Pictured above: Alex Camacho holding a photo of his son, Brandon Xavier. The young man took his own life last year. Today, Alex and his wife Iraida are helping prevent suicide through their foundation Brandon’s Key 4 Life. In addition to education and helping other families, the Camachos want to keep the memory of their son alive.
ATLANTA, Ga. — Brandon Xavier was popular in school, healthy, cheerful, good-natured, got good grades and had a family that loved and supported him. His dream was to become a physical therapist. But on Feb. 9, 2013, Brandon took his own life in his home in Peachtree City. He was 16 years old.
Today, Brandon’s parents Iraida and Alex Camacho remember their son, who would have graduated high school this year. They are still trying to understand why the young man made a decision that they never saw coming.
“As parents, we think, ‘My son will never do that.’ We love him, he has a good home, everything he needs is here, he is always content,” explained the Puerto Rican father.
Now, devastated by the loss of their son, they are able to see some of the signs that they missed at the time.
When he was a sophomore, Brandon’s parents noticed a change in his behavior: he seemed to hate everybody. “Now we look back, and yes, there were signs, but we thought they were just things all teenagers go through,” said Iraida.
Pieces of a puzzle
The signs that someone is contemplating suicide aren’t always easy to detect.
According to Daniel Reidenberg, psychologist and executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), its sometimes hard for parents to see the complete picture of how their kids are feeling.
“Often they tell a lot of people, maybe not a parent, but a friend, a teacher, a religious leader or someone in their community, and no one can put all the pieces together. The reality is that most of the time, there are warning signs,” Reidenberg told Mundo Hispánico.
Pierluigi Mancini, executive director of the Clinic for Education, Treatment and Prevention of Addiction (CETPA), agrees. “We are human beings who are good at hiding our pain. There is no magic sign that parents can look for. What there are, are little crumbs,” explained Mancini, who is originally from Colombia.
“Your son or daughter might be telling a little to a teacher, a little to a nurse, a little to an aunt — and these worlds often don’t intersect, they don’t communicate with each other,” explained the psychologist.
That’s why Brandon’s parents and experts on depression stress the importance of families being on the lookout for behavioral changes in their children. They say parents need to educate themselves about how to talk with their kids about their feelings and whether they have contemplated suicide. “A parent shouldn’t hide from the issue. You can go to the library or online and learn how to talk to your child. You should start to learn the signs,” Mancini recommends.
Abrupt changes in behavior, changes in their relationships with friends, stopping doing activities they used to enjoy, changes in the way they dress or giving away prized possessions could be signs that a young person needs help, said the director of CETPA.
He added that actions like cutting or doing things that are life threatening, for example taking pills, should be taken seriously and parents should seek help immediately.
“Adolescence is a very difficult time and it can be confusing if, for example, my child is in a bad mood, locks himself in his room or just wants to listen to his headphones, we might think that’s just being a teenager. We should not assume that,” says the psychologist.
A cry for help from young Latinas
‘Valeria,’ a 16-year-old whose name was changed for this report, tried to take her own life three times last year.
According to her mother ‘Aurora,’ her daughter has been bullied at school and was recently diagnosed with depression.
“My daughter was sweet, cheerful, friendly, but when she was 12, she changed,” said her mother.
Valeria’ s story is not unique among Latina youth. According to 2013 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 15 percent of Hispanic teenage girls have attempted suicide, compared to 10.7 percent of African-American teenage girls and 8.5 percent of white teenage girls.
Twenty-six percent of Hispanic adolescent girls have seriously contemplated suicide, compared to 18.6 percent of African-American teen girls and 21 percent of white teen girls, the CDC reports.
Experts argue that acculturation, racism, discrimination, harassment, lack of immigration status in the family and poverty are some of the factors that can put a young Latina in a position of vulnerability.
“Young Latinos have the same challenges of other youth in the general population, but on top of that, they are growing up in a very different world than their parents grew up in, what we call in psychology acculturation stress,” said Mancini.
However, the issue of suicide is complex and people don’t make an attempt on their lives for just one reason, experts warn.
“It isn’t a single factor. There are a lot of factors that lead a young person to contemplate or commit suicide,” said Mancini. “People who have survived a suicide attempt tell us they didn’t want to end their life; they wanted to stop an internal pain that they didn’t know how to stop,” he said.
Suicide can be prevented
Both experts and parents like Alex, Iraida and Aurora agree that young people contemplating suicide give off warning signs.
Brandon, for example, told an ex-girlfriend about his plan, but she didn’t tell anyone. The young man had had his heart broken, which plunged him into a deep sadness.
His parents now see that their son was going through situations that, little by little, added up.
That’s why the Camachos have a mission: keeping other families from losing their children to suicide.
They started the Brandon’s Key 4 Life Foundation to educate anyone who needs it. “It’s important for all parents, family and friends to be educated about this. Understanding depression and knowing it’s a disease like cancer, diabetes. You have to treat it,” said Iraida.
“We can help prevent someone from killing themselves,” said Mancini, who explained that sometimes parents should seek professional help if they are not ready to talk about it.
Today, Alex and Iraida remember their handsome son and think about what they would have said to him if they could go back in time.
“We would tell him that we are here, ‘You can tell us anything and we’re not going to judge you. We’re going to listen to what you have to say, and tell you that we love you very much and that we will always be here for you,’” said his mother.
“I would also tell him I’m sorry,” his father said. “Because we don’t know how much we hurt our children without knowing it or meaning to.”
Warning Signs for Suicide:
– Abrupt change in behavior, being moody, sad, quiet. Don’t assume that this is typical adolescent rebellion. Ask about their behavior changes.
– Isolating themselves from their friends or becoming more mysterious with them.
– Difficulty concentrating, anxiety, lack of appetite, or changes in their sleep patterns.
– Suddenly stopping doing activities they used to enjoy, such as sports or dancing.
– Changes in the way they dress.
– Starting to give away their prized possessions. It’s a way for them to say goodbye to their loved ones.
– Abuse of alcohol or drugs.
– Exhibiting defiant, destructive or aggressive behavior.
– A drop in their academic performance.
– Self-destructive behavior, for example cutting themselves or having attempted suicide before. The method they use doesn’t matter; suicide attempts are not a game and you should seek help immediately.
Source: Pierluigi Mancini and NAMI
Advice for parents
– Talk openly with your kids and ask them about their feelings and what they are experiencing.
– Let them know they are important and listen to them without judgement.
– Take their suicide intention seriously (80 percent of people who commit suicide announce it first).
– Don’t think that talking about suicide will complicate things. Instead, addressing the issue of suicide and talking about it without showing shock or disapproval can be a great help. Dealing with it openly shows the person that you are taking them seriously and dealing with the severity of their distress.
– Don’t assume that the person contemplating suicide doesn’t want help. Don’t let them seek help alone because they usually aren’t able to.
If your friend or family member tells you they are going to commit suicide, you should act immediately. Don’t leave the person alone. Ask them questions like: Have you thought about how you are going to do it? Have you already decided when?
If the person has a definite plan, the risk of suicide is clearly severe. Take him or her to the emergency room of the nearest hospital or mental health clinic and call the police.
Seek help as soon as possible by contacting a mental health professional or calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Resources in Georgia:
Georgia Crisis & Access Line
CETPA (Treatment for Latinos)
Address: 6010 Dawson Blvd., Suite I Norcross, GA 30093
Georgia Suicide Prevention Information Network