HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The families of 12-year-old Tarhiya Sledge and 16-year-old Channing Smith say they died by suicide after being bullied.
Their deaths bring back painful memories for Clark Flatt.
“It breaks my heart because I know what they’re feeling,” Flatt said. “I know that pain.”
“July 16, 1997, I lost Jason. He was 16 years old.”
His son Jason killed himself, using his father’s gun.
“I walked in and found him that day,” Flatt said.
It was a sudden loss Flatt now helps schools and youth groups work through with his nonprofit The Jason Foundation.
He just launched a crisis support team, helping teachers and administrators counsel students after tragedies like a suicide or school shooting.
Two schools have already used the service.
“How are the students responding?” Flatt said. “What have you done? What are you planning to do?”
Youth and teen suicides are increasing across the state, according to the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network.
“We’re definitely seeing an increase,” said Grace Eakin, director of statewide initiatives and outreach for TSPN.
In 2015, there were 33 suicides statewide among children ages 10 to 17, according to data from TSPN.
In 2016, the number jumped to 41. In 2017, it increased to 51.
“I think social media makes it tougher on the kids now,” Eakin said.
TSPN hired nine staff members and have increased training because of the uptick, according to Eakin.
“We want to cover as many counties, as many people, as many communities as we possibly can,” she said.
“It’s an incredibly disturbing trend.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a prevention network of 161 crisis centers that provides a 24/7, toll-free hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. If you need help, please call 1-800-273-8255.