Suicide rates for Kern County teens reach an all-time high

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – An alarming find, as a new study reveals the rate of young adults and teens dying by suicide has reached an all-time high.

A mother who lost her son to suicide shared a message she has for every parent or guardian.

“It’s okay to be a helicopter parent even if the kids get mad,” said Estella Vega. “Be interested in what they’re doing, talk, listen to them without interruptions and gain that trust.”

Vega lost her 19-year-old son Jacob to suicide 12 years ago.

“He was amazing, I  miss him so much,” said Vega.

Vega says she recalls he had started acting differently a year before his death.

“I didn’t know what his deal was if he was angry or what,” said Vega.

We spoke with Therapist Jessica Burzlaff about signs to look out for.

“[Look out for] A child who was very outgoing at one point, suddenly being very isolated, irritatable, angry or any uptakes in substance abuse,” said Jessica Burzlaff, LMFT.

Something Vega says she didn’t know she should have been looking for at the time.

“My son, now that I think about it, would spend a lot of time in his room reading, said Vega. “A lot of times he would stay up all night and sleep in the day and I really didn’t think anything of it until now.”

Experts say talking about the subject is crucial, especially when a teen presents signs.

“We need to really sit down with them and talk to them,” said Ellen Eggert, program supervisor with Kern Behavioral Health. “[Ask them] What’s going on with you and ask them about suicide.”

New research by the Journal of American Medical Association shows that in 2017 suicide claimed the lives of over 6,000 young adults in the country, making it the second-leading death for people in that age group.

An even more noticeable spike was seen in suicides for young adult males.  There were 5,016 males between 15 and 24 who lost their lives to suicide that year and 1,225 females.

Kern County has also seen a consistent rise in deaths by suicide since 2011, according to data from the California Department of Public Health.

The spike in suicides among teen boys was also obvious in Kern.

“There’s a 20 percent rise in 15 to 19-year-old males,” said Eggert.

Eggert says that’s according to data for 2017.

“Life is hard,” said Eggert. “Kids need a mentor, they need someone to check up on them, to be there for them.”

If you or someone you know needs someone to talk to call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

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