Springtime Suicide

The winter blues are a false advertisement when it comes to suicide statistics

Texas suicide lawyerFor as long as we can remember, wintertime has been pictured as the bleakest season. Indeed, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is often triggered by the dark and cold times. However, the popular myth that suicides are worst around the holiday season simply is not true. Seasonal landscapes don’t always line up with emotional ones. Time moves slower in spring and summer, and those plagued by mental illness may experience a type of melancholy that goes beyond simple summer nostalgia. Mental illnesses are real, and they can end lives. Without proper medical, therapeutic and interpersonal monitoring, patients are at risk of dying by suicide.

The Law Offices of Skip Simpson is dedicated to finding justice for the victims of suicide and the families left behind by their tragedy. We have years of experience holding negligible parties accountable for their actions that, if prevented, could have kept a mother, father, brother, daughter or son alive.  Families and loved ones should not have to worry about whether those they care about will survive the spring.

Seasonal change and mood disorders

Studies dating as far back as the 1800s show that suicides peak in the spring, and are actually lowest during the wintertime. This has puzzled scientists for decades. Most people will experience springtime highs and wintertime lows, but when the angle is taken from one of mental illness, everything is in hyperfocus. Springtime highs can mean manic or psychotic episodes, followed by earth-shattering bouts of depression.

People with mood disorders such as major depression, dysthymia and bipolar disorder are at extreme risk for triggers during the warmer months. Bipolar people, in particular, are more prone to mania (and its lesser form, hypomania) – an extreme, destructive elevated mood state that brings with it unhealthy behaviors and even possible psychosis. These states can even require hospitalization due to how disconnected the sufferer is from reality.

Delusions of grandeur may impair proper thinking, causing people with bipolar disorder to make rash and possibly life-threatening decisions like walking into traffic or jumping from heights, believing themselves invincible. Behaviors associated with hypomania and mania can include:

  • Spending too much money, extreme amounts in the case of true mania
  • Substance abuse
  • Risky behaviors, such as careless driving, sexual activity or fighting
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions of grandeur – believing themselves to be infallible
  • Aggression and agitation
  • Short-term memory loss

A study showed that people with a history of prior hospitalization were at higher risk for suicide attempts and death by suicide, which is associated with bipolar disorder and major depression.

Springtime is a time for close monitoring

Improper suicide watch is a leading cause of death within inpatient facilities, and a lack of education among staff only adds fuel to the fire. Some patients at risk of suicide are only monitored every 15 minutes. This simply is not enough. Roughly 6 times a day, in “secure” inpatient units, suicide occurs under the watch of medical professionals. Already at high risk due to seasonal changes, those with mood disorders and other forms of mental illness deserve better.

Outside of facilities, the headlines’ detailed suicides occurred in the spring, especially those of celebrities. Chris Cornell of the band Soundgarden was found deceased in his hotel room following a concert. While the loss devastated fans, it brought true attention to the issue: suicide in the springtime is too common to ignore. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that the risk of suicide increased with the number of daylight hours.

Those who were too physically depressed in the wintertime could feel energized by the increased sunlight, giving them the motivation to attempt suicide. Without proper monitoring by their care team and loved ones, these attempts could turn fatal. Healthcare providers should be at attention when the spring season comes about, and medication may have to be tweaked to accommodate a mentally ill person’s needs.

We can help

There were 44,965 suicides in 2016 in the United States; approximately one third of those suicides occurred while folks were in health care.  Improper and negligent behavior in monitoring or treating those with mental illnesses can lead to death by suicide. Every small change we go through – such as a seasonal change – is magnified for someone suffering, and must be addressed.

Every day, the families and loved ones of victims of suicide speak out to obtain justice. We help them. If you or someone you know has lost a loved one to suicide, contact us today.

Too Little, Too Late

Patients at risk for suicide after hospitalization

Texas suicide lawyerInpatient psychiatric care treats and rehabilitates patients so they can return to life and live it fully, without the burden that mental illness imposed upon them. Mental health issues can be suffocating to those who suffer from them, preventing them from engaging in the day-to-day activities most of us take for granted. While outpatient therapy, medication and a strong support system have proven to be beneficial for those with mental illness, additional steps to ensure their wellness sometimes must be taken.

Psychiatric hospitalization is a double-edged sword. Reputable providers and facilities are often successful in stabilizing a patient’s mental state and illness. But diseases run deep, and not all hospitals are created equal. Patients in such delicate conditions must be kept for the right amount of time, in the right care, not left to make it on their own afterwards. The Law Offices of Skip Simpson knows all too well what the consequences can be after hospitalization under poor care. And we demand justice for those affected by death caused by suicide where negligent health care can be proven.

When is it safe to go home?

Getting people with mental illnesses to a hospital is hard enough . We hug and kiss goodbye. We hope and pray that our loved ones learn strategies for dealing with life and can sleep through the night in the care of skilled medical providers. Psychiatric hospital stays can range from five to seven days, the average time most people stay.

Shorter inpatient stays seemed to carry the greatest risk for suicide attempts post-discharge. Fifty years of data synthesized in JAMA Psychiatry noted that the suicide rate of patients in the first three months post-discharge was 100 times the global suicide rate of 11.4 per 100,000 patients per year in 2012. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors also were reported 200 times the global rate. Years later, the suicide rate in the United States continues to increase, especially among the young population and marginalized communities.  But what factors lead to this startling figure? Declining numbers of beds, funding for psychiatric treatment and access to affordable follow-up treatment (including at-home care) have dwindled. A number of patients tend to be homeless, with little to return to and no supportive care.

Mark Olfson, M.D., M.P.H, wrote in an accompanying editorial that “transitions from inpatient to outpatient care are often poorly managed,” and there is resounding truth in this statement. The strict routines and constant access to therapy and medical treatment are easily disrupted after patients are discharged. Other findings from this study include:

  • -The 90-day rate of suicide was twice as high for men as for women
  • -Psychiatric patients who received no outpatient care six months prior to hospitalization were at increased risk for short-term suicide
  • -Efforts aimed at suicide prevention were lacking

Information from patients with mental disorders with a high rate of suicide as their cause of death such as schizophrenia, bipolar, and major depressive disorder were included in the study, which left us all asking the question: “what can we do”?

Stigma is society’s illness, and we aren’t treating it

In 2016, there were 44,936 recorded suicides. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there are 123 suicides per day. And for every death by suicide, 25 people attempted suicide. Where is short-term psychiatric stay in this sea of numbers?

The practice itself has negative associations, and some who are admitted have little choice or autonomy in their own healthcare. “Instead of being understood as a valid medical procedure, taking someone to a hospital because of disorders of the mind might sound to the patient as a defeat, a failure…and thus, returning to the community after a psychiatric admission can become a difficult task…” Noted one study from Psychology Research and Behavior Management.

Transitioning from a hospital setting to one outside the hospital may make the patient feel “burdened” by the weight of their own disorder, seen by society and rejected as a failure. Most psychiatric disorders are chronic, the study emphasizes, and hospitalization simply cannot cure them. A database from the Oxford Regional Health Authority area in Oxford, England found that 14,240 patients over the age of 15 had 26,864 psychiatric admissions. Out of these patients, 134 died by suicide within the year after they were discharged.

