Warning: The following interview contains graphic depictions of suicide. Viewer discretion is advised.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of preventable death in our nation today. Every week, Americans lose an average of more than 125 youths to this tragedy. As waters continue to rise, what can be done? How can parents help? And is there anything we can do to prevent it? Rick Hoaglund sits down with Clark Flatt, President and Founder of The Jason Foundation, to talk about the signs, solutions, and how the foundation got started following a terrible tragedy in the summer of 1997.
If you or a loved one are experiencing a crisis, you are not alone. Dial 911, 988, 1-800-273-TALK, or text ‘JASON’ to 741741.
Find out how to get involved at the Jason Foundation at https://www.jasonfoundation.com.
OT Ep. 14 – Transcript.txt
00;00;09;06 – 00;01;04;02
Welcome to OnTopic with Empathia. I’m your host, Rick Hoaglund. Teen suicide is on the Rise. Over 125 teens commit suicide each week. For middle and high school aged youth, that’s ages 12 through 18, suicide is the second leading cause of death. For college aged youth, that’s ages 18 to 22, suicide is the third leading cause of death. Overall, suicide is the third leading cause of death for our youth, ages 10 through 24. Clark Flatt knows this all too well. His 16 year old son Jason killed himself. And since that time, spreading the word about suicide prevention is Clark’s mission. He’s established The Jason Foundation in memory of his son. Let’s meet Clark Flat. Welcome to our podcast!
00;01;04;06 – 00;01;10;20
Hey, glad to be here, Rick. I appreciate you inviting me to come out and talk about this. This topic is very, very timely now.
00;01;10;22 – 00;01;18;06
In the introduction, people got a little bit of sense of where we’re going to go with this today, but do you mind sharing your story with us today>
00;01;18;08 – 00;10;27;12
Well, no I’ll be glad to, Rick. And I wish it was just my story. But unfortunately, my story is representative of a lot of families every year in our nation. To go back to the- my story would be going back to where T%he Jason Foundation came from. It wasn’t like a lot of good people I’ve met over the years that I found, that they came out of college with that burning passion to make a difference in mental health or with families and helping. I really admire those people. You know, I came out of college and and went for a time being into counseling, education, administrative and church work. I went from that to insurance boy. That was a job, you know, an insurance salesman. But I really- I owned my own small insurance company for 23 years. Had what I would consider the really good life. We have- you’ll know by the end of my podcast that I’m not the sharpest tack in the box, but I have a real ability of pulling sharp people around me. And that’s what I did with the insurance company. Very successful! I had the house overlooking the lake. I had the sports cars. I still love sports cars. Just can’t afford them now. I had the Wave Runner, I- wonderful wife, had two boys. Fantastic boys. Had a great dog. I had a suspicious cat. Besides that, everything was going great. Things were looking good. pper-middle income property in that area. Until July the 16th, 1997. July the 16th, 1997, I received a phone call from my youngest son, one of his friends. I almost didn’t take it. It was at my office and the secretary said, One of Jason’s friends is on the phone. Of course, you think that something might be wrong. So I took the call. It was a call about nothing. Hey, it’s hot. What are you doing today? Of which you’re busy. I wasn’t really a phone call about anything, and I finally said, Well, listen, I appreciate your call. I’m really busy. I got a banker here for that. I got to talk to them. But if I hear from Jason, I’ll let you know. And the person said, Yep, If you hear from him, please let me know. And that was sort of odd. I got off the phone and said, Why would they say if I heard from him to let them know? And so this is 1997. We didn’t have cell phones like everybody has today. So I asked my secretary to call the house. It was Jason’s day off. It is at his summer job. And I said, get him on the phone. I just want to say hi, and I’ll remind him he has to cut the yard. To have a reason to call. And so she started calling and I started my meeting. 15 minutes went by, 20. I stopped my meeting, went out and said, Haven’t you got in touch with him? She said, not- it’s ringing! Answers up on your answering service, but there’s nobody answering. I said, Well, page him. I had put pagers on both my boys back in 1997. If you are 16 years old with a pager on your side, you’re something. And I put the pager on because that way we connect when they’re away. Actually gave Jason a card business card with a quarter on it and I tell people today, a lot of people might be, listen, why did you give him a quarter? Of course, we had the phone booths, the phones that we had to use. So we paged him. He didn’t answer. I’ll be honest, Rick, I’ll fast forward a little bit. I mean after paging him a couple of times and I was really concerned. I was really more angry. Why wasn’t he answering my page? You know, he knew that this was something that I needed to talk to him. So I went looking for him. I went to his summer job was and they hadn’t seen him, went to where he was supposed to be at the lake that afternoon with his friends. They were wondering where he was at