The Herald Bulletin

September 13, 2013

Looking for the signs

Pendleton father speaks about son's suicide to raise awareness

By Dani Palmer
The Herald Bulletin

PENDLETON, Ind. — Fifteen-year-old Charlie Skiles, a student at Pendleton Heights High School, would often walk up to strangers and jokingly introduce himself as Batman, one of his favorite fictional heroes.

He loved to play video games, watch movies, fish, hike and hang with friends. He told Chuck Norris jokes that could "make you laugh your head off," said his dad, William Skiles.

"Charlie was such a great kid. He really was. He always came across as being upbeat and having a positive energy and a positive attitude," Skiles said.

"And he really did have the spirit of a hero, to reach out to other kids and help them out. He was always friendly, he was always smiling."

Charlie also suffered from depression. He was receiving counseling and taking anti-depressants but they weren't enough, Skiles recalled.

Charles "Charlie" Skiles committed suicide on Aug. 23.

"Everybody knew there was a little something wrong with him there the last few weeks," William Skiles said. "He just didn't seem quite as upbeat as he normally did. As far as anybody knowing how bad he had gotten, he didn't really show that to anybody."

Charlie's depression hit him hardest when he was 13, reaching a point where the family took him to the Anderson Center for treatment because he talked about hurting himself, Skiles said.

He did appear happier taking the anti-depressants, but Skiles wonders if Charlie just got better at hiding his mood. There's a notion that males have to be tough, he said, and if a guy can't handle the way he feels, it sometimes "eats at self-esteem, self-worth."

Skiles, who is divorced from Charlie's mother and visited with his son on weekends, said he'd seen signs that Charlie was struggling — he began cutting himself two weeks prior to the suicide, but that he just didn't know how bad it had gotten.

"I'll regret for the rest of my life that I didn't just take him right back up there" to the Anderson Center, he said, adding that Charlie convinced him "he'd be OK, that he wasn't going to give up."

Look for hints

After looking through Charlie's Facebook messages, Skiles realized that his son's friends had also known something was going on but didn't realize how serious the situation had become. Parents and teens, he added, need to start reaching out sooner when they see the signs.

"Kids are very good at hiding things. You have to look for subtle hints and you have to take every little thing seriously," he said. "Because losing a child, especially in such a tragic way, is not something any parent should have to go through."

Today marks the end of National Suicide Prevention Week and, after losing his son, Skiles wants to raise awareness.

"It (National Suicide Prevention Week) brings people's focus to a problem we tend to shy away from, that we don't want to think about," said Susie Maier, chair of the Madison County Suicide Prevention Coalition. "It's an opportunity to put information out there and educate folks about something with a stigma."

Madison County has the highest suicide rate in East Central Indiana. According to the Madison County Health Department, 20 people committed suicide in 2012. Four of the deaths were committed between January and April. This year, there have already been seven suicides for that same period of time.

"I realize that it's tragic when a teen takes their own life, but is it any more tragic than it is when an elderly person or a middle-aged person takes their life?" Skiles asked. "It's a tragedy no matter which way you look at it. We have to reach out to all of these people."

Maier said the coalition, established in 2012, plans to increase awareness and combat the county's suicide rate through a QPR for Suicide Prevention program.

QPR stands for question, persuade and response. It's an educational program that will be taught across the region by certified trainers. The free public programs will offer new approaches to suicide prevention and focus on role-playing scenarios.

"If you are worried about someone you care about," Maier said, don't be afraid to ask if they're thinking about hurting themselves. "It's a difficult question to ask but it's the right question to ask," she added.

People can be surprised, she said, by the responses, because it can lead to a discussion that can save a life. If they indicate they'll inflict injury, Maier said, the friend should go home with them, "disarm them" and keep them safe for at least 24 hours. That increases the chances that person will seek help, she added.

Maier, who is also the director of outpatient services for Aspire, Indiana Behavioral Health System, said there are many warning flags to look for, such as a discussion of death or feeling like a burden to others, becoming withdrawn or shifts in attitude from a sudden depression to happiness. That can signify a decision to commit suicide as an end to the pain.

The goal of the coalition, she said, is to reach out to people so they don't feel alone, so that they know "things aren't always going to be the way they are now" because depression is treatable, life situations can improve.

She added that Madison County is looking to start a suicide survivor support group. Stiles is planning to attend a group meeting in Muncie.

Stiles said he has plenty of moments to cherish, but that the memories he holds dearest are the nights Charlie would fall asleep on the couch while watching TV or playing a game.That's when the father would put a blanket on his son, kiss his forehead and tell him that he loved him.

Like Dani Palmer on Facebook and follow her @DaniPalmer_THB on Twitter, or call 640-4847.