LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The death of a duPont Manual High senior has rocked the school community and is bringing additional awareness to suicide prevention.

The 17-year-old, who was an all-district lineman on Manual's football team, committed suicide Monday night, the Jefferson County Coroner's Office confirmed.

By morning, officials with Jefferson County Public Schools had sent grief counselors and additional support to the school and his classmates were posting tributes to him on social media.

The Louisville Metro Police Department reported 101 suicides in Jefferson County in 2015, up from 80 in 2014.

“We don’t know how many of those are under the age of 18, but we are noticing it much more with kids," said Gloria Berry, the marketing director for Seven Counties Services, a non-profit agency that provides mental health services to the Louisville area. 

Berry, who is also a licensed marriage and family therapist, said it has grown into such an issue that Seven Counties now has a crisis program that works specifically with kids and teens.

The agency's Acute Child Psychiatric Services provides 24-hour assessment, intervention and referral for children, adolescents and families who are experiencing psychiatric emergencies, Berry said.

“With a kid, when there is a problem…it can be so overwhelming that they don’t see any hope," Berry said. "As adults, we’ve been through rough patches and have seen that things usually get better. Kids don’t have that history of seeing a rough patch through.”

Kentucky law requires that counselors in middle and high schools present suicide prevention information to students. 

In JCPS, middle and high school students are shown a suicide prevention video at the start of the year and then fill out a questionnaire, Berry said.

"We have done a lot of training with JCPS staff to help them notice warning signs," she said, adding that Seven Counties provides services to 130 of the district's schools.

Berry said suicide is a "serious public health problem," adding that it is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

The rate of suicide has risen in the past decade, with the greatest increase occurring among the population age 35-64 years (28.4 per 100,000 people). The Louisville Metro suicide rate of 14 is higher than the 12.4 national rate but lower than the state rate of 14.5, said Gwen Cooper, vice president of external affairs with Seven Counties.

According to hospitalization data, the leading cause of inpatient visits by preteens and adolescents was for emotional disorders -- many being treated due to a suicide attempt of self-inflicted injury, Cooper said.

In 2014, Seven Counties had 6,877 requests for acute child psychiatric services. Of that, the agency did 1,700 assessments, she said.

"That's 25 percent of the kids who were referred to us," Cooper said.

Berry said awareness and education about suicide prevention is key.

“I don’t think a lot of kids think that it is final, many hope they will be found or that they will be rescued," she said. "When I talk to teens who are depressed or have attempted suicide, they didn’t understand...several put plans in place with hope that they would be found."

"A lot of times people think if you talk about it, it will happen," Berry said. "But with suicide, it is actually the opposite. If you talk about it more, the least likely it is to happen."

Cooper added that parents should "always feel like they can talk to their kids and vice-versa."

"But for some reason they don't feel this way, get another trusted adult involved," she said.

Berry added that if a student is concerned about a friend or classmate, he or she should talk to "the school counselor or another trusted adult immediately."

Some warning signs are:

  • Becoming more isolated and not participating in normal activities 
  • Giving away things that mean a lot
  • More negatives in conversations
  • Not taking care of personal hygiene
  • Talking often about suicide

In some cases, there are no warning signs, often leaving those left behind with the feeling that they "should have known," Cooper said.

For parents of teens in this circumstance, Cooper said it's important for parents to talk to their kids about the future.

"You have to tell them that they are not responsible for someone else's actions," she said. "There are three sides to every story and there is nothing that they could not have done at that moment to change the outcome."

"What I hope they learn from this is that nothing is so terrible that it could result in an impulsive reaction that may permanently impact your life," she said. "Take a step back and talk to somebody."

In Louisville, children and teens can call the Seven Counties Services 24-hour crisis line at 502-589-8070.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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