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It’s time to start the conversation

My son, Tyler Steen, and actor Lee Thompson Young, who portrayed “Jett Jackson” in the Disney series, have an unending bond.

They both died by suicide.

My son’s death in December, 2009 was a highly personal, emotional family event. Despite the differences in their fame, both young men have become sad statistics.

In Connecticut alone, one person, on average, dies each day by suicide. The true tragedy is suicide is one of the most preventable causes of death.

It has taken me many sleepless nights to come to grips with our family’s loss. Today, I am asking you to join the conversation about suicide and how, together, we can understand why someone, especially a young person, would end their life.

I’ll never forget the overwhelming sorrow and emptiness I felt when Tyler passed. As time went by, I began to recover and decided to honor my son’s memory by helping others who are at risk. I have found that the best way to prevent suicide is through communication and education.

To this end, I have become a suicide prevention “Gatekeeper” trainer.  This training has taught me that most suicidal individuals give warning signs or signals of their struggles.  Suicide can be prevented by recognizing and responding to these clues. If you believe that a friend or family member is suicidal, show them you care and utilize a trained professional to address the issues.

I blame no one for Tyler’s death.  His “troubles” were his own.  If I (or we) knew the suicide prevention protocols, he might just be alive today.

Here are some action steps you can take:

Know the warning signs:
They can include; talking about suicide, seeking out lethal means, preoccupation with death, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, self-loathing, self-hatred, getting affairs in order, saying goodbye, withdrawing from others, self-destructive behavior or a  sudden sense of calm.  The more warning signs observed the greater the risk.  Take all signs seriously!

Ask the question:
Talking to a friend or family member about their suicidal thoughts and feelings can be extremely difficult for anyone.  You can’t make a person suicidal by showing that you care.  In fact, giving a suicidal person the opportunity to express his or her feelings can provide relief from the hopelessness or helplessness they suffer and may prevent a suicide attempt or death.  If you find it hard to ask the question, find someone who can.

Refer them for help
Suicidal people often believe they cannot be helped, so you may have to do more.  Listen to the problems leading them to consider suicide and give them your full attention.  Do not rush to judgment.  Offer hope in any form.  Work to get them to accept your help.  The best referral involves taking the person directly to someone who can help.  The next best referral is getting a commitment from them to accept help, then making the arrangements to get that help.  The third best referral is to provide referral information and try to get a good faith commitment from them to get help and not attempt suicide.  Any willingness to accept help at some time, even if in the future, is a good outcome.

If you feel that someone’s in imminent danger, always call 911. 

In Connecticut, you can call 211 for assistance 24/7.

The National Suicide Prevention help line is 800-273-TALK

Crisis Text line: Text home at 741741

As uncomfortable as this subject might be, I invite any of you who wish to” start the conversation” by visiting and learn more on what you can do.

Be the one to start the conversation.

Tom Steen