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Mother pleads to make mental illness a dinner table discussion after losing son to suicide

Posted at 11:17 AM, Sep 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-12 19:01:54-04

The rate of teen suicide has steadily increased since 2005.

Among youth ages 15-24 years old, suicide is the second leading cause of death.

Kris Masalsky Goguen smiled when she spoke about her son Paul. Paul would have been 25-years-old. 

But Paul's short life came to an end when he was just 15-years-old.

"My son Paul was an awesome kid. He was a great kid. He was funny, talented, creative, a musician extraordinaire."

"I think with all of us we have our side where we're awesome and creative and then we've got our demon side that's darker. I think with Paul, he wasn't a talker. He was an introverted person and it was complicated."

Kris says, she saw a change in Paul when he was in the 5th grade. "Something was going on and we couldn't quite get to it."

She and her husband did what parents would do. They spent a lot of time at Paul's school with his teachers and the Principal but nothing seem resolved. 

They even took him to a counselor but he was cleared.

MORE: How Schools Can Help Students Respond To Suicide

MORE: How teachers can prepare for a crisis at their school

Addressing Mental Health Needs

Because suicide is often the result of untreated mental illness, addressing mental health needs is often the best way to try to prevent these tragedies. Many parents and teachers incorrectly believe that school-aged children are incapable of experiencing mental health conditions, but that’s simply not the case.

  • 13% of children ages 8 to 15 experience a mental health condition.
  • 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14.
  • 50% of children ages 8 to 15 experiencing a mental health condition don’t receive treatment.


In the 8th grade - they noticed more changes, "we started noticing isolation. He had friends but he chose to be in his room a lot and he seemed pretty negative," said Kris. Adding, "things seemed to go pretty well for a while so in hindsight things were up and down and then not so great." 

Kris thought Paul was just being a teenager. "It's tricky because typically teenagers don't want to talk their parents. Their parents are the last people in the world they want to talk to."

In hindsight, being unable to talk about that - Paul, kept it in his heart.

Paul took his own life on October 3, 2008. 

Kris says, if she and her family had to do it over again - mental illness would discussion. "I think it's important to have those very open and authentic and honest conversations - start them at the dinner table."

"I don't believe we can talk about suicide without talking about mental illness and I don't believe we can talk about mental illness without talking about suicide."

Paul was never diagnosed with a mental illness but Kris says in hindsight - there were signs. She believes, Paul was bipolar and depressed.

Factors that increase the risk of suicide among teens include:

  • a psychological disorder, especially depressionbipolar disorder, and alcohol and drug use (in fact, about 95% of people who die by suicide have a psychological disorder at the time of death)
  • feelings of distress, irritability, or agitation
  • feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness that often accompany depression
  • a previous suicide attempt
  • a family history of depression or suicide
  • emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • lack of a support network, poor relationships with parents or peers, and feelings of social isolation
  • dealing with bisexuality or homosexuality in an unsupportive family or community or hostile school environment

Kris says if you see your child spiraling, isolating themselves or not finding joy -- start the conversation. 

Warning Signs

Suicide among teens often happens after a stressful life event, such as problems at school, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the death of a loved one, a divorce, or a major family conflict.

Teens who are thinking about suicide might:

  • talk about suicide or death in general
  • give hints that they might not be around anymore
  • talk about feeling hopeless or feeling guilty
  • pull away from friends or family
  • write songs, poems, or letters about death, separation, and loss
  • start giving away treasured possessions to siblings or friends
  • lose the desire to take part in favorite things or activities
  • have trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
  • experience changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • engage in risk-taking behaviors
  • lose interest in school or sports

Kris has now devoted her life talking to families who have lost someone to suicide at the Survivors of Suicide (SOS) Program at La Frontera Arizona. 

If you have lost a loved one to suicide and need a support group, visit La Frontera Arizona.

SOS groups - Northern and Southern Arizona 

TUCSON: 1st and 3rd / Thursday 6:00p.m. - 8:00 p.m. 

  • Catalina United Methodist Church, 2700 East Speedway Blvd. 

SEDONA: Last Tuesday / 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

  • Christ Lutheran Church, 25 chapel Road

PRESCOTT: Last Monday / 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. 

  • First Congregational Church, 216 East Gurley Street 

SOS groups - Maricopa County 

TEMPE: 1st and 3rd Thursday / 7:00p.m. - 9:00 p.m. 

  • EMPACT-SPC Tempe office, 618 South Madison Drive 

EAST MESA: 2nd and 4th Thursday / 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. 

  • Red Mountain Multigenerational Center, 7550 E. Adobe Road 

PARADISE VALLEY:  1st and 3rd Wednesday / 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

  • Paradise Valley Hospital, 3929 East Bell Road 

PHOENIX/SCOTTSDALE: 2nd and 4th Wednesday / 7:00p.m. - 9:00 p.m. 

  • Prince of Peace Church, 3641 N. 56th street, room 11 or 12 

WEST VALLEY: 2nd and 4th Tuesday / 7:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. 

  • EMPACT-SPC Glendale office, 4425 W. Olive, Suite 194

QUEEN CREEK : 1st and 3rd Wednesday / 7:00p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

  • AMADEO Church, 21805 S. Ellsworth Road

LAVEEN : Call Jill McMahon at 480-784-1514, ext. 1108

MARICOPA: 1st and 3rd Wednesday / 5:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. 

  • La Frontera of Arizona, EMPACT-SPC , 21476 N. John Wayne Parkway, suite C101 

Community-Wide Crisis Line (520) 622-6000 or 1-866-495-6735

Call 911 When calling 911 - state it is a mental health crisis for either yourself or family/ friend and ask that a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT ) officer be provided.

National Crisis Information National Crisis Line (800) 273-TALK (8255)

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (888) 333-AFSP (2377) (not a crisis line)

For programs and services at the National Alliance on Metal illness Southern Arizona, click here.

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