Where is our healthcare system failing our mentally ill patients? One commonly cited issue involved a “revolving door” of patients: those readmitted to psychiatric facilities within a year after their discharge date, often not by their free will. Giving a mentally ill person the control and autonomy they need to manage their condition is essential to their health, and their life. They simply cannot be fed medication and forced to sit down in groups. The personhood of each individual must be acknowledged. But, in a healthcare system where the number of beds is rapidly dwindling and compassionate staff are stretched thin, more work must be done to insure the health and well-being of patients.

Mentally ill patients need support

An involved, caring team of providers is essential to the treatment and rehabilitation of a psychiatric patient, and the quality of life for a person suffering from mental illness. Upon discharge, there often is little follow-up involved to guarantee the survival of a patient. Unlike other illnesses, psychiatric disorders are often swept under the rug; hospitalization is a taboo, and family and friends may respond to cries for help with “get over it, it’s all in your head.”

These hurtful messages often echo a cruel, inhumane portrayal of the mentally ill in society. They also often undo whatever progress was made within the hospital. Society must understand that the brain is a living, complex organ that can become ill and requires treatment.

Dissolving family structures were attributed to frequent hospitalization in the Olfson study, and among those patients with schizophrenia, medication noncompliance was a serious issue. Why aren’t there more doctors, therapists and live-in nurses who can catch the suffering when they fall?

The meta-analysis of 50 years of data mentioned, conducted by Daniel Thomas Chung, of University of New South Wales in Australia, and colleagues, found that prevention efforts were lacking in hospital care. “Discharged patients have suicide rates many times that in the general community. Efforts aimed at suicide prevention should start while patients are in the hospital, and the period shortly after discharge should be a time of increased clinical focus,” he observed.

The first three months after discharge proved to be the most vulnerable. What can be done to help a person suffering from mental illness stay on track? Recommendations include:

  • -Access to affordable mental healthcare
  • -Supportive loved ones who can aid in home wellness checks if they live alone
  • -An understanding society that normalizes mental health treatment
  • -Regular check ins with therapists and psychiatrists to ensure treatment is continuing
  • -Step-down programs, such as inpatient to intensive outpatient before full discharge
  • -Live-in nurses
  • -Compassionate, attentive hospital care

Justice must be found

Within those first three months to a year after discharge, too many lives are lost. Too many families and friends wake up to find their loved one is no longer with them, and it could have been avoided. Suicide is not a random act. It causes death from an illness that doctors and other medical professionals failed to treat appropriately and monitor after attempts at treatment. Understaffed, overworked hospital employees are constantly changing sheets on too few hospital beds. Medication prices are too high for too little effect. Health insurance often runs out before hospital stays are completed. Families and employers would rather see the mentally ill simply snapping back to “normal” instead of treating them with the compassion and care they deserve.

Too many parties fail to ensure the health and survival of the mentally ill. When death by suicide occurs after short-term psychiatric hospitalization, negligent parties must be held accountable for their actions or inaction.

Contact us for a free consultation if your loved ones have found yourselves searching for answers and justice.

Firearm Storage in Homes with Children At Risk For Self-Harm

Gun Storage, Youth Suicide And Reducing Risk for Children Prone to Self-Harm

Texas suicide lawyerMost often, the weapons are left unlocked, within reach, or loaded. If a child with very little knowledge of what it means to hold a gun can fire and harm themselves, what damage could be in easy reach for a child at risk for self-harm? Depression and other mental health conditions affect thousands of children and adolescents. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 children between the ages of 13-18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness. A two year Suicide Prevention Resource Center study of firearm suicides in victims under 17 found that 82% of those who had died from suicide had used a firearm that belonged to someone in their family. A significant amount of those firearms had remained unlocked. Even with locked safes, many youths knew the combination or had the key to access their contents.

The Law Offices of Skip Simpson has helped many families in the wake of tragedy. These losses are preventable, and we aim to shed light on the factors that contribute to them, namely negligence.

Home Alone: At Risk Youth

Guns and mental health often intersect in a nationwide conversation. Who should or shouldn’t have access? What of our amendments? How do we keep our children safe in their own homes? The rate of youth firearm suicide has only increased over the years, and firearms in the home only create a larger risk of death by suicide to all who reside in it. Parents and caretakers have a unique responsibility in keeping their weapons out of reach from children. Any adult with access to where guns are kept should ensure that it is locked, and codes should not be revealed with children. A study in a recent issue of Pediatrics addressed whether or not gun storage differed between homes with at-risk youth, and those without. According to its findings, firearms were present in roughly 42 percent of households surveyed, and the ownership prevalence did not differ between homes with at-risk youth, and homes without at-risk youth. One third stored their guns locked and unloaded, and the storage methods didn’t seem to differ between households of various risk status, either.

This means that a child or teenager with serious mental health concerns has a fair chance of accessing a weapon, which could then kill them. A chilling story from Michigan in 2013 details how one thirteen-year-old child died by firearm suicide in a school bathroom with a handgun found at home. Though legally owned by the family, the question of whether or not the gun was stored properly comes into play.

Hanging, exsanguination, and other forms of suicide death can take minutes, sometimes hours to take a victim’s life. A firearm leaves little hope of survival. 90 percent of firearm suicide attempts end in the victim’s death.

Loaded, Improperly Stored Potential

Five-hundred and sixty-five children and adolescents died by firearm suicide in 2015. These deaths were preventable. Being able to assess and raise awareness for the presence of at-risk youth in the home should play a deciding factor in gun storage, or gun ownership to begin with. These deaths beg the question: why do caretakers not show a higher rate of safe gun storage when they house at-risk youth? Recognition of behaviors that could indicate a mental illness such as depression or early onset schizophrenia could save a life. Perhaps they believe their children or dependents simply won’t touch firearms as a house rule, or their knowledge of safe gun storage is out of date.

Currently, there are no federal laws for Child Access Protection, another issue that could lead to a death toll. In addition, storage laws vary from state to state, with common ground being that a firearm not in use should be stored unloaded, separately from ammunition, unassembled, and locked in a secure location such as a safe. When caretakers are lax with these regulations, or if they are not enforced in a particular state, the unthinkable can happen.

Accidental youth shootings are on the rise as well, some involving a home weapon and some involving a family member’s weapon. Children and firearms do not, and should not, mix.

Our Children Are Sick

Child suicide occurs more frequently in rural areas of the country, where a lack of access to mental healthcare has been noted. Adolescents in rural areas are far less likely to receive mental healthcare than those in urban areas, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. This could mean that at-risk youth aren’t even being identified at school, by a family physician, or by their caretakers. Our healthcare systems are failing our youth, and we are going to funerals as a result. Even in families with at-risk youth who store their firearms properly, there is no guarantee that a child can access one at a friend’s house, or another place where their access remains more open than it should be.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10-24. Cultural, environmental and mental factors all come into play when evaluating risks, and none should be ignored. Signs of depression in children and teens can include:

  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Loss of appetite and increased fatigue
  • “emotional flatlining”
  • A preoccupation with death
  • Hostile behavior
  • Neglecting hygiene
  • Risk-taking behaviors such as crossing the street without looking, or the use of substances
  • Giving away belongings, especially those with sentimental value

 We’re Here For You

Responsible gun-owning families and caretakers should take precautions in how they store their firearms, specifically in restricting their access to children. However, we cannot know for certain that a friend or family member who is hosting the youth is storing their firearms properly. Caretakers may not know how to spot risky behavior and red flags for one’s mental health.