and they hadn’t seen him! So I went home. That last place to go. Supposed to be out in the yard and that late that afternoon. And so when I pulled in, his his old third hand-me-down car was sitting in the driveway and I said, Oh, I found him. And then I said, This now makes sense. This phone call was from a friend. I bet Jason might have had a personal relationship problem here. And when he got upset, Jason’s way of coping was putting headsets on and listening to his music laying in his bed. So it made sense he would be listening to his music, wouldn’t hear the phone ringing, wouldn’t have his pager on if he had left the house. So I went into the house to surprise and catch him listening to his music. I was going to grab his big toe as I would get him up every morning and wear that big toe out and say, Get up. And so as I got closer to his room, I got going faster and picked up my pace down the hallway. I wanted to make those three steps from his door to his bed so I could surprise him and get it started on a good note and then say, Hey, you want to get a Coke, go set out on a truck and under the shade tree and just talk? See if there was something he needed to talk about. As I turned to go into his bedroom, I fell on my son’s body. He had taken my .38 caliber pistol that I had locked up until he was 14, written two notes, placed him in front of himself, thinking he would fall straight back on his bed. However, the force of the of the bullet coming from the left side of his head was so great it spun him completely around. He had fallen across the threshold of the door. And so as I turned looking up that I actually stumbled on top of myself. It’s a picture that I will never, ever get out of my head. And it’s a picture that I hate to say, I’ve heard from so many parents or sometimes a sibling who found their brother or sister or, you know, it is terrible. But that one picture was terrible. Obviously, Jason was no longer with us. I wish I could say I got up at that moment and said, we’re going to start The Jason Foundation to stop this terrible thing. But if it hadn’t been for some good friends and family support, I’m not even sure I’d be here. I mean, at that point of view of losing a child and no matter how you lose the most devastating thing that can happen to a parent or a brother or sister is to lose a brother or sister suddenly. Luckily, I had some people that got after me to understand what happened. You first just want to be angry and say, you know, he he shot himself. He took his life. I don’t know why he did it. You know, he didn’t have any drug or alcohol problems. He wasn’t in counseling. He didn’t show any type of signs. I mean, I have I was a counselor in years back, and none of the things that I was obviously should have been looking for was there yet. July the 16th, 1997, we lost him. I really started the Jason Foundation in late in middle of September. I had a friend say, Do you really know what took his life? I went on my old RadioShack computer and typed in on AOL youth suicide. This is where it starts and we’ll talk more. It first thing he came up on that old black and green screen was youth suicide that day and time was the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. And when I saw that, The Jason Foundation started because as a parent, like many people listening to this, a parent or grandparent, I had gone to PTO’s, PTA’s, I’d gone to church meetings, community meetings about drugs, about alcohol, even a form of bullying back then. But no one had ever said, By the way, suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people. You need to know about it. You need not know how to recognize the warning signs and all importantly, you need to know what to do should you see those signs. So we started the Jason Foundation officially October the first, 1997. We had the hopes of someday covering the state of Tennessee with a parent program, not to scare parents, but to provide them information that they can better recognize when their son or daughter might be struggling with thoughts of suicide and then have some idea about what they could do in their community. We have been blessed, though. That was in 1997. The good Lord has put a lot of good people in front of us at the right time. We’re now considered a national leader. I don’t say number one or two, that’s too much chest beating, not interested in that. Just wanted to be the best we can be. And we’re considered a national leader. SAMHSA listed us as one of the 50 high points in the last 25, 30 years of things that had happened on suicide prevention was the beginning of The Jason Foundation. Makes you feel good, when you see things like that. You know you’re making a difference. Now we provide the original programs for parents still do that. We provide programs for student sense and the student curriculums and health classes throughout high schools and middle schools across the United States. And we’re probably the number one provider of professional development in-service training for teachers in the nation, especially for nonprofit. We train about 190 to 195,000 teachers a year, and we do all this without charging. We don’t charge for any program or resource that we fund. In fact, we’ll talk more about it in a minute. But I think training our teachers is probably one of the best things that a state can do to help address youth suicide. But that’s how we get started, Rick! I think we can talk about some of the other stats if you’d like to.
