STATESVILLE, N.C. (WBTV) - A Statesville mother hopes that sharing the story of her son’s suicide will encourage others to talk about mental health.
Statesville resident Ginger Finley said her family was totally shocked when her eldest son, Houston Finley, took his own life. Houston died on February 12. He was just 18 years old.
“He was a very self-confident child and young man. He was very anchored in his belief in God and had been saved years ago and he was very secure in his identity and himself and where he wanted to go in life and things he wanted to do,” said Ginger Finley in an interview with WBTV Thursday evening.
Finley said her son was in the International Baccalaureate program at South Iredell High School, and had hopes of attending North Carolina State University. He enjoyed woodworking, blacksmithing and being outdoors, according to his mother. Finley said Houston had friends and never showed signs of being in distress.
“He showed no signs or symptoms of anything anymore so depressed than anyone’s been in say the last year,” said Finley.
While Finley did not anticipate her son would take his own life, she did notice that he was stressed about schoolwork and was often in isolation. She said she believes the pandemic and its impact on learning may have been a factor in her son’s struggle.
“I thought the most dangerous thing my child did was get in a car every day and drive, but now I think maybe the most dangerous thing he did was sitting at home sitting at a computer,” said the mother. “He was spending 14 to 16 hours a day either on a computer or at school and then at home on a computer and it just seems like too much.”
Boen Nutting, the director of communications and development at Iredell-Statesville Schools, said there is no question the pandemic has placed a mental strain on students, but suicide had been a growing problem for several years prior to the coronavirus outbreak.
“We have noticed in the last 10 years that suicide has been on the rise, not only in Iredell-Statesville Schools, but in North Carolina and in the country,” said Nutting.
She said three students from Iredell-Statesville Schools have died of suicide since the beginning of the pandemic, and she knows of two other students from other schools in Iredell County who have also died of suicide.
“One death by suicide means we still have work to do,” said Nutting.
She said the district previously put all 2,500 of its employees through a suicide prevention program.
According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), suicide was the second leading cause of death among Americans ages 10 to 24 in 2018. Data shows the rate of suicide among males and females has been steadily rising over the last 20 years.
A representative from the NIMH said she was unaware of any data pertaining to teen suicides that happened over the course of the pandemic.
Finley said she is hoping more people will start talking about mental health.
“It’s okay to talk about mental health and the thoughts of loneliness, hopelessness or depression, or just the disappointments of the past year and start some dialogue. I don’t have answers. I just want people to talk and to try to be on the lookout for our kids,” said Finley.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.