We do know that these fatal injuries are still a leading cause of death, and that they are preventable. Negligence on a caretaker’s part must be addressed. If you or a loved one are in need of legal support after a devastating loss, contact us today. We can help.

Are We Making Our Children Sicker?

SSRI activation in children and the misdiagnosis of Bipolar Disorder

Texas mental health attorneyDid you have a good day today? Are you filled with energy, enthusiasm and motivation one day, only to crash the next? These mood shifts are normal for many. The bipolar person experiences them too, but on a more extreme scale. Spending money irresponsibly, delusions of grandeur and engaging in risky or unsafe behavior is a bipolar person’s true manic Monday, one that could last for weeks while they survive on barely any food, sleep or quiet escape from loud, racing thoughts. Depression may quickly follow, confining the sufferer to a shuttered life where even getting out of bed is almost physically impossible.

Bipolar disorder is a devastating mental illness that affects over 5 million adult Americans every year. This mood disorder has been found to run in families, suggesting a possible genetic link and leaving children predisposed to what is often a violent onset of a manic or depressive episode. Many manic episodes require hospitalization, and the disorder’s extreme highs and lows are often the culprit for people losing jobs, relationships, homes and overall stability.

A misdiagnosis of bipolar, however, can be devastating. Medication can backfire. Diagnosis can be made too soon. While the adult and senior mentally ill population are at risk, children carrying a misdiagnosis are vulnerable brains in vulnerable bodies, and the medication they’re prescribed can do more harm than good. SSRI’s in particular can cause symptoms of hypomanic or manic states, leading to a bipolar diagnosis. This is called “SSRI-activation” and is not healthy for a child’s brain.

The Law Offices of Skip Simpson strives to protect the rights to proper care for mentally ill people, and we know how damaging a misdiagnosis can be, especially to children.

Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is actually somewhat difficult to diagnose correctly. Diagnostic criteria often involve noting the occurrences of episodes over a long period. These “episodes” are characterized by extreme “highs” and “lows” and usually come with a host of behaviors just as extreme, erratic and dangerous as their hosting moods. While lifelong and without a cure, bipolar disorder can thankfully be treated with medication and therapeutic methods.

In adults, bipolar disorder in one of its varying forms (as the disorder exists on a spectrum) typically reaches a full diagnosis in late adolescence into the mid-twenties. Due to a developing brain, it should be cautioned against to diagnose children with such a severe mental illness, though pediatric bipolar exists. Criteria fall into two categories, one for “manic” symptoms, and the other for “depressive” – the two “poles” of the illness. To be diagnosed, these two distinct mood states need to exist for certain lengths of time. These criteria are cited from the Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation:

Symptoms of a Depressive Episode:

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
  • Diminished interest in hobbies or activities
  • Speech may become slow, delayed and even slurred
  • Physical symptoms such as pain, hypersomnia or extreme fatigue
  • Reoccurring thoughts of death or suicide
  • These symptoms must occur every day for at least a week

Symptoms of a Manic Episode:

  • At least one week of abnormal and persistent elevation in mood, including irritability.
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Delusions of grandeur
  • Potential psychotic symptoms-hallucinations and disconnect from reality
  • Racing thoughts, sometimes to where a sufferer may feel like their head is “crowded” or “loud”
  • Speaking so rapidly that others cannot understand them and speech may not even follow a coherent train of thought
  • Inability to focus or sit still
  • Excessive spending, substance abuse, irresponsible sexual activity or unsafe driving

Bipolar disorder is separated into Bipolar I and Bipolar II, based on the severity and duration of episodes. In addition, there are other criteria that must be met, making bipolar disorder something a professional should not diagnose lightly in a child.

The right medication for the wrong diagnosis

The absence of mania or hypomania is often overlooked when children complain of depressive symptoms and are prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRI’s. Commonly known as antidepressants, when given to children they can relieve symptoms of unipolar depression. However, SSRI’s “activate” roughly 10% of children, meaning they can cause symptoms eerily similar to hypomania or mania. Irritability, fast speech, hyperactivity and even suicidal ideations can occur. Children with ADHD and anxiety are often given SSRI’s, and their “activated” effects can easily lead to a bipolar diagnosis.

Children with developmental disabilities are particularly at risk. Someone who is a “slow metabolizer” of SSRI’s will see problems even on the lowest dosage. Parents often panic when their child reacts to medications, or seems treatment resistant. Being the legal guardian, they can easily misdirect therapy and medication, sometimes demanding a higher dose for a child that seems unresponsive.

Medication should be carefully monitored, as should the child’s symptoms. Parents who believe their children are treatment resistant may simply not be treating the proper condition, such as ADHD or anxiety, which responds better to an atypical antipsychotic drug. Making “one change at a time” in a child’s medication is heavily stressed, according to Dr. Birmaher of the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh. The brain is a delicate instrument, and providers who switch multiple drugs at once are putting children at risk.

The risks of a misdiagnosis

Suicide in our youth is no new statistic. One suicide every five days is the current standing rate, a 40-year high, for suicide rates in children under 13. Medication may alleviate symptoms but can also put child patients at risk. In 2004, the FDA issued a public warning of an increased risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior in children being treated with SSRI’s. The SSRI’s reviewed included:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Zoloft
  • Paxil
  • Celexa
  • Lexapro
  • Luvox

The black box warning noted that children should be monitored closely. Bipolar disorder is often treated with a “cocktail” of medications. SSRI’s, mood stabilizers and antipsychotics are popular, and all carry warnings. Even so, the use of SSRI’s in children over 10 has increased considerably over time, and those medications persist in their popularity. We can take no chances when treating our youth for psychiatric conditions. We cannot afford to lose any more sisters, brothers, daughters, sons and friends.

We help protect their rights

Every child has the right to be treated with dignity and respect when addressing potential psychiatric concerns, and this includes adhering to the same strict evaluation that adults must endure to properly diagnose a serious mental illness. Combining therapy with medication and lifestyle changes can be particularly effective, whereas prescribing potentially dangerous medication for a condition that is, in fact, something else can be devastating.

If you or a loved one have suffered the terrible consequences of a child misdiagnosed and mistreated, contact us. We may help.

Geriatric Depression and Suicide

An epidemic bridging the generation gap

Texas suicide lawyerThe mental health of the elderly often falls to the wayside in our conversations about the current crisis surrounding suicide. While the focus has lately been on the younger generations, who are seeing a rising number of deaths, we should never turn a blind eye to our elders. Sadly, that seems to be the case. Elderly people account for less than 10% of community mental  health services even though they represent 15% of the population, a number that could begin to dwindle if we do not take their health, mental as well as physical, into serious consideration.

The Law Offices of Skip Simpson knows how important taking care of loved ones is. We all age, and we all want a quality of life for our loved ones that is comfortable and safe. Achieving this takes more than buying a room, a bed and a caregiver; it means seeing ourselves as caregivers to our elders’ mental health. It could mean saving lives.

Brain Age: Loss of Stability Can Lead to Loss of Life

There is a common misconception that getting older means growing content with an emotional state of nostalgia, and this misconception easily leads to the dismissal of elder mental health care. According to statistics from the CDC, depression affects up to 5% of our elderly population, and their suicides represent 16.6% of the tragic total amount in the United States. What leads to the decline in mental health that seems to plague our elder population?

