Student survey reveals 15% of Virginia teens have considered suicide

Posted at 10:50 PM, Apr 11, 2018

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Always supportive, Connie Bruce works hard to strike a balance between doting, loving mother, and a trusting one.

"It took her a while to trust me afterwards because she felt like I had been deceiving her in a way" Bruce's daughter, Lacey McRoberts, said.

For a couple of years, Connie had no idea what went on inside her now 16-year-old daughter Lacey's brain.

"I really did feel hopeless," Lacey said.

Lacey began to experience depression when she was in the seventh grade.


"It took a lot of effort and a lot of time for me to do things,” Lacey said. “Sometimes I would just stop moving and stare at my dresser and be like, I'm supposed to be getting dressed right now, and I'm not."

One year later, Lacey said it got so bad that she attempted to take her own life, more than once.

"I attempted suicide several times as testament to what I felt then," Lacey said.

But, she never said anything to her mom.

"I knew she had some anxiety, but I thought she was coping and I thought it was fairly normal until I found out otherwise," Bruce said.

Bonnie Bruce

She did, however, tell some close friends and one of them told a counselor at school.

"So, I got called up to the counselor, he called my mom, and then I went to the hospital," Lacey said.

Lacey spent five days at Chippenham Hospital's Tucker Pavilion where she got the therapy and medication she needed.

"We have a family history so it's not surprising that it's there," Bruce said.

Her story illustrates new data from the Virginia Department of Health.

They surveyed thousands of high school students, asking if they had felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or more during the past year.


Nearly 30 percent answered "yes," including nearly four out of 10 girls.

CBS 6 talked to Grace Gallagher about the numbers.

"That seems pretty high, two weeks solid they felt that low," CBS 6 problem solver Melissa Hipolit said.

"I don't like to be an alarmist, but those are the people who are actually saying, yes, for two weeks, but what was happening a couple days before that, what was happening a month before that, you really have to pay attention, and those statistics are true," Gallagher said.

Gallagher's daughter Cameron died in 2014 after suffering a heart attack at the end of a half marathon.

But, before the 16-year-old's death, she had battled depression.

"Cameron struggled because she didn't know why, why was she so low?" Gallagher said. "She didn't have something tragic happen in her life, but she was still really, really low."

Gallagher started a foundation in honor of her daughter, the Cameron K Gallagher Foundation, to help others like her.

Cameron K Gallagher

"Our brains are beautiful amazing organisms, and they're complicated, and as you're going through adolescents and puberty that just heightens the complications," Gallagher said.

She seemed particularly upset by this part of the survey: more than 15 percent of teens said they had seriously considered attempting suicide.

That number is even higher among female teens.

"Twenty-one percent seriously considered attempting suicide. That's one in five," Hipolit said.

"It is so scary, and it breaks my heart because I know there was a time in Cameron's life she thought no one would care if she wasn't here," Gallagher replied.

And, one in 10 girls said they did attempt suicide in the year before the survey.

We showed the numbers to Virginia's Acting Superintendent of Public Instruction for Virginia, Dr. Steve Constantino.

"It makes me sad, but I know we're taking every step possible to try to turn that around," Constantino said.

"Fifteen percent of females had made a plan about how they would attempt suicide. That's over one in 10," Hipolit said.

"What that tells me is the work that we're doing needs to continue and needs to be increased," Constantino replied.

Dr. Constantino said the state has devoted about $10 million in federal grants to student mental health support, and they currently have a pilot project in select schools that helps teachers identify students in crisis.

"If we believe that a student is in crisis, if we believe they are experiencing one of these situations we described in the survey that we've talked about, that they know what those signs are, that they know what the warning signs are, and they can intervene quickly, early, and effectively," Constantino said.

In Lacey's case, it was a friend who got her the help she needed.

But, Grace Gallagher said the more people open up and talk about teen depression, the more teens will ask for help.

"If you are proactively educating them, giving them a safe environment to speak up, giving them these life skills, these coping skills, it gives them hope, so maybe we won't get to these two weeks of feeling completely hopeless," Gallagher said.

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