00;10;27;15 – 00;10;50;20
Oh definitely! Before we go to the stats super quick, what does it do to a family? I mean, it’s- you have a teen that’s committed suicide, that’s going to affect family, friends, probably the community as well. What does it- what does it do? How do you, how do you- how can you, I guess it’s hard to express, but how do you how do you talk about that? Because that’s that’s a big part of this.
00;10;50;23 – 00;13;24;22
We have 184 offices across the country right now. And I’ve given to each one of our offices my cell number, and told them, if you run across a parent, tell them I’m not a counselor, tell them I’m not a Ph.D. But if they’ve lost a son or daughter, I know where they are. And if they want to talk, give me a call. I get 3 to 4 calls a week from parents that this is- and usually has happened in the past 24 hours. It’s without saying to say it’s devastating and- and the- one of the good parts, and I guess I’m- if I’m going into faith, apologize, but I think the good Lord numbs us you really those first three or four days I can look back and I was on autopilot. I got to do this. I’ve got to take care of this. I have a wife, I’ve got another son, I’ve got to make sure he’s okay. You’re just on autopilot. You’ve got to make arrangements. It’s- it’s really- it’s hard that the pain hits you all at once because and it should I think it hits you all at once. It would be overwhelming I’m not sure a person and that’s that’s something that I talk to parents about talk to other people, find somebody you can talk to, share it. Don’t try to keep all that inside of you. It’s overwhelming. I think for me, though, personally, the way I started working through it was when I got on that old RadioShack computer and saw that suicide was the third leading cause- I saw something that I could do. I can make some sense out of what I thought was a total senseless tragedy. Why did a 16 year old who had- he was a good student, very athletic, a lot of friends. And very active in his church, you know. Upper-middle class family, all the bright sides. How could this happen to Jason? How could we take that and go out and touch other people? Because Jason, as I’ve said throughout, since that day, he is your poster child or the number one kid that we’re losing today in America. It’s a total different- that’s something we got to address during this. The image that people have in their mind, I call it the not-my-kid syndrome. They can hear our stats we’re going to be talking about. They can go, Oh, that’s terrible. I’m sure glad I don’t have to worry about my son or daughter. They’re the valedictorian and then the head of the football team, the head of the chess team, student body active in a church, you know, no drug or alcohol. I’ve just described to you the number one person losing in America today to suicide.
00;13;24;25 – 00;13;34;09
Let’s talk about the stats. You brought up a couple of times. So when your son committed suicide, suicide was the number three leading cause. Is it still the number three leading cause?