As we age, we begin to lose parts of our lives that have kept us stable, or remained part of our version of normal life for as long as we can remember. Age contributes to fragile health and can lead to a diagnosis of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia, cancer, or general deterioration of the body that many find hard to cope with. To callous and busy medical staff, these may just be diagnostic codes, but to the patients behind the files, they mean the collapse of a lifestyle they’ve built and been accustomed to for a lifetime. Other triggers for geriatric depression include:

  • The loss of a spouse, immediate family member or close friends.
  • Financial difficulties.
  • Loss of ability to work.
  • Loss of independence due to need for caretaking, inability to work, and adult children who do not depend on them anymore; this often leads to the elderly feeling “worthless.”
  • Medication side effects, as from anti-inflammatory or cardiovascular drugs.
  • Isolation: As we age, socializing may become more difficult. Older patients may be in hospitals or assisted living, away from family and friends. In addition, illness prevents the elderly from living their lives with the clarity and independence that they deserve.
  • Slow-acting conditions such as arthritis and macular degeneration.

All of these factors play into the rapid decline of a senior person’s mental and physical health. While we may often see older folks as infantile (a view that is often considered offensive) and simple, they have mental health needs that are overlooked on a consistent basis.

Recognizing the Signs: Red Flags in The Elderly

Older white males are at a higher risk for completed deaths by suicide in this age demographic, 29 per 100,000 and over 47 per 100,000 if over the age of 85.  Due to cultural stigma trickling down from a past generation where men were not encouraged to speak about their feelings, and the systemic societal and medical problems that the elderly face, many feel silenced. They feel trapped, without the support of their families who are off living their lives while they remain stuck living alone, or in assisted living where the assistance is too often minimal. In some homes, registered nurses aren’t even on the premises most of the time, leaving patients without critical care. This problem led to the filing of a very self-explanatory bill: “Put a Registered Nurse in the Nursing Home Act of 2014.”

The statistics for elder suicide may in fact be under-reported. Very little focus is on their demographic, and the United States already suffers a startling lack of mental health support for its overall population. While it may seem difficult to recognize the signs of mental deterioration within our aging loved ones, red flags associated with the depression and loneliness that they feel are not so different than the ones we see in younger people:

  • Withdrawal from social life
  • Lack of interest in daily activities such as eating, socializing or basic hygiene, and a general lack of interest in life.
  • Giving away prized possessions; this may seem normal as people advance in their age, but is hallmark behavior of the suicidal.
  • Verbal signs such as “You would all be better off without me”
  • Feeling a loss of independence
  • A medical condition that could affect their impulsivity
  • A recent death in the family, especially a spouse, sibling, child or pet.
  • Sudden personality changes, especially with impulsive behavior

Missing the signs can mean the eventual loss of a life. Nurses and caretakers should be properly trained in recognizing when a patient or resident’s mental health begins to decline. The elderly population is often thought of as wanting to be alone, or desiring solitude to find calm. This mindset can come with a heavy penalty: death. “The proportion of older people who take their own lives without a diagnosable mental illness is very, very small,” says Dr. Conwell, a psychiatrist at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Medical Complications: One of These Conditions is Not Like the Other

In yet another blow to the myth that aging is a peaceful and simple process, physical medical complications can contribute to the deterioration of one’s mental health. As previously discussed, the diagnosis of a medical condition can easily cause a rapid spiral into depression. However, some conditions like dementia and Parkinson’s disease can directly contribute to a lack of cognitive and emotional stability.

According to studies, the link between depression and Alzheimer’s disease is well-established. However, diagnosis may prove difficult, given that the presentation of dementia greatly varies. In one study, 11.8% of surveyed seniors with dementia lived with major depression, compared to 3.9% of seniors without dementia.

As with any condition that affects the brain, emotions can suffer. Factoring in the feelings of isolation, loss of independence and loneliness that seniors often feel can show an easily visible cocktail for major depression. Healthcare providers should take careful note to survey seniors using the Geriatric Depression Scale. Answered with a YES/NO format, these 15 questions are meant to be used as a screening for depression and depressive symptoms: 10 indicate depression when answered positively, and 5 can be indicative of depression when answered negatively. Screening, especially when a person already has a neurological condition, can help to assess the best course of action for treatment.

Medicare does cover mental health services, including prescription drugs. With not all seniors aware of their coverage, they could be missing life-saving treatment. In fact, 18 to 25% of elderly people need mental health care, but only roughly 3% of Medicare reimbursement is for mental health and psychiatric treatment.

Addiction: The Hidden Figures

Someone’s mother, grandmother, uncle, cousin or brother is caught up in the claws of addiction at this very minute. The opioid crisis is ravaging the United States, leaving no demographic untouched. With community agencies not equipped to take care of the needs of seniors, elder suicide is not often seen or dealt with by them. This leaves homeless and low-income seniors without many options for coping with their mental health. Sadly, some turn to substances in the absence of professional help.

Currently, widowers over the age of 75 have the highest rate of alcoholism in the United States. This seems to occur after the sudden loss of a partner or child, or unchecked trauma. An entire generation before us did not have access to the mental health care or even proper diagnosis for the effects of trauma or mood disorders. In an age where physical, sexual and emotional abuse were swept under the rug with most mental problems, older adults are left with untreated Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and more.

Painkillers are an unfortunate second source of addiction. Relatively accessible for most seniors, the emotional high and relief from physical discomfort the drugs bring can be addicting at the first try.
“Chronic pain as a result of age, past injuries and other medical illnesses is certainly present in the older adult population,” said Dr. Wang of Caron Treatment Center, “It leads to prescribing painkillers for years, if not decades. “

According to research by Caron Treatment Centers, 39% of older adults entering treatment there come with a chronic pain diagnosis.

The signs of substance abuse disorder can be confused with those of aging by healthcare professionals who miss their mark. Thankfully, older adults are more likely to be willing participants in their own recovery, especially with the support of family or loved ones.

Nursing Home Protections Rolled Back

Under the new administration, the use of fines against nursing homes that harm residents has been greatly scaled back. Four of every ten nursing homes since 2013 have been cited for violations, often serious ones. While Medicare has fined two-thirds of the offending homes, the problems still exist. Failure to protect residents from circumstances that could cause injuries, neglect and bedsores are among the list of offenses.

New fining regulations in place discourage regulators from levying fines even in fatal situations. A promise to reduce the government’s presence in businesses has left many seniors at risk.

Hold Healthcare Accountable

With the demand for registered nurses to have a 24/7 presence at nursing homes, it is safe to say that at least some problems and gaps in our healthcare system have been identified. Seniors are a particularly vulnerable demographic that can easily fall between the cracks and go ignored, but they suffer surprisingly high rates of suicide. As our loved ones age, their needs for care change along with their bodies and minds. We entrust them to facilities and primary caregivers who should be screening them for depression, paying attention to changes in their behavior, offering accessible mental health, and being present when the elderly are ready to use resources available for them.

