Debbie Cardwell, founder of Messages for Hope, a Charleston-based organization dedicated to providing "postvention" support to friends and family members who have lost loved ones to suicide, said adolescents often have the hardest time coping with suicide.
"The first step for the ones who are left behind is to learn not to be ashamed -- to not accept guilt or blame," she said. "It's the only way people can heal. But many people who have not been touched by suicide simply do not know the right things to say."
Cardwell knows. Her daughter, also named Amber, killed herself in 2008.
Since then, Cardwell has been building awareness about mental illness, suicide prevention and intervention, and encouraging healing for "suicide survivors." Her program is a place for those "left behind" to find support, she said.
While the Jason Flatt Act was passed in West Virginia in 2012 and requires professional development for educators to identify warning signs in students at risk, suicide continues to be a top cause of death among youths, Cardwell said.
Nearly 40,000 people in the U.S. die by suicide every year, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among those 15 to 24 years old.
"A lot of times with this age group, people don't want to discuss it at all. But this can have a huge impact on their lives. We've been having to allow some adolescents into our adult grief groups simply because there is no other place for them to go," Cardwell said.
"The message that the public needs to understand is that there is hope, there are people to talk to. There's always a different solution."
In lieu of flowers, Amber's family asks that donations be made to the Kanawha/Charleston Humane Association Animal Shelter.
To contact Messages for Hope, call 304-389-8558 or visit www.messagesforhope.com.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.