00;13;34;11 – 00;17;32;12
Well, I- let’s go over some of those stats. First of all, we’ll talk about where they’re at and then I think is was on everybody’s mind. We’re not- and it’s sad to say- we’re not at the crest yet. The pandemic has taken already the bad things in it and have made them quite a bit worse. And all of my data comes from the CDC are the sample. It’s not the Jason Foundation, the CDC report. And the last one is 2021. Very beginning of of of COVID as far as its impact with us. A suicide- and they do them a different age groups. So we break them down into age groups we deal with when we look at the ages 10 to 14. Think about that Rick! 10 to 14 in our nation! I call that the bubblegum, the Scooby-Doo crowd. You know, it used to be such a low percentage, it was not even reportable. It wasn’t even significant. Today in our nation, in our nation! Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10 to 14. And when this- we have found over the 25 years of working, when that 10 to 14 year old, when it starts growing, it’s going to affect all the other age groups because you see it getting within that young person, that thought process, the problems at a younger age. And we’re having people we just came out with an elementary school teachers. Our teacher in service was for teachers in general. We finally spent the money to develop one just for elementary school teachers because of the need of them saying fourth, fifth, sixth grade, Clark you’ve got to give something to us. Now. It’s not for the student themself, but it’s for the teachers on that fourth, fifth and sixth grade. And so that’s one it really alarms me. The second leading cause of death when you go up the next step, the 12 to 18, basically your middle and high school age young person. Suicide now is the second leading cause of death in our nation in that group also. So if you have a son or daughter this age in middle or high school, the second most likely thing to take his or her life in our nation today is suicide. How many people are aware of that? You’re not aware of it. You’re not looking for the warning signs. You certainly don’t have a plan on how to address it because you’re not even worried about this. But the second most likely thing to take a son or daughter’s life, 12 to 18, is- is suicide. When you go to the 10 to 24, which is what SAMHSA now uses most of the time when they’re talking about young people, 10 to 24, suicide remains the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24. There is that through to college age youth. And so it’s down from what it was 30 and the 12 that that mean the 15 to 24 was how they were looking at it. 97 when you look at it, the 10 to 24, the whole thing is the second leading cause of death. Now, most people and now answer this before you can ask this, what’s number one? What’s number one? You said second, second, second! This is something that I’ve asked the CDC for for 20 years. When you look at the leading causes of death, aged 1 through 10. Numbers 2 to 10 are single things such as suicide, number one. And only number one is a group called Unintentional Injuries, which includes car accidents, a biggie, drug overdoses that are determined to be unintentional. So you put those together with your regular falls, accidents that happen. Then you have something that takes more lives than suicide in all of those groups. So number one is unintentional injuries. I have never been given a reason why they put all those together for number one. But needless to say, we still cannot be happy. Alarmed As a nation to think from 10 to 20 for the second most likely thing to take one of our young people’s lives is suicide.
00;17;32;15 – 00;17;50;26
What are the risk factors? We’ve got a good idea of what that that this is a huge number. This is a- this is an astronomical number, to be honest. But what are the risk factors when we’re more looking at? Maybe it’s a little bit medical we’re talking now, or psychological, but what are those risk factors?
00;17;50;29 – 00;24;51;28
I think you also got to see the numbers when we get to the risk factors. Some that one, you know, I was talking about the percentages. You know, the CDC just came out at the first of this week. Well, first of last week, what are the- my days are going together! You know, we had the single, and we’re talking about all age groups. We had the single- the record setting number for suicides in America in 2022. It eclipsed anything we’ve ever had from from record keeping. And we’re just seeing the impact. And that, too, I’m not- I’m not one to blame the pandemic. I’m tired of hearing- if I want to ream of paper, I can’t get it because of the pandemic. This has been trickling down, you know. But but we do know that there has been a big impact, especially on youth and young adults. And we’re seeing it now with the numbers. And when we’re almost at 50,000 in one year. And then from 2011 to 2022, we’ve had over a half a million people. That’s all age groups that have been lost to suicide. So it is a very impactful thing. But you’re right. What are some of the things to look for? You know, I think that’s the thing that we have to get. It’s easy to convince somebody. We have a huge problem when you see the percentages plus the numbers? I think that we can talk about prevention on some of the things we can do in a minute. But you’re right, some of the risk factors, we call them signs of concern. Some people call them warning