Most late-life deaths by suicide are completed, even though older adults do not attempt as often as their younger counterparts. This is largely attributed to an increased access to firearms or other lethal weapons. In some populations such as older veterans, detailed knowledge in operating them is a key factor in death by suicide. We as a society have the capacity to reduce these numbers, and we must hold the responsible parties accountable. Our healthcare has too little to offer our seniors, from the inconsistent presence of nurses in homes to the confusion of dementia and depression symptoms. Screening is in order. Proper care is in order.

If you or a loved one has lost an elder due to suicide, you aren’t alone. Help is closer than you think-contact The Law Offices of Skip Simpson today.

Autism and Suicide

Connecting the missing pieces

New York suicide lawyerIn 2016, one person in the United States died by suicide every 11.7 minutes. Parents, children, siblings and cousins are lost in droves on a daily basis, leaving questions in their wake. How could this have been prevented? What was the spark that caused it? While most victims suffered from a mental illness, the quality of their treatment and support network is often questioned. While not a mental illness, autism is a developmental disorder that comes with a startlingly high rate of suicide and suicidal ideation.

Depression appears to be more common in people with developmental disabilities. In a study focusing on children with autism spectrum disorders, the percentage of children (rated by parents through interviews) who were rated as “very often” contemplating or attempting suicide was twenty-eight times greater in autistic children than those with no developmental disorders.

The Law Offices of Skip Simpson knows how difficult it is to deal with the aftermath of suicide. The effects on family and friends are devastating, compounded by the fact that the death was more than likely preventable. We work to help loved ones find closure and justice in a system that has failed them, and to better understand the events and conditions surrounding their loss.

Suicidal tendencies can be difficult to spot

The trope of autistic people having little to no facial expression, reflecting little to no emotional depth, is a harmful stereotype. It turns out to be the opposite that is true for autistic people, which leads to an overlap of symptoms found in depression. Those with autism or spectrum disorders can feel emotion, and can also feel the lethargy, disconnection with the world and social withdrawal that are common symptoms of depression. This can lead to a patient with undiagnosed, ignored depression left to attempt to cope and understand their own illness – and the risks that come with it.

While depression is not the only mental affliction that can lead to suicidal tendencies, its symptoms cannot go ignored. A representative from Coventry University’s Center for Research in Psychology, Behavior and Achievement conducted a study on 365 adults diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, known as a high-functioning form of autism. 66 percent had contemplated suicide, and 35% had planned or attempted suicide. While the representative was quoted as saying “the journey from suicidal thoughts to suicidal behaviors might be quite different,” the journey is one well worth investigating, and such an investigation may save lives.

Common warning sides of suicide include:

  • Threats of self-harm
  • Active research into ways to die by suicide
  • Vengeful thoughts or behavior, or fits of rage
  • Acting reckless, as though the consequences of their actions don’t matter
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • Withdrawing from society, family and friends
  • Giving away treasured possessions

Anxiety, depression and stress are on the rise among Americans. Access to healthcare between the years 2006 and 2014 was on the decline for many, partially due to the Great Recession. People with mental health issues were less likely to receive help, making it harder for people with autism spectrum disorders to recognize and treat their depression and anxiety. They’ve been left vulnerable ever since.

Emotional Turmoil as a Symptom

The explosive moods that plague people with autism spectrum disorders and Asperger syndrome can be startling, frightening the sufferer as well as those around them. Up to 50% of adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders have considered death by suicide as an option, which is double the rate of the general population. It is reported that those newly diagnosed are the most at risk, having come from years of not understanding their condition and considering themselves outcasts. Emotional regulation can be difficult for many.

The struggle to fit in is a lifelong battle, often isolating those with autism and putting them at risk for depressive episodes. Emotional turmoil is common, and autistic people can suffer from a cognitive pattern that causes a fixation on a particular line of thought. This can easily turn into a hazard when that thought involves the end of life. Stress, isolation, undiagnosed depression and lack of access to care are all factors in a potentially deadly mess. “This is a community in distress”, said Katherine Gotham, the assistant professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.

Suicidal thoughts are all too common in those with autism

Adults are not the only ones affected by both depression and autism. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in American teens, and those with autism are even more at risk. Studies have suggested they are 28 times more likely to plan out or attempt a suicide. A study published in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders surveyed the mothers of 791 children with autism aged 1-16 years, 35 nonautistic depressed children and 186 neurotypical children. When asked about behavior problems, bullying or talk of suicide, children with autism were overall more at risk to talk about or attempt suicide. When compared with neurotypical children, the disparity was huge: 14% to 0.5%.

Roughly 75% of autistic children who talk about suicide had the disorder comorbid with depression. Class, race and age seemed to play a role as well. Males, those over the age of 10, those in low economic classes and Black and Hispanic children all seemed have an increased risk of talking about suicide. Over 50% of the group experienced bullying, an all too common factor in death by suicide, especially for the young who may already feel “atypical.” The study concluded that it was important to develop prevention techniques for, call attention to, and develop therapy practices for this group.

The life of an autistic child is no tragedy, but what they experience can certainly be tragic. Bullying can lead to isolation, or thoughts that one (no matter what age) does not “belong” in a society that classifies them as “abnormal” or somehow inferior or incapable of participating in life like a “regular” person would.

Autistic people eat, breathe, feel and have hopes and dreams for the future, the same as any other. They are also at risk for mental health issues that can have devastating consequences if not treated properly, or recognized.

Awareness is the solution

Diagnosis is a powerful remedy. Misdiagnosis, or ignorance of a potential patient’s complaints about their mental or cognitive state can be deadly. Healthcare providers should consider screening those with autism for depression, and pay attention to symptoms that could correlate with Autism Spectrum Disorders. A study involving 374 autistic adults found that the average age of diagnosis was 31. Without proper screening, diagnosis and treatment for spectrum disorders and depression, healthcare providers are putting an already vulnerable population at further risk for suicidal ideation, debilitating depressive episodes, and suicide attempts. It doesn’t have to be like this.

For every person thinking of death by suicide, there are thousands more struggling with repetitive thoughts and emotional turmoil that is a dangerous precursor. Autistic people are valued members of our families and communities, and fully capable of surviving trying times to lead a fulfilling life. They deserve the proper therapy and screening that can get them the help they need in times of crisis.

If you or someone you know has suffered a loss due to suicide, contact the Law Offices of Skip Simpson today.

The Silent Killer

Eating disorders, comorbid depression and suicide in children and adolescents

Many illnesses have symptoms that are physically identifiable, and health professionals can visually observe their progression. However, just as many illnesses do not manifest outwardly. Some may not affect the body in the same way as more common diagnoses, but deeply alter the mind.

Too often, signs and symptoms of mental illness are missed in children and adolescents, chalked up to a “quirk” or “bid for attention” when urgent, competent care is needed. We know this too well. At the Law Offices of Skip Simpson, we deal with tragic cases of death by suicide that have many different causes, but have one thing in common: these deaths are preventable with proper awareness and treatment.

Mental illness still carries a heavy stigma in the United States. Taking sick days to care for a mental condition like depression or severe anxiety is a concept still misunderstood and underutilized by employers and employees alike. The idea that the adult mind can simply “get over” or “work through” problems is pervasive, and those toxic ideas pass on to our most vulnerable population: our youth.

