It’s a word we don’t hear often unless it involves a public figure or celebrity, suicide.
Unfortunately, it’s an issue in the Rio Grande Valley. Just like nationwide, it’s a number that’s growing within the teen population.
“I would motivate him and he would just stare at me with these empty eyes,” said Yolanda Estrada-Peralez as she held back tears.
Peralez didn’t know that those moments with her 17-year-old son, Andrew, would be her last. Andrew was a junior at a high school in Pharr and a left-handed pitcher for his baseball team. In December 2013, the relationship with his girlfriend ended.
“He said, ‘I understand, but I do want you to know that I’m going to be sad for awhile and I’ll get through this mom.’ So, I thought my son had it all together,” Peralez said.
Shortly after, Peralez began to notice a difference in her son. Andrew stopped eating, let his hair grow out and began to pull away. On December 15, 2013, he decided to end his life. The night before, Peralez said Andrew asked her to sing to him. She hugged him tight and asked him what he wanted to wear the following day, but he said it didn’t matter. “It did matter,” Peralez said. “I could have saved him if I would have been knowledgeable about depression.” Holding back tears, she continued on with her story saying, “I would have got him help.”
As we found out, Andrew’s story isn’t uncommon in the Rio Grande Valley. We spoke to several people who say the suicide rates in our community are on the rise, especially in teens.
“I have personally witnessed five or six in the recent years,” said David Garza, who is the Justice of the Peace for Precinct 3, Place 2 in Cameron County.
Garza has been in his position for 20 years. He said when it comes to being called out to suicides, he’s the busiest out of the ten Justice of Peace in Cameron County.
Garza showed us the numbers. According to the Medical Examiner’s Office in Cameron County, there were 36 suicides in 2018 in Cameron County; four of those were teens. Garza said in 2019 so far, he’s already seen two. The most recent just weeks ago involving a 17-year-old boy who just broke up with his girlfriend. Garza said the parents were taken by surprise.
“They honestly believe that he would never do this. That’s the bad part about it,” said Garza. “The communication aspect of it, especially at that age. They seem to take a relationship, separation, very hard. I think people need to address that issue when it does occur.”
“The number has been increasing. It’s the second cause of death for the young people,” said Dr. Maria Camacho, an intensive care pediatrician at Edinburg Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Camacho is part of a local board called the Hidalgo/Starr Child Fatality Review Team. They’ve been tracking the suicide rates in children for Hidalgo and Starr counties since 2007. According to their statistics, the youngest victim they’ve seen so far was 10-years-old. In 2018, there were five teens who took their lives. In the first three months of 2019, there’s already been four.
“We avoid to talk about that and we should be talking about it,” Camacho said. “Suicide can be prevented. It needs to be prevented to decrease the numbers.”
Dr. Camacho said more children and teens are walking into the ER due to suicide attempts. When more intervention is necessary, they’re sent to South Texas Health System Behavioral in Edinburg, an in-patient psychiatric hospital.
We sat down with the facility’s assessment and referral department director, Linda Cantu, to see how big the issue is in our community.
“It’s starting at a younger age, where we are seeing children as young as 5-years-old that are attempting suicide or contemplating suicide,” said Cantu.
Cantu added that anyone who walks through their doors can be offered a free assessment, involving loved ones and even schools.
“Get them help as soon as there is some kind of sign that there is a change in behavior or in their emotions,” Cantu recommended. “If you catch it early, then you have more of an opportunity to prevent a crisis.”
In addition to a free assessment, South Texas Health System Behavioral also has a 24/7 crisis hotline for those needing someone to talk to. If you need to reach out, call (956) 388-1300.
Peralez said taking the steps to get children help is something parents need to take serious.
“If I knew what I know now about depression,” Peralez said, “I know I could have saved my son.”