ATLANTA - According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicides among young people are increasing at an alarming rate. It is a topic some feel uncomfortable talking about, but a local father is speaking out and telling his emotional story after his daughter took her life two weeks ago.
"Good night, I love you, night dad, love you," are the last words Richard Blackwell heard his 16-year-old daughter say.
Alex was smart, funny and happy with dreams of attending college. The sophomore was a forward on her soccer team.
"Everyone always said when we are feeling down Alex makes us feel better," said Richard.
But Richard said last fall he and his wife noticed a change in Alex after she received a concussion during a soccer match.
"The anxiety went up, her level just of unhappiness started creeping up and all of this was very little, subtle incremental things, they were not big jumps," said Richard.
Richard said his daughter was depressed and they got her help. She attended therapy and received medication and as her parents, they would sit down and talk to her. Alex would tell her parents and her therapist that she was okay. Richard said things were moving in the right direction until they were woken up by a late night pound on their front door that would shatter their lives.
"I open the door up and there was a policeman there and he says if you have a 16-year-old daughter you need to check on her now and we ran up to her room and we found her and she wasn't breathing, had no pulse," said Richard.
Richard and his wife began CPR, medics arrived and rushed Alex the hospital. For two hours Richard said they tried to save his daughter, but it was just too late.
"They let us sit with Alex for a long while afterward and we held her hand and kissed her checks until it was time to go," said Richard.
He and his wife went home that night and struggled to sleep. Richard said he was moved to get up and write the words he believes came to him through Alex.
"I wanted her message out, the message I think she gave me to pass out," said Richard.
The data for teen suicide is frightening. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 2,000 teens ages 15 and 19 committed suicide in 2015. From 2008 to 2015, it more than doubled for children age 10 to 13.
"Over the last nine years all of them have had significant increases in terms of percentages," said Roland Behm with the Georgia Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. "Maybe more stresses in terms of modern day life and while you have perhaps a lot of connection in terms of electronic connection you don't have perhaps as much connectedness in terms of physical interactions. Connectedness is one of the strongest protective factors for suicide."
Behm said parents should not be afraid to ask whether their child is having suicidal thoughts.
"A lot of people think that if you ask the question that somehow it plants the seed in their mind, but all the research shows that not to be the case, that in many instances by asking you are the first person who gives the opportunity to the person to say yes I have been feeling suicidal," said Behm.
Richard said suicide is something Alex said she considered in the past and that they took that very seriously. But he and his wife did all they were supposed to do and Alex kept telling her parents and her therapist that she was okay.
Richard's post has reached hundreds of thousands of people and he said he has received countless e-mails about how his words in a moment of heartache saved others. Richard wants parents whose child is telling them they are okay to ask again and make sure. He said Alex was saying she was okay and a day came when she just decided it was not worth going on.
"This is a very difficult time for teens, during this time period they do not want to talk to people about it, they don't want to talk to their parents, they're embarrassed or they feel that their problems can't be overcome, the first component certainly is we need to be able to tell them a lot of this is normal, some of the things that happen maybe aren't so normal, but we can get past them, just get past those teen years. That is the hard part, I am not sure if we did a good enough job with Alex, she was always happy, we didn't worry so much about her when all along she was hurting on the inside," said Richard.
There are several suicide prevention resources in the Atlanta area. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention said the Crisis Text Line has been very effective. You can text "HERE" to 741-741, 24-hours a day, seven days a week and they will respond to you immediately. You can also remain anonymous.
Richard Blackwell's post:
"’Dad I'm ok.’ That's what Alex said to me Tuesday afternoon. Alex has been suffering from Social Anxiety and general depression since receiving a concussion last fall playing soccer, but we felt things were moving in the right direction. Recently she had fallen in love with a longtime friend and there was more of the old Alex happy face around. Suicide had been something that Alex said she considered in the past and we took that very seriously, but she was telling her therapist and us she was past that now and we were believing her.
"There was a pounding on the front door and it took me a moment to wake up. When I got down to the door there was a police officer there and he asked if I had a 16-year-old daughter and that I needed to check on her. In her last waking moments, Alex called her boyfriend then fell asleep while talking and he knew something was wrong. Alex wasn't breathing and had no pulse when we found her, and my wife and I immediately started CPR. The paramedics arrived only a few minutes later and started doing their thing to save her. They quickly got her out the door and we were off to the Emory Emergency room. Thank God, because we knew this was the best place to be for and emergency.
"For almost two hours they had tried to get her back, but her heart would beat for a while then stop again. They tried tirelessly with heart compressions and as soon as one person was tired another stepped up to continue. Over and Over they tried. We knew it wasn't working, but they continued. They were all at a point of exhaustion when they gave it one more go.
"They let us sit with Alex for a long while afterward and we held her hand and kissed her checks until it was time to go. We went home and were surrounded by all our friends and family with more arriving every hour. Everyone tries to say some words to help but really just their presence is all we need because there is nothing to say. The last entry into her diary said ‘I'm just tired.’"