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'A lot of pain out there': Piedmont Macon therapist offers advice on talking children through grief after elementary student takes his own life

Bruce Conn with Piedmont Macon says there's an increase in anxiety, depression and other mental health issues in children 10 to 15-years-old.

MACON, Ga. — A Bibb County elementary school community is mourning a 10-year-old who took his own life this week.

In a statement Friday, the school district said they reached out to Vineville Academy parents and students to offer support. They had grief counselors and crisis support staff on hand to help students process what happened.

Parents may also want to help their children process, so we reached out to Bruce Conn, a therapist at Piedmont Macon, for advice on talking children through grief.

"There's a lot of pain out there," Conn said.

He's been a therapist for about 40 years, and at Piedmont almost half his career. In that time, Conn's seen a growing trend: depression, anxiety and other mental health issues in children 10 to 15-years-old.

"Pretty much all the research is pointing to the problems of social media, where people are not living in an organic life," Conn said. "They're living in a sort of two-dimensional digital life."

Even with the trends, Conn says a 10-year-old elementary school student taking his own life is worrisome.

"It just concerns me. It's really sad to hear this kind of news," Conn said.

He says tragedies also worry parents, especially when their child asks about them. Conn has some advice about how to start that conversation.

"Saying, 'There's some bad news. And there's something I need to tell you about that you need to be prepared for. Because sometimes, things happen this way,'" Conn said.

He suggests somewhere comfortable and familiar to talk. Conn says it's important the place is free of distractions.

"Turn the TV off. Get to a place where it's easy for you to talk. The kitchen table. Sitting on the front porch," he suggested.

Conn cautions against talking somewhere sentimental.

"Not a meaningful place, like 'We always sit here and play games or watch TV,'" he advised.

Conn says it's never too early to talk to your child either, especially if they ask about it.

"Immediately. Immediately. Especially if the child asks the question, be as honest as possible," he said.

Conn says if you do talk with your child, it's OK to limit how detailed you are, based on their age.

He also offered some signs to look out for if you think your child may be hurting. 

Conn says you may notice your child eating or sleeping too much, or too little. You may also see them start to withdraw, or hear them say something like they feel nothing matters. 

He says a good next step is reaching out to your child's pediatrician.

If you think your child is in immediate danger, you should always call 911, or 988, the National Suicide Hotline.

For a local option, there's Macon's Crisis Hotline: (478) 751-4484.

If you need help finding mental health treatment, like a therapist or psychiatrist, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a free online tool to search for options.

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