“I just want to die,” are words Ann Jenkins, clinical director of COPES, and her team hear quite often. More and more frequently, the ones saying they’re ready to quit on life are kids.
COPES is a 24/7 crisis service operated by Family & Children’s Services. Specially trained COPES clinicians provide free, confidential support – both by the phone and by traveling directly to persons in crisis – to children and adults in Tulsa County who are at risk of hurting themselves or others. Last year, COPES responded to 6,928 calls, including 484 involving suicidal children and teens. That’s a 32% increase over 2011.
“Teenagers who turn to suicide often are desperate to relieve whatever pain they’re feeling,” said Jenkins. “They’ve just broken up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or they have a bad relationship with their parents, or they live in poverty, and they have no hope that things will get better.”
One such child who had no hope was Shyla.* An older friend of the family had sexually abused Shyla, but the 14-year-old girl couldn’t bear to tell her mother. Overwhelmed by shame, betrayal, fear and sadness, Shyla saw no way her life would improve. She told a school counselor she didn’t want to live anymore; the counselor called COPES.
“We sent a team right to the school to assess the risk, engage the mother and help stabilize the situation,” recalled Jenkins. “Counselors, teachers, administrators, and even students will call us about themselves or for their friends who are experiencing a crisis.”
A clinician talked to Shyla and her mother separately, then brought the two together where Shyla told her mother how she was feeling – and why. After finding that Shyla’s life wasn’t in immediate danger – she hadn’t created a plan or obtained the means to carry out suicide – the clinician created a safety plan for Shyla and connected the girl and her mother with the Family Sexual Abuse Treatment Program at Family & Children’s Services.
Talking about suicide, death and dying is a warning sign often displayed by young people at risk of suicide. Jenkins urges children and adults who are feeling suicidal or who recognize symptoms in others to contact COPES at (918) 744-4800. Services are free and available to anyone in Tulsa County.
* name changes to protect client’s identity