Suicide watch: Expert explains what to look for, where to find help

MARYSVILLE – While the nation was reading about the high-profile suicide of Washington State University quarterback Tyler Hilinski, Marysville Crisis Support Team chaplain Greg Kanehen was dealing with similar tragedies.

Two local women took their own lives about the same time.

He wants to get the word out that there are tips on when people should become concerned, resources to help people choose not to make that fatal decision and training available to guide people who deal with kids often (see accompanying breakouts).

Since Hilinski’s death, it was learned that he was dealing with a breakup with a girlfriend, along with loneliness in his dealing with fame, Kanehen said.

“Those are not surprising,” he said, adding that drugs, alcohol and thrill-seeking are other signs. “Being more risky…They are all indications of a disregard for living.”

Kanehen said there seems to be an uptick in suicides. The death of a young girl whose body was found at Pinewood Elementary School was especially hard on first-responders.

“That will stay with us a long time,” he said. “My heart goes out to them,” he said of suicide victims. “I wish I knew what they were thinking when they did it.”

Another tragedy that stays with first-responders is the murders-suicide shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School years ago. That one taught rescuers some important lessons.

“That was a reminder to pay close attention to social media,” he said, adding many people have no filters when it comes to information online. Some people act like bullies when they see online someone is going to harm themselves. “They’ll say, ‘Go for it.’ Come on, have some common sense” and not egg them on, he added.

In the M-P tragedy, another problem was some people seemed to know, but didn’t tell anyone about it.

“Another thing we struggle with is ‘I’m not gonna snitch’ or tell on someone,” Kanehen said. But we as a society that cares are obligated to if it will save a life.

Kanehen said brains do not fully develop until ages 23-26 so decisions made before then are more fluid, reactive and emotional.

He said it can be hard to tell, especially with teens, if it is typical or harmful behavior. “Don’t jump the gun and assume the worst,” he said.

If something seems a little off “listen more carefully. If there is a change of tone, self deprecation, hopelessness or giving away personal belongings they are in the ‘yellow zone’” of caution.

In the moment, he finds that a lot of people don’t want to talk then, but later, when they decompress, they are able to process their feelings better and seek the help they need.

Kanehen said young people aren’t the only ones who commit suicide, although he’s seen about two dozen in 14 years. “It’s about half men and women, from ages 15-80,” he said.

Older adults, especially with Stage 4 cancer, will take their own lives because they don’t want to go through treatments, and they don’t want to be a burden on their family.

“I get that,” he said. “But by taking their life it’s a different kind of burden.”

Kanehen said he wishes he could turn the clock back, “like the ghost of Christmas past,” so people could see how much they are loved. After seeing that outpouring of care, “Would you still make that decision?”

He said few suicides are spontaneous. A majority are looking for help. But training is important.

“Teens don’t want to be lectured; don’t want to be given advice.”

Kanehen said it’s a mistake to think people shouldn’t talk about suicide. “Talking about it isn’t going to force them to do it,” he said. “If they verbalize, it it’s not hopeless yet. It gives you an opportunity.”

Kanehen said ask the person if he or she has a suicide plan. “If they do, yellow lights should start flashing.”

He said some kids don’t have the best home lives, so educators do a great job of trying to build up all students’ self-esteem.

“They try to acknowledge every kid in a positive way every day,” he said.

As a result, a student may feel safer and be more likely to share with a trusted person like a coach or counselor.

Kanehen said all adults could help in every interaction they have with kids.

“We as adults need to be more patient – give them the benefit of the doubt. Acceptance is the foundation for self-esteem when it comes to mental health,” he said.

Average teen or warning sign?

Symptoms of mental illness can be similar to average teen development. Listen and pay attention to the details.

•Withdrawing from family to spend time with friends is normal. Withdrawing from everything is not.

•Wanting more privacy is normal. Being secretive and appearing to be hiding something is not.

•Moving from childhood likes to teen pursuits is normal. Losing interest in favorite activities and not replacing with other pursuits is not.


•National Suicide Prevention Hotline

1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)

•Crisis Clinic Washington

866-4CRISIS (866-427-4747)

•A helpful link to guide someone who is considering suicide

•National Hopeline



•The Trevor Project (for LGBQT teens)



•Crisis Text Line

Text based crisis line

Text START 741-741

•Helping Your Child With Bullying

Youth Mental Health First Aid 8-hour course

•Free, paid for by Educational Service District state grant. Limit of 25

•Dates: March 23, April 27, May 18, June 22. All at Marysville School District administration building, 4220 80th St. NE. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

•Who: Designed for adults who work with young people, such as teachers, coaches, faith leaders, social workers and other caring citizens.

•What’s taught: A five-step action plan to offer initial help to young people showing signs of mental illness or in a crisis, and connect them with professional, peer, social or self-help services. First-Aiders do not diagnose, or counsel. The program offers answers to questions that come up that encourage folks to seek help.The acronym for the plan is ALGEE. 1. Assess for risk of suicide or harm

2. Listen nonjudgmentally

3. Give reassurance and information

4. Encourage appropriate professional help.

5. Encourage self-help and other support strategies

•Website: Register:

Developmental Assets for Adolescents (ages 12-18)

The Search Institute has identified building blocks that help young people grow up healthy, caring and responsible.


•Support: from family, positive family communication, other adult relationships, caring neighborhood, caring school climate, parent involvement in schooling.

•Empowerment: Community values youth, youth as resources, service to others and safety.

•Boundaries and expectations: Family, school and neighborhood boundaries. Adult role models, positive peer influence and high expectations.

•Constructive use of time: Creative activities, youth programs, religious community and time at home.


•Commitment to learning: Achievement motivation, school engagement, homework, bonding to school and reading for pleasure.

•Positive values: Caring, equality and social justice, integrity, honesty, responsibility and restraint.

•Social competencies: Planning and decision making, interpersonal and cultural competence, resistance skills and peaceful conflict resolution.

•Positive identity: Personal power, self-esteem, sense of purpose and positive view of personal future.

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