When cries for help fall on deaf ears

In Long Island this year, a mother lost sight of her son. He was trapped in the throes of two devastating mental (and often comorbid) illnesses: an eating disorder and depression. Barely a teenager at 13, Liam used to enjoy playing soccer and looked forward to beginning high school. However, as his mother noted in a moving Facebook post, he began to waste away mentally and physically. He was withdrawn, and had stopped eating. For the longest time, he was silent about his troubles until, finally, his parents learned the cause: bullying on a daily basis. Admitted to a hospital where treatment for his eating disorder and depression, Liam had already lost a year of his life he will never be able to get back, and was at extreme risk for suicide.

Nearly 43,000 Americans die by suicide annually, making it the 10th leading cause of the death in the entire country. While we scramble for answers – who was responsible for these deaths – we often overlook the what. Liam, like many children, was suffering from mental illnesses exacerbated by bullying.

Starving for recognition

Up to 30 million people suffer from eating disorders. Too often regarded as a problem with vanity, or a passing phase, the reality is that an eating disorder is a mental illness with a direct, potentially deadly effect on the body. Many sufferers have been barely surviving with carefully concealed bloated cheeks, cracked lips and sunken abdomens since childhood, and the road to recovery can last a lifetime.

Some of the potentially deadly eating disorders currently known are:

  • Bulimia Nervosa – characterized by a binge and purge cycle in which the sufferer consumes an irrationally large amount of food, then purges via forced vomiting. These episodes are often triggered by feelings of malcontent, self-hatred, or stress.
  • Anorexia Nervosa – A restrictive type of eating disorder in which the sufferer seeks negative caloric intake and positive output. Though not strictly attributed to just this disorder, over-exercising and fasting as well as fad diets are common.
  • Orthorexia – An unhealthy, disordered type of relationship with food and diets comprised of obsessive dieting and exercising. The sufferer may appear to be a “health nut” while actually struggling with a serious mental illness.
  • BED – Stands for “binge eating disorder,” which is characterized by periods of compulsive overeating far beyond feeling full. Unlike bulimia nervosa, there are no (or very few) instances of purging as part of the cycle.
  • EDNOS – “Eating disorder not otherwise specified”. This is often used for people who miss the mark on Anorexia Nervosa’s current weight requirement-usually a BMI below 17.5 in adults, or less than 85% of what is considered normal for the patients’ body. Mixed symptoms and behaviors are present that do not fall into any one category.

Anorexia nervosa carries the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, partially due to the physical damage to the body, and partially due to the damage to the mind. Deprived of nutrients and turning to itself for energy, the body will cannibalize its own muscle in order to survive. This often affects the heart, which may lead to sudden cardiac arrest. The brain suffers as well, losing the ability to think clearly, remember, or regulate emotions and personality traits. These effects on a child’s still developing brain are devastating. Those with anorexia nervosa are 56 times more likely to die by suicide than those without.

Eating disorders can easily exacerbate any existing mental health problems, or cause depression in a stressed and nutrient-deprived brain. In such an extreme state, suicide commonly comes to the mind of a sufferer lost in the disease. Younger females with AN are 12 times more likely to die than their ED-free peers, and bulimia nervosa carries with it the risk of cardiac arrest from so much repetitive stress on the body.

Children who develop eating disorders are often the products of bullying, overbearing families, and neglect. Emotional and physical trauma in early childhood can easily lead to a feeling of emptiness and obsession with consuming emotions, often comorbid with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. An eating disorder in a child can be seen as a symptom of an underlying problem, but not many people are trained in recognizing the warning signs that need to be addressed in order to treat it.

Neglect can kill

Suicide is on the rise for children. In teen boys, our country saw a 30% increase in suicide rates between 2007 and 2015. A study done in 2016 showed that suicide can strike children as young as 5. Among older children, depression was the most common present disorder. Males saw a particular climb, and these numbers should prompt a discussion on why mental health care is not advocated for or spoken about as much as it should be. How can we fix this, and stop this deadly epidemic? The answer lies in discussion, as well as immediate action.  Schools should advertise counseling services, doctors should pay close attention to symptoms of mental illness, and our children should grow up knowing that emotions are not a taboo.

Eating disorders can be hard to spot in children. Like most mental health issues, they are frequently dismissed. Someone’s son is a picky eater, he’s sensitive, or he’s “being difficult.” Teachers and even healthcare professionals are not always properly trained to identify and treat eating disorders. In many eating disorder inpatient wards, children aren’t even allowed to enter as visitors – so where do they go as patients? Bodies and minds can fail as a consequence of the development of eating disorders. With proper treatment, 60% of sufferers can make a full recovery. Without it, 20% and counting will die from medical complications, including suicide.

Inpatient and outpatient programs must be ready to accept children, and communities must be held accountable for prevention. If a child is neglected by a healthcare provider, dismissed by a school counselor or misunderstood by a teacher they confide in, it could cost them their life. Treatment is multi-dimensional. A patient has to receive proper medical and mental help, as well as re-learn a basic life skill lost: how to eat again.

We are responsible for knowing the signs

Bullying is an all-too-common denominator in the development of pre-pubescent and adolescent children, and it’s often body-based. The word “fat” becomes synonymous with “worthless,” “stupid,” and other negative terms that the child will internalize. The more their disorder manifests, with every meal they skip or exercise they overdo, the further their minds can spiral into devastating isolation. Neglecting proper education on eating disorders and related mental illnesses means few healthcare providers know what to do when a child is in pain, and fewer counselors know who to refer them to.

Eating disorder red flags in children include:

  • A sudden obsession with food – its caloric value, nutritional data and any information on the topic becomes both repulsive and fascinating.
  • Disturbed eating habits such as eating in secret, excessive chewing (or chewing and spitting), cutting food into tiny bites and taking excessive amounts of time to finish a meal.
  • Intense fear of becoming overweight, which can have an incredibly fluid definition to the child.
  • Dieting even when already a healthy weight, or underweight
  • Perfectionism, which often develops in children enrolled in demanding sports or academic programs that involve a high stress and competitive atmosphere.
  • Reporting problems at school or home. Bullying especially is a large contributor to deteriorating mental health, and can lead to the eventual development of an eating disorder and/or depression.

Intervention is crucial. A child is a work in progress, and an eating disorder is a mental health condition that must be addressed, along with any comorbid conditions. Pediatric depression and trauma issues are serious. They can follow into adulthood if not treated correctly and promptly – or the child may not make it to adulthood at all. At the Law Offices of Skip Simpson, we know that our youth need to be cherished and cared for, not to waste away or be taken by preventable suicide. We are dedicated to bringing justice to the void neglect has left. Contact us today.

Suicide and Bullying Among LGBTQ+ Youth: A New Law to Help Protect

Are protective laws really working?Suicide and Bullying Among LGBTQ+ Youth: A New Law to Help Protect

Over 700,000 LGBT adults and more than 158,000 LGBT youth live in Texas. They are doctors, store clerks, parents and students. Just as many are in shelters, estranged from family and friends and at extreme risk for the tragedies of a harsh and often short life. All face challenges based solely on who they love, and who they are.

Some lawmakers want to pass bills dictating public bathroom use in public schools and strip protections from LGBT students. Their health and sex education needs are not being met in school, and that’s true in the adult world as well, where there is a severe shortage of accessible mental and physical healthcare for trans and queer individuals. A bill introduced in 2016 even suggested that outing LGBT+ students to their families and peers should go hand in hand with one that previously allowed students’ concerns relating to gender identity (like bathroom use to be addressed) privately on a case-by-case basis.

