links to learn more. Reach out to your senators in your state and ask them if they will support and cosponsor KOSA 2.0 and COPPA 2.0.
The Kids Online Safety Act of Twenty22 (KOSA)
KOSA is legislation that would require social media platforms put the interests of children first by requiring platforms to make safety the default and to give kids and parents tools to help prevent the destructive impact of social media on our children’s mental health.
COPPA was established in 1998. It is the federal original online privacy and protection law. Currently, the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is in legislation to update online data privacy rules for the 21st century and ensure both children and teenagers are protected online.
Carol Deely is a mother of five and president and co-founder of Gabriel’s Light. In 2019, Carol and her husband Brendan founded Gabriel’s Light in honor of their son, Gabriel. Gabriel’s Light shares their story to build awareness of youth suicide, the #2 killer of youth ages 10-24, as a growing public health problem. Gabrielslight.org provides more information.