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CNY family shares news of son's suicide to shine a light on mental health of kids

Max Klingensmith

The suicide of a high school student in Onondaga County last weekend was been made public by his family. The hope is by making this news public, it can make a difference for other students and families.

15-year-old Jay Lu was a sophomore at Fayetteville-Manlius Highs School. Principal Ray Kilmer said in an email to families that Lu had taken his own life over the weekend. He said Jay's parents wanted the community to know, in order to help others.

“Jay’s family believed it was important for the community to know how he passed away, in hopes that it could make a difference for other students and families,” Kilmer wrote.

It used to be uncommon for families to open up about the suicide of a child. Pediatric psychologist Dr. Anne Reagan of Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse said that view is shifting.

"It’s a good thing if we’re using this information as true prevention and education," Reagan said.

The topic needs to be discussed in public and private forums, according to Reagan. And parents and caregivers need to be willing to talk about it, especially if they notice signs of depression or anxiety in a child.

"You don’t even have to say ‘Hey, I’m worried you’re going to commit suicide.’ That’s a bit intimidating to be honest,” Reagan said. “It’s, ‘Hey, I noticed you don’t seem to be yourself. I noticed you have a lot going on. I noticed you mentioned all these stressors, I’m just wondering how are you coping with it. Are you coping well with it?’ It’s having a conversation. There’s not a perfect way it has to be said."

Reagan said like many other things, the pandemic has raised the curtain on the mental health of kids. And it’s exposed one issue that was in place before the first case of COVID-19, which is a lack of mental health professionals.

Reagan said it’s a systemic issue that needs to be solved at a state and federal level, involving things like insurance and state reimbursement rates. She’d also like to see more training for teachers, families and physicians about how to talk to kids about their mental health. But in the meantime, the important thing is to just keep talking.

“There’s more right things to say than wrong things, right? We just have to give support, and to provide and give them an opportunity that we’re noticing somethings not right,” she said. “If we’re noticing it, they’re definitely noticing it."

There are a number of resources meant to prevent suicide, including the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK, and in central New York, dialing 211 to help find local mental health referrals.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.