Suicide of Sol Pais — Florida teen seen as threat to Denver-area schools — highlights mental health, mass tragedies
By: Jessica Seaman
April 19, 2019
When Sol Pais traveled to Denver on Monday and bought a gun, it triggered a daylong search before she was found dead of a suspected suicide — an ending that has brought mental health and mass tragedies back into the spotlight on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.
There’s still a lot unknown about the 18-year-old Florida woman’s trip to Colorado. But her death highlights both the rise in teenagers and young adults killing themselves and the complexity of mental illness and mass shootings — or, in this case, potential threats of violence.
Overall, the connection between suicide and mass shootings is murky, including as it relates to survivors of such tragedies.
Most individuals with a mental illness are not violent and are, in fact, more likely to be a target of violence than a perpetrator. However, a person’s move to carry out an act, such as a mass shooting, can imply they have suicidal intentions, according to mental health experts.
“Very often school shootings implies suicidal intentions,” said Sarah Davidon, research director with Mental Health Colorado. “But most often, suicidal intentions doesn’t imply somebody is going to do a school shooting.”
Only about 4 percent of violent acts can be attributed to mental illness, and that’s mostly because it has gone untreated, she said, cautioning that the perception that a person is predisposed to death — either suicide or another act of violence — because of mental illness perpetuates a false stereotype and further stigmatizes mental health.
Authorities say Pais was infatuated with Columbine, but have not shared the specific nature of the threat she posed — even as law enforcement’s search for the teenager led to hundreds of schools closing on Wednesday. Most students returned to school Thursday, but a few parents are keeping their children home until after the anniversary of the Columbine shooting because they are worried about threats.
It’s also unclear if Pais was diagnosed with a mental illness. An online blog connected to her featured several pictures of guns, along with suicidal messages. And one appeared to depict a drawing of one of the Columbine shooters. The blog also mentioned feeling empty and not belonging in this world.
The online postings don’t “lead to a conclusion” that Pais had a mental illness, but show she was “seriously troubled and unable to cope with emotional distress and not able to connect with people,” Davidon said.
“People’s ability to cope with distress and experiences they’ve had and their lack of hope and lack of connections is critical to look at,” she said.
As state officials have sought to address the youth suicide crisis, they have talked about the need to build resiliency in teens and children.
Ultimately, most people with suicidal thoughts do not harm themselves or others, and it is difficult to predict who will act on those thoughts, said Dr. April Foreman, a psychologist and board member of the American Association of Suicidology.
“We have not invested very much in the science of suicide,” she said. “We do not know why people become suicidal.”
But, Davidon said, one question remains: What did Pais experience that led authorities to consider her a threat and for her kill herself?
“I don’t think that we know that yet,” she said.
SUICIDE PREVENTION RESOURCES
- Colorado Crisis Line: 1-844-493-8255, coloradocrisisservices.org. Chat online or text TALK to 38255.
- Mental Health First Aid: mhfaco.org. Get trained to recognize the signs and how to respond.
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: afsp.org. Join one of their upcoming walks for awareness in Colorado.
- Crisis Text Line: crisistextline.org. Text 741741 from anywhere in the nation to reach a counselor.
- Second Wind Fund: thesecondwindfund.org. Links students to mental health professionals and pays for up to 12 counseling sessions.
Originally appeared on The Denver Post.