Changing Minds: The ongoing tragedy of teen suicide

Published: Feb. 13, 2017 at 5:42 PM MST
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Normal teens are often moody due to hormonal and physical changes. But add in the stress of school, and now social media, and it can explode into deadly consequences.

At Grand Junction High School, the fight against the stigmas of mental health and suicide has reached an apex in the midst of an ongoing tragedy.

On November 2, 17-year-old Junior Bueno, a football and baseball player, shot and killed himself in the GJHS parking lot.

Why, we'll never know.

But we do know that Bueno was the second student to commit suicide in the current school year at GJHS. This year’s heart-rending events have forced students themselves to begin demanding answers to stop the next tragedy.

We sat down and talked to Bobbie Bueno, the mother of Junior, about that horrible day and its aftermath.

“They took us into a room, the weight room and they told me my son took his life,” said Bobbie.

In an instant, Junior Bueno took his life inside his car in the GJHS parking lot. His public death brought a topic out of the shadows that is rarely discussed, and it had students crying out for help.

Michelle Hoy, the vice president of Mind Springs Health, said 9,500 people were treated last year in Mesa County and 16,000 in the 10 counties they serve. Hoy said the numbers continue to rise.

“I really think this is a larger community issue,” said Hoy.

A recent report from the Mesa County Coroner's Office showed that the county's suicide rate is now nearly double the national average.

Hoy said teens struggle with the same issues that teenagers have always struggled with and social media can create even more problems.

“It's easier to be kind or unkind in this day with all the media outlets,” said Hoy.

A Pew Research Center poll of 12 to 17 year olds found nine in 10 teenagers say they have witnessed cruelty by their peers on social networks.

“I think kids are reaching out on social media to express how they feel,” said Bobbie Bueno. “But you can't see how they feel in that text or Facebook post that says I'm feeling depressed.”

“I don't know the answer, but kids are absolutely struggling with things that weren't true in the past,” said Hoy. “And kids and parents are trying to figure out how to navigate that.”

What adds to the struggle is not knowing what's wrong. Junior's grieving family knows they are left with that what if.

“As parents we ask how was school? How was football? How was baseball?” said Bueno. “But I don't think we are asking, ‘How are you? How are you doing?’”

While treatment and symptoms isn't one size fits all, there are things to watch out for.

Hoy says to watch out for kids who seem to have lost focus, enjoyment, who might be fidgety more often, and who might be expressing worry or sadness. But there is one thing we all can do. Speak up.

June Fellhauer of Wake Up Ministries is promoting improving self-awareness, especially in women.

“We are all pushing mentorship in a big way,” said Fellhauer. “There is a lot of fear of rejection, not fitting in and so we try to show them how their brain thinks.”

“Every single person in this community can push themselves to think what can I do the next time I see someone beyond the, ‘Oh hey how are ya’ in the hallway,” said Hoy. “I've noticed things are different and how is it really going.”

It's why Junior's family is taking part in activism.

They're pleading with everyone to pay attention, know the signs, and just talk.

“And always tell your kids you love them…kiss them…you never know when the last time will be that you see your kids,” said Bueno.

As for the students who were demanding help, District 51 has scheduled more meetings, more resources, more assemblies promoting self worth and appreciation. But Bobbie Bueno said those activities have stopped, and that just last week another student took their life.

The district refutes the claims by the Bueno family that efforts to combat mental health issues stopped in the week after his death.

The following is a statement from Emily Shockley, public information officer for District 51.

“It’s important to discuss suicide in a way that help prevent more suicides from taking place. Mental health professionals believe in opening the conversation about suicide as a public health issue, which has been the focus of dozens of D51 staff and student trainings on intervention and an ongoing series of suicide prevention meetings gathering input from parents and students. We encourage students to share their grief with counselors, friends, and family, and to tell an adult immediately if they believe a friend is suicidal.”

And for those in need of someone to talk to right now, Mind Springs has a 24/7 Crisis Line at 888-207-4004.