“The human brain is geared towards living, so it usually takes a series of events that really make it get to that point where a person gets to a comfort level with the idea of death.”
FORT WALTON BEACH — A community is in mourning after the apparent suicide of a Destin teenager.
A family friend found 14-year-old Connor Bartlett’s body near Destin’s west jetty about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday after a search involving several law enforcement agencies.
Connor, a freshman at Fort Walton Beach High School, was a Destin Middle School graduate and an outstanding high school and club team swimmer.
Grief counselors were at Fort Walton Beach on Wednesday to help students deal with the loss of their classmate. Students wore blue — Connor’s favorite color — to honor him.
In dealing with the young man’s death, experts on suicide prevention are speaking out to help parents and friends better understand the circumstances that can lead to suicide.
Dr. Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), a Minnesota-based suicide prevention nonprofit organization, said there are almost always signs when a teenager is contemplating suicide.
“If a teen is withdrawing from family and friends, or normal activities that they’re involved with, that’s a concern,” Reidenberg said. “If a youth is starting to talk about having no future or no hope for the future, that’s another warning sign.”
Dramatic changes in behavior, irritability, fighting, isolation, feelings of being a burden and increased use of alcohol or drugs are also signs that a teen could be troubled.
James Smith is a licensed clinical social worker and director of hotline programs for 2-1-1 Big Bend, a Tallahassee-based crisis counseling and suicide prevention organization. He said in most cases, suicide isn’t an idea that comes to an individual suddenly, but is the result of a process of thinking that occurs over time.
“The process of suicide is really getting comfortable with the idea of dying,” Smith said. “The human brain is geared towards living, so it usually takes a series of events that really make it get to that point where a person gets to a comfort level with the idea of death.”
Reidenberg noted that 2 to 5 percent of teen suicide cases involve a friend or person close to the teen who previously has committed suicide. Additionally, while it is important for family and friends to mourn and appropriately honor the lost loved one, publicly memorializing the suicide victim can, in some cases, lead other teens on the edge to consider suicide.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t want to remember them or honor them and have families be able to grieve and grieve publicly,” Reidenberg said. “But when you see public memorials established, a young person who might be at risk sees this overwhelming grief response and they also believe they can get that same kind of grief response. They struggle with not realizing that everybody’s grief response is different.”
Smith said friends and peers of suicide victims should not be afraid to ask for help if they feel emotional about the events. Suicide prevention hotlines not only are available for those contemplating suicide, but also for friends and family of suicide victims or anybody experiencing emotions or crises.
“With the shock of finding out that someone that you were sitting in class with the previous day is gone, don’t be afraid to call for help,” Smith said. “Even if you’re not contemplating suicide yourself, they’re there to talk with you about the emotions that you’re going through.”
Coaches in Connor’s swimming community were continuing to reach out Wednesday to offer support and encouragement to his teammates.
“This has been devastating news for us all,” Coast Aquatics Swim Coach Brad Kale said in an email to swimmers Wednesday afternoon. “And I hope that tomorrow afternoon we can begin the healing process together as a team and encourage some of Connor’s teammates to seek help or guidance if needed,”