PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — The National Alliance of Mental Illness says that teen suicide rates are higher than the national average in Arizona, where 17% of high school students say they've seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. "Kids are absorbing everything around them. They are learning. They are sponges, and they are soaking up everything," said Tim Warnock, a teacher in the East Valley.
Warnock said he believes the frustrations and chaos in the world are weighing on the youth in more ways than one. He's noticed some of his students acting out in different ways, such as drifting off or staring into space. "Quick to tears, they're very quick to fall apart emotionally and start crying," said Warnock.
The training would be required at least once every three years.
Warnock is not just a teacher, but he's also a father who lost his son to suicide in 2016. In his grief, he drafted the Mitch Warnock Act, which requires all staff members of schools in Arizona to take suicide prevention training. "We made some strides with the legislations that at least we stopped digging the ditch. We started to look how to get out of it," Warnock said.
Then, the pandemic hit. "The vast majority of teachers desperately wanted that information. They wanted to know how to handle things, but then they weren't with their students. Suddenly we get shut down. Kids are isolated," Warnock said.
Warnock pointed out that long before the pandemic, suicide rates were already skyrocketing. Children, not just teens, were experiencing depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. He said he's heard of at least three student suicides in the East Valley within the last two weeks.
"There's (sic) so many factors pancaking onto the kids right now that are making this much worse," Warnock said. "You have to share your calm because their world, that they're not very familiar with, is in total chaos and they're scared and they don't know what's going to happen next."
Warnock said it's also important to look at more than just suicide completions. "While that's not acceptable, that is a small number compared to the bigger number of kids who have attempted, and that number is smaller than the number of kids who have a plan," Warnock said.
He believes teens and younger kids need to learn more healthy coping mechanisms to prevent them from going down a dark spiral. "We are going to be OK. This is really going to shake us around for a little bit and knock us up and down, but we will get through this," Warnock said.
Teen Lifeline says they've had a 30% increase in calls and texts from last year to this year when comparing January through August, and 30% of the calls and texts are from teens struggling with thoughts of suicide. It's the single largest call category, which is followed by contacts related to family struggles, relationships, school problems, bullying and anxiety.