signs. I don’t like warnings signs- warning signs says if you see this, this is more likely going to happen. These are not that way. That the signs of concern saying that if you see this, be concerned about it, but it’s not an absolute. So when you see it, it’s not an absolute that they’re thinking about suicide. First of all, those people who who give suicide threats, I think that- that can be as obvious. You’d be amazed with how many times we’re brought in on something. And after the fact we find that the individual had actually told several people that they were going to are thinking very seriously about taking their own life and yet nothing was done about it. In my own son’s case, he called two people the morning that he took his life, told them what he was going to do when he was going to do it, how he was going to do it. And they didn’t call anybody. It wasn’t because they were bad people. They- they were just that deer in the headlights. They froze and they didn’t know what to do. By not knowing what to do, you freeze. So a suicide threat is the obvious. Now, of course, you need to take action. But for some of your listeners, you know, it can be less obvious. You had heard someone say nobody really loves me. No- nobody would care I wasn’t here anymore. I mean, it would just be better if I was dead and it would it would be a lot better for people around me. All things like that are really a type of suicide threat. You’re talking about life without you being there. I think it’s important that we educate ourselves when we hear someone talking despairingly about their own life to be able to ask questions. Hey, you- you sound like you’re going through a tough time. Can we talk about it? You’re not thinking about hurting yourself? Or even asking those questions. So and I’m hitting these very quickly because I know we have a time thing, but suicide threats, previous suicide attempts. You think that’s a no brainer, really? If we could curtail that, we could drop suicides down tremendously. If we’ve missed the first attempt, or we misaddressed it. We took it as a half-hearted attempt. Any attempt at hurting oneself should be taken very, very seriously. This is something we teach. We are honest with teachers, or a lot of educators a lot, who find out about something that some people would call a half-hearted suicide attempt and they go, Well, we’re not going to report that. We’ll get them in trouble. It’s all taken care of. It was just- it was just a moment of emotion. Don’t do that. If you know, that’s suicide attempt, no matter how minor, always reach out and get help for that person. Don’t don’t. You know, it is a very high risk factor to see a previous suicide attempt. I like to tie the next two together and then we only get one more after that- is depression and out of character behavior. Depression has been called the leader or the behavior of- of of heading toward suicide. Its underlying reason for most suicide attempts of suicide no matter what age group. Yes. And depression is hard to recognize sometimes some people are depressed, eat everything that doesn’t get out of their way. Some people who are depressed don’t eat anything or you sleep or you don’t sleep. I tie it to out of character behavior because that’s a little easier, at least for me to understand. Somebody is not acting the way that I know he or she to be. And that could be from being a kind of a slob to being now all at once very, very pristine. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It’s- somebody who always wants to go out and do things or shop or go out and be part in the sports. Now, don’t want to do those things. That- that someone who’s a solid B student now are getting C’s and D’s. Now all of these are just sort of examples of out of character. Basically, I would say to your list, anything is out of character for how you know a person. Does it mean that they’re suicidal? No, it does not. But it does mean something’s going on in their life that’s significant enough that you recognize it. And I think that means that you should, as a friend, as a parent, as a teacher, as a pastor, you need to say, I see something and and I think we might need to talk about it. So, of course, the last one is final arrangements and giving away of prized possessions. Sounds very simple, but that’s again, to be a lot of times you might have a son or daughter come home with a with a prized possession that a friend gave them. And they’re so excited and they know we always tell parents, we tell teachers when, you know, somebody’s got a prize gift, it doesn’t mean the person’s suicidal. Don’t call 911, but ask the person that got the gift. Did you ask why you got it right now? And if I didn’t ask them immediately to call their friend, thank them again and then say, Can I ask you why you gave me this great gift today? You’d be amazed at the times that then that young person says, Because I won’t need it anymore. I won’t need it anymore. And I think that number of young people that’s been- that have been interceded with that because we found out that then that person goes and tells their parents. Tommy said he wasn’t going to need this anymore. He said he’s not will be around if he won’t come clean with what I’ll- But I’m scared. And getting that person help saves lives. So final arrangements, as simple as it sounds, is a very important thing. So- but you put these with elevated risk factors and you’ve got a whole different ballgame too.
