After Stanford senior Katie Meyer, 22, shocked her family when she committed suicide without any detectable warning signs, her parents are urging families to have an honest conversation about mental health with their children – no matter what their age, according to a recent NBC News report.
“Unfortunately, we can’t predict who’s going to go on to die by suicide,” said Julie Cerel, psychologist and director of the Suicide Prevention & Exposure Lab at the University of Kentucky.
“Suicide doesn’t discriminate.”
Meyer, from Newbury Park, California, was majoring in International Relations, which she said, “changed my perspective on the world and the very important challenges that we need to work together to overcome.”
She was also the team captain and star goalkeeper on the Stanford Women’s Soccer Team who, “…made two critical saves in a penalty shootout against North Carolina to help Stanford win its third NCAA women’s soccer championship in 2019,” the Stanford University statement read in part.
Described by her friends “as a larger-than-life team player in all her pursuits,” her life was seemingly going in a positive direction, according to multiple reports.
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Her friends adored her, she inspired her teammates and she had a loving family, who spoke to her via FaceTime about a potential trip to Cancun hours before she died.
“We had no red flags, no red flags that anything was wrong, that she was upset,” said Katie’s mother Gina Meyer on TODAY.
But her parents fear a potential disciplinary action from Stanford may have contributed to her death.
“Katie, being Katie, was defending a teammate on campus over an incident and the repercussions of her defending that teammate (were possibly resulting in disciplinary action),” Katie’s father Steven Meyer told TODAY.
It may be difficult to discern suicidal warning signs in young people because typical signs like sleeping too little or too much, mood swings and withdrawing socially can also resemble normal behavior in a teenage and young adult, per the news outlet.
Brain development, especially the part that deals with planning and self-control, continues until approximately age 25, said Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, head of the University of North Carolina’s department of psychiatry.
People similar in age to Meyer are “much more likely to act on impulse,” Meltzer-Brody added.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, some other warning signs of suicide include: talking or writing about death, literally saying, “It would be better if I wasn’t here,” making comments about being worthless, increased or drug use, reckless behavior and talking about feeling trapped or being a burden to others.
But Cerel noted, “The only reliable warning signs are previous suicide attempts or talking about wanting to die.”
“Despite how outwardly successful someone seems to be, their brain is telling them, ‘people would be better off without you,'” she added.
But these thoughts are not limited to a particular group of young people as suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds in the United States, according to the organization, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.
Cerel suggested the following ice-breaker for parents to start the mental health conversation with their children: “Hey, we saw the suicide of this really amazing young athlete. What would you do if you were ever feeling this way?”
Experts recommend to start talking about mental health early and routinely rather than waiting for warning signs that may never come, per NBC News.
A mental health check-up should be as necessary as a physical, said Emily Mudd, a pediatric psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.
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It’s important to “create an environment in your home where your child feels like it’s safe to disclose things,” Mudd said.
Suicide is preventable and some protective factors are frequent contact with health care providers, effective mental health care, strong relationships and learning problem-solving and conflict resolution skills, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
“You may have somebody who has been loved to the ends of the earth and back from the day she was born,” Steven Meyer said. “You can love them fully, but you may not understand them fully.”
If you or someone who knows is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.