The problem is, if students are not out on their own terms, there is most likely a good reason for it. As it stands, 40% of homeless youth report as LGBTQIA identifying. According to a 2015 GLSEN study on National School Climate, 66.2% of queer students felt discriminated against at school due to their orientation. Students who face these high rates of discrimination are more likely to miss school as a result.

They want to avoid bias, harsh language, bullies, and the mental anguish that should never jeopardize education. As they are tormented, we lose them. LGBT+ identifying youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. The Law Offices of Skip Simpson advocates for all who have sadly died by suicide, and the loved ones left behind.

Sticks and Stones: The Effects of Bullying

Recently, David’s Law was put into effect. Following the tragic death of a student from Alamo Heights due to bullying, the law is meant to hold school districts responsible for the abhorrent and deadly behavior of students on campus, and online. Cyberbullying kills: it has taken the life of a 12-year-old cheerleader, among too many others.

The law, decided upon after the main source of bullying was discovered to be via text messages, covers bullying on a cell phone, computer, camera, messenger apps, texts and social media. If this occurs on school property, during a school activity or on a school bus, punishments can be meted out. In addition, if such actions disrupt a student’s access to education or disrupts school activities, the measures of the law can be applied.

LGBT youth are at risk

Without a society that accepts who they are, many youth and young adults who are discovering their identities may find themselves met with more opposition and anger as they dare venture into expressing and embracing their honest selves. Using the bathroom if not given a unisex option can become a matter of personal safety. Students affected by harmful legislature will see headlines like this one from USA Today: “In Texas: ‘It’s an all-out assault on LGBT people’“ detailing the conflicting bathroom bills that would affect the trans population tremendously. This is the material our queer youth have to look up to, the future they’re presented.

The mental health of LGBT youth requires special attention, but not all have access to counseling, or remain in the closet out of fear. Without help, many families are left wondering what went wrong, what could have been prevented, and why schools took such little action. Recently, advocates for LGBT youth and rights have spoken out in Connecticut after suicides by trans and gay teens this summer.

One activist was quoted as saying: “To sit in front of a child who looks you in the eye and says, ‘I just want to die. Why should I live? The bullying is not going to stop.’ It is heartbreaking.”

The numbers only get higher

The National Transgender Discrimination Survey showed that about 41% of the trans population attempt suicide.

  • The CDC presented research on students in grades 9-12 and found that LGBT students experienced higher rates of physical and sexual violence than straight students. Bullying was also found to be higher. Other findings of the study concluded that LGB teens were:
  • Twice as likely to experience physical and sexual dating violence
  • Twice as likely to experience online and school bullying
  • Four times more likely to attempt suicide
  • Five times as likely to have reported usage of illegal drugs and substances to cope

One Ohio college sophomore was punched in the face for kissing his boyfriend. The same student had almost died by suicide at the age of 16 after attempting to crash his car. In discovering his sexuality, he became afraid of the teasing and bullying that would follow when his peers found out. “That was the only way out…” he was quoted as saying in an article by NBC.

According to The Trevor Project, an outreach program for suicidal and troubled queer youth, each episode of LGBT harassment increases the likelihood of self-harming by 2.5 times, and one out of six students between grades 9-12 contemplated suicide seriously in the past year.

“I actually thought I was inhuman.”

Salem Whit, a teen from Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, recounted their experience with bullying surrounding their gender identity with those chilling words in an article published by The Atlantic. Coming out as transgender in high school was not easy, and they barely managed to graduate after skipping classes and dropping extracurricular activities in order to avoid the bullying. They even stopped speaking for a while, when dysphoria (extreme disconnect from body, gender, voice, presentation) triggered a hatred of their own voice. Their story is not unfamiliar.

The GLSEN report titled “Teasing to Torment: School Climate Revised,” pointed that LGBT youth have lower grades in middle and high school, and are not as likely to complete their education as their straight and cisgender (non-transgender) peers. Trauma, including PTSD, is not uncommon in these children who grow up in a world that, despite some improvements, still feels hostile towards them.

Recently, at a Houston bus stop, a poster was put up at a bus stop that encouraged LGBT+ people to kill themselves. The graphic included a hanging cartoon body with a rainbow heart on its chest, citing suicide statistics of gay, bisexual and trans people and encouraging others to “follow.” It is easy to see why youth would not feel welcome or comfortable when hate speech and bullying is so blatant.

Bullying Kills

A student at Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler died by suicide, previously asking to be home-schooled because the bullying he endured was too intense to endure at school.

David’s Law should provide some relief for families of bullied teens, given that it targets one of the most vicious forms of attack: cyberbullying. However, queer teens are still unlikely to speak out to friends and family, and schools do so little to prevent harassment. There are an increasing number of children involved in the current youth suicide epidemic – in 2016 there were 11 suicides that took the lives of those younger than 25 in Pennsylvania. Several of the victims cited bullying as what tainted their mindset in notes, social media, or it was heard from those who witnessed bullying in action. Social media is a particularly toxic environment that David’s Law hopes to help address. Going home and logging on to your own corner of the internet is no longer an escape or stress relief tactic for youth. It can be a death sentence. For queer youth, the odds of being victimized are even higher.

We can help

Struggling youth deserve to know that they belong, they are loved, and they have worth in the face of a society that hasn’t yet fully accepted them. Death by suicide is an epidemic among youth, and LGBTQIA+ youth are on the front lines of assault. With a large gap in access to healthcare, homelessness brought on by rejection, and even educations in jeopardy due to bullying, young people need to be protected and spoken for. At the Law Offices of Skip Simpson, our mission is just that-to bring justice to those who have suffered a loss that could and should have been prevented. Contact us today.

Trevor Project Lifeline for LGBT youth: 866-488-7356

David’s Law: Fighting Back Against Cyberbullying Suicides

When we send our children off to school in September, we don’t expect every day of this new year to end perfectly. We expect them to sigh and grumble about a teacher or assignment. We expect complaints. But sometimes, those complaints are really cries for help. Bullying at school is far too common, despite multiple programs and training sessions that hope to turn kids around.

The Law Offices of Skip Simpson is fiercely dedicated to seeking justice for those left behind after a victim dies of suicide. These deaths and tragic losses are preventable, and more must be done to hold involved parties accountable for negligent or harmful behavior that has ended a life. Thankfully, one law has been introduced that may help. The bill is named in memory of David Molak, a 16-year-old student in San Antonio who died from suicide after excruciating amounts of online bullying. David’s Law hopes to save lives by holding bullies accountable. Starting September 1st, cyberbullying in Texas schools is now illegal.David's Law - cyberbullying and teen suicide

No Escape For Today’s Youth

These days, almost every child has access to the internet, text messaging and/or social media. This means that even after the school’s doors are shut, bullies can still access their targets on a cell phone, tablet or laptop. Cyberbullying is brutal. As it stands, 15% of school absenteeism is directly related to fears of being bullied at school.

Schools have been accused of not taking enough preventative action, or indeed action at all when it comes to dealing with bullying. Recently, a 12-year-old cheerleader suffered extreme amounts of cyberbullying up until her life ended in June. Her mother cited Snapchat, texts and Instagram as just a few of the platforms used to harass her daughter. However, the school filed no harassment or bullying reports, even though the student’s mother contacted them about the bullying when it began at the beginning of the year.

