It’s been more than two years since Jared Traxler’s family found him near death in a guest room at the age of 10.
Overwhelmed by grief for a beloved Papaw, the Nelson County boy had tried to kill himself by hanging.
Jared says he doesn’t really remember what happened that day — June 21, 2016 — but it’s been seared in his mother’s brain.
“I pray with all my heart that no other parent has to go through it,” Amber Traxler said. “It’s hard to think about, really. I still have nightmares about it and I thank God every day that he’s still here with me and that he’s able to talk about it.”
Suicide among adults has been a much-discussed topic in recent weeks because of two high-profile celebrity deaths, and a federal report last month showed increased suicide rates in almost every state, including Kentucky.
A new HBO documentary on Robin Williams also is sure to spark discussion. The beloved actor and comedian died in 2014 when he took his own life at the age of 63.
But Jared and his family want people to know that children can become suicidal, too. In fact, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And suicide attempts, unfortunately, are all-too common among young people.
“Between the ages of 10 to 13, we’ve seen many more suicide attempts in the last couple years,” said Stacie Gibson, nurse manager of the children’s psychiatric unit at Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville. “It’s not extremely unusual.”
A recent analysis of data from 31 U.S. children’s hospitals found that those facilities had nearly 116,000 encounters with children ages 5-17 for suicide ideation (thoughts) and attempts from 2008 to 2015. More than half involved youths ages 15-17, but nearly 13 percent of the encounters involved children ages 5-11.
During the study period, the annual percentage of all visits for suicide ideation and attempts more than doubled, increasing from 0.66 percent in 2008 to 1.82 percent in 2015, according to the study, which appeared online in the journal Pediatrics in May. Researchers also noticed seasonal differences, with the highest peaks in spring and fall.
“More than half of these (encounters) resulted in hospitalization,” the study notes. “The observed increases appear to be consistent with reports of increasing prevalence of depression and mood disorders in U.S. children and adolescents. Suicide deaths among 10- to 14-year-olds significantly increased from 2006 to 2014, a time period similar to the one we examined.”
For Jared, who is now 13 and lives in New Haven, the road to attempted suicide began when he found his 53-year-old grandfather, Jake Meyers, dead in June 2015.
“He went to wake him up to borrow a fishing pole and noticed he wasn’t breathing,” Amber Traxler said. “He tried waking him up, and he didn’t.”
Meyers’ death — from natural causes — was a big blow to Jared because his Papaw had been a father figure to him and they’d shared a lot of time together, riding four wheelers, fishing and flying little helicopters.
“We used to go outside all the time and like just do all kinds of stuff. We were super close. That’s mainly what affected me,” Jared told Insider Louisville.
As depression overtook him, the boy kept his feelings mainly to himself.
“After a couple of months, it (the depression) kind of came out of nowhere,” he said. “The reason I never talked to nobody was, honestly, I thought if I said anything, it would hurt them, too.”
Instead, “I tried to kind of keep to myself a lot of the time, and I got mad really, really easy,” he said.
The day that he decided to kill himself, his mother said she noticed that he was agitated, but when asked, he would say, “Nothing, nothing, nothing.”
Signs and symptoms of suicide vary from person to person to person, Gibson said, but “a lot of times in the younger population, you have more irritability and more anger and they’re much more impulsive and very reactive.”
Also, there’s often “increased sensitivity to rejection,” she said, and “if they’ve experienced trauma, that increases the likelihood of the suicidality and feeling that way.”
Jared said the decision to try to end his own life — near the anniversary of his Papaw’s death — was sudden.
“It came to me that day,” Jared said, referring to the day of the attempt. “I didn’t really think about it before.”
It took place at the home of another grandfather, who was out of town, while other relatives were at the residence, the Traxlers said.
When relatives went to a guest room to check on Jared, they found the door locked, and his body was up against the door, making it difficult to get inside.
“I was pregnant,” Amber Traxler said. “I was probably about 30 weeks. I couldn’t squeeze in there.”
But Jared’s grandmother was able to open the door and get inside. An aunt also was present.
“My sister went in there and they had to get the rope off him,” Amber Traxler said. “We thought that he was dead cause he didn’t have no heartbeat or anything.”
After her mother performed CPR and first responders arrived, Jared was flown to Norton Children’s Hospital, where he remained in an induced coma for almost a week.
When he awoke he didn’t know that he had attempted suicide.
“I thought I was sick,” Jared said. “Whenever they told me why I was in the hospital I was kind of shocked, but then after a couple of days, I started to remember part of the day, but I don’t really remember going into the (guest) room.”
“I regret that day a lot,” he said.
Jared’s mom is convinced that her son was saved by “divine intervention.”
“Mainly, I think it was because of God,” she said, so he can share his “testimony.”
The rising eighth-grader has recovered through counseling and is back to being a happy youth who enjoys football and doting on his little sister.
“He’s doing really well,” Amber Traxler said.
Jared said he still has some residual anger that he can’t explain, but “counseling has helped it a lot.”
He hopes to help others by sharing what he went through and letting people know what it’s like to be in the throes of depression.
People “just don’t know how it feels,” he said. “It feels like you can’t get through it (at first), but it takes hurt to get better. It takes pain to get better. It’ll all get better. You just can’t give up.”
It’s also important to tell someone about your sorrow, Jared said.
“You should talk about your feelings — no matter what you feel — and you should talk to your family and counselors,” he said.
If a friend or loved one is considering suicide, “you want to really impress upon them that no problem is too big for you to help them solve,” said Stephen O’Connor, associate director of the University of Louisville Depression Center. Also, “let them know if there are problems that you can’t help them solve directly, you’ll do whatever it takes to help them get access to care and professionals that could help them solve those problems.”
It’s also important to be reassuring and not judgmental, said O’Connor, a clinical psychologist who’s part of UofL’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
Sometimes, people with suicidal thoughts believe they’d be doing other people a favor by taking their own life or that life isn’t worth living, he said. Make it clear that “losing them would be the worst thing that could happen.”
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), or visit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Twelve Suicide Warning Signs
- Feeling like a burden
- Being isolated
- Increased anxiety
- Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Increased substance use
- Looking for a way to access lethal means
- Increased anger or rage
- Extreme mood swings
- Expressing hopelessness
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Talking or posting about wanting to die
- Making plans for suicide
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention