After 12-Year-Old's Death, Counselors Discuss Adolescence, Understanding, Guilt

Experts say talking about suicide can help people grieve and learn.

Updated: A follow-up story was posted on Wednesday, March 16, saying that friends have created Facebook memorial pages.

The suicide of a Sammamish Plateau seventh-grader has residents offering condolences while also discussing the troubling topic of youth suicide.

And counselors say there’s a need for greater awareness of the issue and how adolescence can be a trying time. Along with growth, they said, come issues of identity, belonging and struggling. Listening and communication remain crucial.

Ariana Larsen-Skube, 12, from Issaquah, died March 3. She was found three days later by people walking on a Klahanie trail in a wooded, residential area of King County.

Area counselors talked with Sammamish Patch about suicide and the need to be mindful of the emotional state of young people.

"It is important to talk about it," said Paula Frederick, Friends of Youth director of youth and family services. "Suicide is not something that happens out of the blue."

Family, friends and acquaintances might notice signs that someone might take his or her own life, Frederick said. Those include anxiety, depression, alcohol or drug abuse and expressed hopelessness and worthlessness. Also, a family history of depression or suicide could raise the possibility.

Being aware of these signs and symptoms, and taking them seriously, she added, is important in getting people help. With adolescents, experts said, sometimes the person to raise the alarm can be a friend or classmate.

"Teens and pre-adolescents tend to turn to their friends first. That's part of their development," said Belinda Lafferty, clinical director of Sammamish-based CrossPath Counseling & Consultation.

"Peers can be in a position to be the first ones to alert people. This is not a secret you want to hold."

On March 2, a friend of Larsen-Skube notified King County sheriff’s deputies that the girl sent suicidal text messages and talked on social networking site Facebook about ending her life, authorities said. Deputies began looking for her.

Pre-adolescence and adolescence, experts said, can be trying times, as the body and brain grow. Emotions can swirl in new ways as well.

Lafferty pointed to four developmental stages that young people can experience and that might lead to struggles:

  • Separation from family: This is when young people become closer to their peers and want distance from their parents. One way is for a young person to keep secrets.
  • Dealing with identity: This is when a young person asks how he or she fits in at school and with peers.
  • Competency: Young people might begin questioning their strengths, as they develop a sense of themselves.
  • Relationships: That can be front and center and can include platonic as well as romantic ones.

As they grow, young people might try new experiences, Lafferty said, but in the process, encounter rejection or temporary setbacks.

"Struggles can lead to pain and sadness," she said, adding that adults have years of experience for perspective.

Virginia Bridwell, a psychology teacher at and a former director of the Redmond branch of Eastside Mental Health, explained that one issue for some adolescents is problem solving.

They can become overwhelmed by problems and the multiple solutions that come to mind, she said. When this happens, some might see suicide as an option. 

Cries for help--possibly in the form of indirect communication--can surface.

And now, pre-adolescents and adolescents live in a world in which many view Facebook and other social media sites as outlets for emotional turmoil as well as happiness. Deputies reported that Larsen-Skube posted suicidal thoughts on Facebook.

Which raises the question: Should parents monitor their children's use of Facebook, blogs and other social media?

Parents and other adults need to be keenly aware of technology shifts--and how fast they unfold, said Charles Leitch, a Seattle attorney and social media expert.

While face-to-face conversations are always ideal, he said, parents might want to consider validating young people's use of technology while still setting guidelines--especially for youth under the age of 16.

"Let them use it," he said. "Talking on the phone is so last year."

Social media outlets and texting, he added, are avenues for parents to see how their children are feeling. 

He recommended that parents tell their child that he or she will only have one Facebook account. The parents might have a conversation with the child, saying that they will read the postings. Or they might request that they be Facebook "friends."  

At the core, he said, lies respect and communication.

In Larsen-Skube’s case, the friend who notified authorities made the right call, Frederick said. "That's not always the case," she said.

And letting an adult, whether it be a teacher, parent or counselor, know of someone's suicidal thoughts has prevented such acts from occurring.

For those who knew Larsen-Skube, these days can be filled with guilt, intense pain and other mixed emotions, Frederick said. Her friends and adults who knew her might be saying: "Did I do enough?" or "If maybe she told me sooner."