David’s Law Brings Hope

David Molak, a Alamo Heights student, was a high achiever, close with family, and an active Eagle Scout. He was also the target of fierce bullying. It crushed his spirit, and he even transferred schools to try and avoid the bullying, but that only lasted a month and the damage was already done via a group text set on ridiculing and mocking David. He died by suicide soon after his transfer. His family was not quiet. A bill was put into action and passed in his honor. Built to take action against cyberbullying, which was previously not a targeted cause for concern, “David’s Law” targets school districts levels of responsibility as well as the definition of bullying.

Cyberbullying is defined as bullying via an electronic device such as phone, computer, camera, messenger apps, texts, social media platforms and websites. Examples include:

  • Creating fake profiles of students
  • Gossip and harmful rumors spread by social media
  • Spreading embarrassing pictures of a student taken without permission
  • Hurtful and menacing text or instant messages about someone

The Texas Education Code defines bullying as an action or pattern of behavior against a student that “exploits an imbalance of power and involves written or verbal expression, expression through electronic means or physical conduct.” Physical harm certainly falls under this definition, but so does any severe and persistent behavior that disrupts education for the student and harms their rights. Bullied students often miss school to avoid their tormentors, interrupting their education.

This bill does not apply to workplace bullying, only to:

  • Bullying on school property
  • During a school activity on or off school property
  • On a school bus

In addition, off-campus cyberbullying is covered if it:

  • The act disrupts a student’s access to education; or
  • The act disrupts activities related to the school, such as class or a sponsored activity or trip.

School Districts must be held to higher standards

In order to protect the lives of students, schools must acknowledge and address bullying problems as they arise. Lack of attention, and intervention, can easily lead to death. David’s Law requires the inclusion of cyberbullying in schools’ individual policies as well as implementing policies that:

  • Stop a student who is the victim of bullying from being punished when they have acted in self defense
  • Implements greater discipline for bullying a disabled student
  • Prohibits action retaliating against a person giving information about bullying
  • Making a way for students to anonymously report bullying incidents
  • And more

Parental notification is also written into the law. The involvement of aware parents is crucial to supporting a bullied student, and provides a larger aid network for them. With this law, cyberbullies can  face expulsion from school and even jail time. Restraining orders may also be granted.

Hope for Students

David’s Law is an incredibly important and necessary part of keeping students safe. Starting this September, bullies will have to think twice before terrorizing other students. In 2012, 88% of social media users in their teens have seen someone be cruel to another user, and 1 in 6 parents knew their child has been bullied. With how far technology has advanced in the past 5 years, we can only imagine the future of those statistics. And with David’s Law in place, we can only imagine how they might fall.

Forty Years Of Teen Suicides

We lose more of our teen girls every day

For every natural death, there are many that could have been prevented with proper professional intervention and medical treatment. Across the country, youths entering adolescence barely have time to cross into this crucial developmental period without encountering obstacles. Bullying at school. Troubles at home. Early onset of mental illness – or misdiagnosis that leads to treatment for a condition that doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, many of our teens slip through the cracks when it comes to mental healthcare. Conditions at school, and in healthcare facilities consistently fail to prevent suicides.

As a consequence, the suicide rate for teens has skyrocketed. This is a problem that not many know how to address, but suicide lawyer Skip Simpson knows it needs to be addressed. Our youth are dying; action must be taken.

“I tried to kill myself three times”

The powerful words of a West Philadelphia teenager sadly aren’t unfamiliar to many in her age group. Teens, especially girls, attempt suicide at an alarming rate. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found in a recent study that the rate of suicide among teen girls reached a forty-year high as of 2015. Between 2007 and 2015, teen boys and young men saw a 30% increase in suicide rates as well. Many survivors’ narratives relate back to bullying, and begin with self-harm as the start of a deadly journey to try and cope with life’s events.

Cutting, burning, skin picking, hitting and starvation are common forms of self-harm. They are meant to alleviate the pressure of being unwell, or unable to cope with events inwardly. Self-inflicted pain is a grounding practice for many teens who otherwise feel “numb” or overwhelmed. Identifying and addressing these habits is critical to saving a life, but many go overlooked by school psychologists and healthcare providers. A cry for help is often dismissed (especially in the case of women) as a cry for attention.Teen Suicide Rates

Often, the response is too late.

Dying younger, faster

An increase in admissions to hospitals due to suicidal thoughts or self-harm has cut a path across the nation. At thirty-two children’s hospitals between 2008 and 2015, numbers went up and the number of healthy and happy youth went down. The associated study (covering children between the ages of 5 and 17) showed that the largest increases were with teenage girls. Our nation’s hospital beds were overflowing with children who dreamed of ending a life that had barely begun. What was being done to prevent this?

One case of a fourteen-year-old girl rocked the state of Texas. Overwhelmed by bullies, Brandy Vela shot herself in front of her family. Shockingly, the harassment only continued after her death with horrific comments on a memorial social media page that her family had to deal with.

In Ohio, an 11-year-old girl who had survived brain cancer died by suicide in her family home after enduring relentless teasing and taunts.

Bullying is especially prevalent among LGBT youth, who have already statistically experienced more violence than the average teen. According to the CDC, out of LGB youth surveyed:

  • 10% were threatened with a weapon at school
  • 34% were bullied
  • 28% had experienced cyberbullying
  • 23% had experienced sexual dating violence in the prior year
  • 18% had experienced physical dating violence
  • 18% had experienced non-consensual intimate relations during their lives

Transgender youth, as cited in a study by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, experience a devastating rate of suicide attempts and self-injury. Thirty percent reported a history including at least one attempt. Girls in the LGBT community are often marginalized by society, peers and family. As a result of marginalization and lack of intervention, we lose them.

The Substance of Suicide

Teens are no stranger to the national opioid crisis, and a common method of suicide involved overdose. Teen drug overdose deaths rose from 3.1 deaths per 100,000 teens in 2014 to 3.7 per 100,000 in 2015. A 19% increase in just the span of a year is not just a problem, but an epidemic. Many teens use drugs to self-medicate, or overdose on ones that they have been prescribed. Some have been prescribed drugs that have come with black box warnings from the FDA.

Intervening sooner rather than later

Completing a suicide involves a series of steps. Which one is being missed? School counselors may miss signs of self-harm, therapists may quickly dismiss ideations as idle thoughts and attempts gain attention instead of indicators of a serious problem. Being admitted to hospital inpatient units is no guarantee that the healing process will take place. After all, improper suicide watch is a prevalent problem in hospitals. Every year, approximately 1800 patients are dying in these facilities because patients are not being carefully watched. Suicidal patients are consistently placed on observation levels which give the patient plenty of time to hang themselves.

Where do we turn for help?

Every day we are given opportunities to show kindness to people around us. Our friends and family members need a word of encouragement or just a smile will help—instead of scowls. One powerful antidote to suicide is hope—hope that someone cares for and loves us.

Suicide lawyer Skip Simpson has dedicated his career to identifying and holding responsible parties that do not adequately provide proper healthcare in these crucial times. Our teens are a thriving generation who should live their lives fully. If you or someone you know has experienced a loss due to suicide that could have been prevented, contact us.