MILTON, Ga. – The question on John Trautwein’s mind is still “why?”
In 2010, his 15-year-old son Will was a leader among his friends at Northview High School in Johns Creek.
“He was a good lacrosse player, wrote music, was in a band, taught himself how to play piano,” Trautwein said. “During dinner, over pizza, I tested him with cards for a test tomorrow. He knew every single one. He said, ‘yeah, I’m going to ace this one.’”
Will asked about getting his driver’s permit that weekend, how excited he was to play with his band for the neighborhood next week.
After dinner, Trautwein said goodnight to Will and the boy went upstairs to his room.
“There was no way my son would kill himself that night,” Trautwein said. “But he did. We found him at 6:30 a.m.
“I still don’t know why.”
Trautwein spoke to about 150 parents at Milton High School March 28 about Will’s death two years ago. The MHS community is still reeling from two students’ deaths this year. School leaders called the meeting to inform parents about efforts to cope with the loss and ways for families to start talking about suicide.
“The whole school is in mourning,” said Milton High Principal Cliff Jones. “It is difficult.”
Counselors have been seeing students regularly to help them work through their feelings and emotions. According to Trautwein, there were no signs for Will’s death.
“We never thought suicide is something that happened to families like mine,” Trautwein said. “But it happens every day.”
A week after Will’s death, Trautwein created the Will to Live Foundation, to educate and raise awareness of suicide and get teens talking about it.
The Fulton Board of Education has partnered with Will to Live and other programs this year to educate teachers and staff about suicide – what signs to look out for and how to counsel students who seek help. Classes about suicide are being implemented to teach students just what Trautwein encourages – get them to talk to each other.
Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death among all Georgians and the third most common cause of death among youth 15-24 years old, reports the nonprofit SPAN-Ga., the local arm of a national suicide support group.
Mark Guilbeau is an investigator with the Fulton County Coroner’s Office. He said there is no way to predict when suicides happen.
“There is no correlation with holidays or the full moon,” Guilbeau said. “They are consistent throughout the year and year to year. You can’t forecast or predict when it will happen.”
For all of Fulton County, suicide is a rare occurrence, however Guilbeau noted his office seems to get more calls about it in the north of the county than in the south, where deaths are more likely from homicide.
Milton had three suicides between last year and this year. Johns Creek had nine. Alpharetta had three.
Most of those who commit suicide are between the ages of 20 and 70. Firearms are the most common form of death.
With social media and the pressures of academics and sports, students today have it much harder than their parents, Trautwein said, which can make it difficult for parents to relate to what their kids are going through.
“It’s not 1978 anymore,” he said. “Kids are being told they will not get into the state school without straight A’s in AP courses. When my girlfriend dumped me, my relationship status [on Facebook] didn’t update everyone before me.
“The kids of today lead much harder lives than their parents or teachers,” he said.
That can make it difficult for them when dealing with stresses and emotions, especially if they will not speak with their parents.
“Your kids do not tell you everything,” Trautwein said. “They don’t and they won’t. I’m pretty sure you didn’t tell your parents everything either. But these kids can communicate with each other. They do that with each other better than to us.”
He suggested approaching questions differently. Instead of asking “have you thought about suicide?” ask your child “have any of your friends talked about suicide?”
Have children identify who of their friends they would confide in if they needed help.
Communication is the key, he said. It most likely will not be with parents, but children will speak with someone if they have problems.
For information about Will to Live, visit www.will-to-live.org. For suicide crisis help, call the Georgia Crisis and Access Line at 1-800-715-4225 or go online at www.behavioralhealthlink.com
The suicide numbers for the last five years in Fulton County:
2009 — 86
2010 — 101
2011 — 98
2012 — 102
2013 (year to date) — 25
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call the suicide hotline for help.
Suicide warning signs or suicidal thoughts include:
• Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I was dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born.”
• Getting the means to commit suicide, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills.
• Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone.
• Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next.
• Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence.
• Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation.
• Increasing use of alcohol or drugs.
• Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns.
• Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly.
• Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for why this is being done.
• Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again.
• Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above.
*Source: The Mayo Clinic