It is possible, she said, that other parents could be thinking, "That could have been my child." 

Which goes back to her original point: That talking about suicide and the aftermath of a death, no matter the person's age, helps.

"Talking about your feelings honestly with someone you trust is very healing," she said.

For some, counseling can help a person deal with the trauma of a suicide. For others, gathering with neighbors to talk can help them sort through their feelings.

With some deaths, people go to the place where the person died to place flowers in remembrance, or they hold some type of ceremony to honor the deceased.

"Anything like this is to start the grieving process," Frederick said. "It is going to take time."

Talking with young people about suicide, growing up and learning from a setback needs to take place, experts said.

For one thing, as Bridwell pointed out, suicide is final, though that thought might not enter a young person's mind. It can devastate the living, and others should not look at it lightly, she said.

"It's important for people to honor the deceased without romanticizing the suicide," Bridwell said.

Sgt. Jessica Sullivan of the believes it's important for parents to let their kids know that it's acceptable for them to have all sorts of feelings, particularly at that age.

"It's OK to be upset," she said. "It's OK to be sad."

Experts noted that professional counselors are on the Eastside. They are there to listen--and help. After Larsen-Skube's death, the Issaquah School District also provided counseling services to students.

Sullivan said police can be contacted if adults are concerned about a young person's safety.

"Getting kids care is the No. 1 priority," she said.

In a note to Sammamish Patch, one mom expressed this sentiment for Larsen-Skube: "We need a candlelight vigil for her."

Editor's note: Below are community groups and resources that can provide more information about suicide prevention and mental health issues for children and families.

Friends of Youth Main office: Redmond

Youth Eastside Services

(Topic articles, including spotting suicide warning signs)

Main office: Bellevue

Youth Suicide Prevention Program

(Youth suicide frequently asked questions)

Main office: Seattle

James Mazza, associate professor at the University of Washington

(Expert on adolescent mental health and suicide)

Main office: Seattle Sound Mental Health Main office: Seattle Crisis Clinic Main office: Seattle Washington State Family Policy Council Main office: Olympia CrossPath Counseling & Consultation Main office: Sammamish

Sammamish Patch welcomes comments on stories. If possible, it is hoped that comments be as constructive as possible. Patch.com also has terms of use in regards to commenting on stories. Comments need to be free of libel.

shelly March 10, 2011 at 02:18 AM
I agree that there needs some sort of way for the kids to say a final goodbye. While I totally respect that the family is choosing to have a small private memorial service - my daughter was a friend of hers and is grieving and needs a way to say goodbye. Either a candle-vigil or balloon release, there needs to be something public so they can come together and say goodbye to Ariana.....
Andrea March 10, 2011 at 06:59 AM
I agree with Shelly, my daughter was also a good friend of hers and I think hte kids need a way to pay their respects to her. How would we go about setting something like this up?
Noelle Gibson March 10, 2011 at 04:39 PM
Thank you for posting this article and comments. Even though my 7th grade son didn't know Ariana, we have also been affected by this tragedy in our community. As a parent of a middle-schooler, this hits close to home, and our hearts and prayers go out to Ariana's family and friends. I especially appreciate the information on Facebook and texting in middle school and the role it plays in teen development. I think a balloon release or candle-vigil would be healing for us all.
Brad Wong March 10, 2011 at 05:08 PM
Hi everyone, Thank you very much for the comments. I know this topic is a serious one. I have not heard of any plans for a vigil or balloon release. If I do hear of one, I will certainly let the community know. Best regards, Brad Wong Editor Sammamish Patch 425-440-1796 brad.wong@patch.com
Heidi Dietrich March 10, 2011 at 09:28 PM
Brad, I'm glad you wrote this. I think it's very important to allow the community and all who knew her to grieve, and to relay resources in coping with suicide.
Barbara de Michele March 11, 2011 at 01:21 AM
Brad, thank you for the thoughtful and well-written article. You did not sensationalize the material, and I very much appreciate the list of resources you provided at the end of the article. I will re-post this information for others.
Brad Wong March 11, 2011 at 05:19 AM
Hi Barbara, I appreciate you taking time out of your day to talk with me about community resources on the topic. Of course, thank you for reading the site, making your comments and letting others know about the article. Best regards, Brad Wong


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