Father hopes teen parents will learn from son's suicide

Stuart Shields was an average 16-year-old.

The Tates Creek High School lacrosse mid-fielder was learning to play guitar, had lots of friends and constantly sent text messages to girls.

He had some problems, such as struggling with school work and dealing with rumors, but nothing that would have given his family pause to think he was at risk for suicide, said his father, Steven Shields.

Early Sept. 20, while his family was sleeping, Stuart ended his life at his mother's home, Shields said. He was found by his mother when she tried to wake him up for school.

Last week, Shields wept as he recalled memories of his son's life and discussed his death. He said he wanted to tell Stuart's story in case it might help a teenager in a similar situation, or inspire a parent to become educated about suicide.

Stuart always had been impulsive. Stuart's suicide appeared to be what experts call a "same-day event," meaning it was spontaneous, with little or no planning.

"I know that if he had stopped and he had thought a little bit, he is the kind of person that would have changed his mind," Shields said. "But he wasn't the kind of person that stopped and thought all the time."

Shields said he didn't think Stuart had intimate experience with death, such as the loss of a close friend, and might not have understood his actions were permanent. The family did not know what prompted Stuart to end his life.

"There was no indication whatsoever that he was depressed or feeling depressed," he said.

A common misconception among parents and professionals is that suicide always follows a period of depression, officials say.

Generally speaking, most adults who commit suicide follow a predictable pattern of ups and downs, but roughly 30 percent of teen suicides are same-day events, said Dr. Hatim Omar, University of Kentucky chief of adolescent medicine and founder of Stop Youth Suicide, a grassroots movement to raise awareness and education.

Many people younger than 17 have not developed abstract-thinking skills, and do not think long-term, making temporary problems seem insurmountable.

"If you want to put suicide in simplistic terms, you kill yourself when you think there's no hope of a better tomorrow," he said. "For teenagers, that's very easy because they don't see tomorrow much.

Omar said there are three things every teenager needs to reduce risk behavior: a caring, trustworthy adult to speak with who is not a parent, a safe place to interact with that adult, and an activity to keep them busy, such as sports or hobbies.

Parent-teen relationships should be as open as possible. Children and teens should not be so scared of being punished that they refuse to tell their parents when they're in serious trouble, he said.

Stuart's death already appeared to have inspired people to take action. A group of students at Tates Creek were planning a peer-group to raise suicide awareness, said Velva Reed-Barker, guidance coordinator for the Fayette County Public Schools.

"I thought that was very inspirational," she said. "These kids want to help other students."

Reed-Barker said if the group is successful, other high schools would follow suit.

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