00;24;52;00 – 00;25;16;09
How do you tell the difference- and this may seem a little bit of a strange question and maybe it’s something that you can’t answer, but- how do you tell the difference between being a moody teenager and someone that that has a behavioral change or a- is acting out of character? I mean, is there a way I guess there’s no magic solution. But, you know, it’s a…
00;25;16;11 – 00;27;10;02
Great question, Rick. I probably some your listeners are thinking about that. You’re right. Some of the same signs that we had time to go into this deeper, some of the same signs are signs of adolescence, not even just moody adolescent. It’s just adolescence. It can be there, you know, not- not wanting to do this anymore and not wanting to do that, withdrawing from friends, changing interests very, very quickly and widely, you know. But these are things that are are flags to say there’s something going on. If you ask a young person, something’s going on and it’s just because they’ve changed really interest and they can explain that to you, at least they know you caring about them. But get to get back to your question, how can an individual know? We always talk about seeing these things in combination. Now, I say that very tentatively. I don’t want someone to wait. If you see something that concerns you, that you think that- even if it’s just one thing, you should act on it. But if you see one something things, it’s a little quirky. Like you say, it’s a little different there. And then once you know someone’s acting a little different, withdrawn from this, now they’re they’re they’re they’re giving up their sports. They’re not going to play this anymore. They’re starting to dress, and their hygiene is going- when you see things in combination, not extremes, but in combination, the more combinations, the bigger the chance is there’s some type of mental health issue going on. And we know that suicide itself is not the issue. This anxiety, depression that’s left untreated, undiagnosed, become suicide. So, you know, when you start seeing these things you would call adolescence, but we start seeing them in combination, that to me as a red flag that you certainly need to- you’re not going to do any harm by saying, I’m concerned, can we talk? The harm can come by not saying that I want to let- That’s something you don’t want to do.
00;27;10;04 – 00;27;21;20
And I- and I want to bring up that I’m under the impression that there’s no single cause that somebody commits suicide for. It’s a combination of thing, and I think you’re- is that correct?
00;27;21;23 – 00;29;58;18
Oh, yeah. It’s it’s you have to be careful because then people get scared, they get the saying- it is a suicide itself of that act of suicide. The complex, many times there’s- there’s a lot of factors. It comes a very seldom, in my opinion, of 26 years of dealing this. There’s somebody get up this morning and everything’s been going well and then have one bad thing happen in the air. Oh, well, I’m going to take my life, but that just doesn’t happen. Usually it’s- it’s- it’s a series of things. You can see these things happening in a person’s life that that takes them down that road. It is a complex thing. Yet once we see some of the things that are experiencing the biggest thing we try to get teachers and parents and pastors do are not become clinicians, not become counselors. I’ve been doing this for 26 years, Rick. I my I have a master’s and with counseling in education and theology, I wouldn’t do it one on one. I would always- I’d be part of a team. But that too- it’s so complex, yet you’re starting down that pathway so easy. Identifying, helping the person know that you’re there for them, that you’re going to be part of the team. And- and it’s not just one call. You can’t say. I’ve heard people say, well, that young person took his life because it gets out around the community. Maybe it was a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend. And then they say, well, that was crazy. He took his life or she took his or her life because they broke up. I can almost guarantee you that that was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. There’s always on most- in my opinion- underlying problems that were already there. And that one event was the one that sent the person to the point of of I had I had a person threaten me last week when I was doing a presentation and I thought it was so cool. She was a head counselor for a district school. But she said, you said that depression was the leading cause for suicide attempts and suicide, and I said, Yes, ma’am. And she said, well, let me tell you what I think it is. And she said, It’s hopelessness. And I said, we’re at the same place. It’s just you used a good generic word. And she’s right. When a person is having those things happen in their life and we don’t catch it and we don’t come in and try to help them deal with those things and they start mountin’ up? Once a person gets to a point of hopelessness where they don’t see an answer, they don’t see a way out, it’s hopeless. That’s the greatest danger for suicide.
00;29;58;20 – 00;31;30;20
Discussing suicide can be difficult, and it’s important to approach the topic with empathy, compassion and a willingness to listen. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out to a mental health professional or call a helpline in your country. If you’re in the United States, dial 988. If you’re thinking of suicide, worried about a friend or a loved one, or if you’d like emotional support, that’s 988. You can also text to 988 or chat on the 988 website. That website is www.988lifeline.og. Or text the word ‘JASON’, J-A-S-O-N, to 741741. There is help available. Please reach out when you’re in a crisis. Clark, thank you for joining us today and sharing with our listeners! Next time on OnTopic, we’ll continue speaking with Clark. We’ll talk about what all of us can do to stop suicide. Is it preventable? What’s happening in our neighborhood, local, state and national levels to educate each other about teen suicide? For that conversation and other episodes of OnTopic with Empathia, visit our website, www.empathia.com. Follow us on social media @Empathia and subscribe to OnTopic with Empathia to hear new episodes as soon as they go live. I’m Rick Hoaglund – thanks for listening to OnTopic with Empathia!