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Christian's Story: Raising awareness about teen suicide

By Brian Dorman

SOUTH BEND, Ind.-- It’s time to take on a tough topic.

A new report by the CDC shows one in five high school students across the state of Indiana have considered killing themselves.

One in five.

Now, I dug deeper into the numbers, sat down with a family who is living this nightmare and talked with school officials about what's being done to stop another high school student from committing suicide. 

This is indeed a tough topic and while viewer discretion is advised, it's something we need to talk about and maybe by talking about it we will save a life.

Christian Turner was two years out of high school when he shot and killed himself. Christian was just 20-years-old. 

Family and friends say the former Penn High School student was the life of every party.

"Christian was very outgoing, smiling all the time, happy! He loved his friends; his friends seemed to love him. He just seemed to love life,” said Tina Turner, Christian’s mother.

His father described him as a “free spirit.”

"You never would have expected him to be as sad as he was. People probably don't know unless he told them,” added Tina. 

I sat down with Christian’s parents, Tina and Bill Turner, on March 28th, one day before the one year anniversary of their son's suicide. 

According to his parents, Christian started talking about suicide his freshman year of high school. 

"The counselor called me and said your son's down here and he's talking suicide,” she said. "Just the thought of losing him was so horrible that I, that I really couldn't talk to him about it at the time. I mean, ‘cause, I wanted to ignore what he said but I knew I couldn't" 

They responded by getting Christian into a family therapist. 

They say during the six years of therapy there were good months but some months were complete darkness. 

"He was concerned about how many good days he had in a row. He was always afraid the more good days you have when the bad days come they're that much worse,” said Bill Turner, Christian’s father.

Bill says the good days were great. Christian seemed happy, lighthearted, often turning to music. He taught himself how to play five instruments.

His mom said he could hear any song and play it on his guitar. 

Music was his escape.

But music wasn't all he heard. She said Christian heard voices too.

“I think his deal was not being able to understand himself and what was going on in his brain. He would get very frustrated when anxiety would kick in,” his mother explained. 

Christian was eventually diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. 

"He seemed like he was doing fine and he was really pushing himself to exercise and keep his mind off things. We thought he was going in the right direction.” 

Finally -- a breakthrough.

With medicine and a positive attitude, the Turners were hopeful 2016 would be the year of change. Instead, it quickly would become a year they would never forget.

"He didn't think the medication was working so he turned to marijuana use and alcohol abuse. He got a DUI that set things spinning out of control. He thought his life was over.” Said his mother.

Fast forward just a couple weeks to March 28, 2016.

Christian’s father recalled their day-to-day interactions. "We had our normal conversations after that for a little bit and you know the same ‘I love yous’ and ‘I’ll see you tomorrow,’ you know, as we walked out the door. I guess if I look at it now, it was his way of saying goodbye. [Crying] in his way." He said.

The next day, March 29th, Christian took his life. 

"They said ‘There's a Bill here to see you. There’s an emergency.’ And at that point, I immediately texted Christian because I thought, ‘[expletive] shoot,’ I thought, ‘oh my gosh.’ I sent him a text message and I'm walking out to Bill and I'm thinking, ‘please text me back," said Tina as she described that tragic day. “It was horrible.” 

The anxiety and depression that Christian felt in high school is common, according to this random student panel ABC57 News put together, made up of students from each grade from Riley and Mishawka High Schools. 

"There are a lot of people in school who feel depressed a lot and there are people who self-harm. There have been a couple times where I’ve stayed up late with a friend to talk to them and comfort them.” Said Zach Stewart, senior at Riley.  

A junior from Riley, Michaella Webster, added she too has notice the problem among her friends. "My close friend comes to me a couple times and talks about it. She has a lot of family problems, relationship problems. So, she has a lot of issues.”

Michaella explained she has told her friend where to get help, but she hasn’t so Michaella continues to be her friend’s help. 

“I’ve told her but she hasn't gone and got help.” She said.

I asked the students to raise their hand if they have heard about people being depressed or talking about suicidal thoughts in school. 

Every hand went into the air.

With every hand up, we turn to the numbers.

The report from the CDC, later broken down by the Indiana Youth Institute, lays out a shocking stat.

During the last student assessment in 2015, one in five students considered suicide.

"It’s alarming when I hear that data. I try to think about the kids I know and as a former math teacher you kind of look at, okay, every ten kids and how does that even work?” questioned Sean Galiher, principal of Schmucker Middle School. 

Galiher, now the principal of Schmucker, warns times have changed and as adults, we need to be as connected to our kids as they are connected to their devices.

“When I think about growing up and the information I was able to access from my phones we didn't have cell phones or social media so i think there's a lot of communication that happens that kids can grab onto.” He continued. 

Galiher claims Facebook is the worst site as far as drama goes. 

When I asked the students to raise their hand if they had a Facebook, all hands went up again. 

Dr. Kay Antonelli, Assistant Superintendent for instruction at PHM, knows first-hand what it's like to lose a student to suicide. 

"It is probably the most difficult and absolutely gut wrenching feeling and any time that happens is once too many.” She said.

In response, Penn Schools adopted a student safety and wellness program called “Lifelines.” 

Antonelli added, "We want students to know that it's okay to ask for help and to be able to reach out for help.”

“Lifelines” is made up of four 45-minute sessions incorporated into gym and wellness classes. The program launched in September.

Across the district, the curriculum on suicide prevention starts in the 7th grade.

I asked how tough it is to talk kids that age about suicide.

“You know, that's an interesting question. I think initially we thought it might be but what we found when we implemented our lessons this year with our 7th and 8th graders, is that they were very open to these conversations.” Explained Galiher. 

Those conversations, students told me they want to have and more often.

"I just feel like the subject should be talked about more,” said Barbie Davis, senior at Mishawaka High School.

Max Gosc, a senior at Riley, added, “Everyone thinks suicide is and depression is a joke and like I keep saying it's not.”

“I mean, you have kids my age dealing with it, I deal with it on a daily basis and it's hard. If I didn't have the support, my dad, I don't think I would be here today,” admitted Michaella.

I asked “Do you think you would have taken your own life?”

She nodded her head “yes.”

That's why programs like Lifelines are so important. Going over warning signs, what to do when a friend is in trouble, and how to reach out when you're feeling depressed. 

"We also know another piece to this too, when a student confides to another student a lot of times they will say, ‘don't tell, please, don't tell.’ So, the message from us and from lifelines is to tell. You must tell.” Said Antonelli.

Speaking up and saying something is essential so that families like Christian’s don't have to experience the same pain.

"That ache that you get in your chest and that emptiness of feeling nothing that hurts more than anything in the world and I would say that's 24/7." Said Christian’s mother tearfully. "It's just horrible and you just realize that the pain you feel right now is never going to go away." 

There are a lot of resources available for any adolescent struggling with depression.

For those of you without a Lifelines or Yellow Ribbon program, ask your child what kinds of conversations they are having about suicide. And if you think it's not enough, call the principal or superintendent of their school and stress your desire for more education. 

I want to thank Tina and Bill Turner for their strength in sharing Christian’s story and to Penn Schools and our student panel.

To find out more information or if you or your child is seeking help, here are some of the resources to turn to:

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Lifelines at PHM

Christian’s Crusade

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