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After lacrosse players die by suicide, their families speak up on mental health

After the tragic deaths of two high school athletes, their families are hoping to avoid other losses by talking about mental health.
/ Source: TODAY

This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to for additional resources.

Nathaniel Cowsert loved lacrosse so much that he convinced almost every kid he met to play. The team captain at Box Elder High School in Utah talked so enthusiastically about it that few could resist trying lacrosse after talking to him.

“He was infamous for it,” David Cowsert, Nathaniel’s dad, told TODAY. “Every single boy within three or four years of his age at least tried lacrosse.”

Nathaniel, 17, brought that passion to almost everything he did. He was a solid student and enjoyed outdoor activities, such as hunting. Like any teen, he’d sometimes act impulsively and get into trouble. But he always owned up to it.

“If he dragged his friends into it he would step up and say, ‘It’s all me. I’m the leader. I’ll take responsibility,'” Cowsert said. "He was a leader."

Cowsert and Nathaniel’s mother, Nettie Goins, felt like they had as open of a relationship that anyone could have with a teen. But Goins sometimes fretted about Nathaniel especially after he moved into his dad’s house and she chatted with him less often. On top of playing lacrosse, he worked about 25 to 30 hours a week and frequently felt overwhelmed.

“I always worried that he could be depressed,” Goins told TODAY. “That was always like the concern in my heart. I tried to make him talk."

Still his parents felt concerned about the standards Nathaniel held himself to.

“He was really, really struggling with himself,” Goins said. “(He had) feelings of inadequacy, of not being good enough."

While they knew their son grappled with stress, they felt stunned when he died by suicide in January 2018.

“Everybody was completely shocked,” Cowsert said. “He was not a perfect kid, but he was an amazing kid.”

As the community mourned for Nathaniel, Jason Shipp checked in with his son, Jeremy, who played lacrosse with Nathaniel. When Shipp found a text from Jeremy, 16, that said he had considered suicide, Shipp confronted his son.

“He said, ‘Yeah, Dad, I thought about it. But I would never do that,’” Shipp told TODAY. “Obviously, looking back I wish I would have done more.”

Like Nathaniel, Jeremy was a leader. Teachers often sat students in need of a friend next to Jeremy because he’d always help. He loved music and taught himself how to play guitar.

“He was always so kind. He was just great to be around. He was a light,” Shipp said. “Jeremy was always happy.”

In July 2018, Jeremey died by suicide. His family couldn’t believe it.

“No one understood that he was struggling. No one knew. It was just a shock,” Shipp said. “Even up to the night that he passed away, he was talking about future plans.”

After the two lacrosse players died by suicide, their coach, Juan Gaytan, decided to do something. He has started talking to every player about their feelings.

“Coach Juan and I have talked quite a bit,” Cowsert said. “It was shocking how many of the kids had thought about suicide.”

Suicide rates among children 10 to 19 have been increasing since 2007 and experts say this is exactly why parents need to talk to their children about it.

"The trend has been that males tend to use more lethal methods and they are more likely to die by their action. There has been an increase in lethality in females as well," Dr. Adelle Cadieux, a pediatric psychologist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, told TODAY Parents.

While the increase in suicide attempts and death by suicide can be scary, Cadieux says it is important for parents to talk to their children about suicide before they even notice signs.

"The first step is really talking to your child and keeping that line of communication open," she said. "Parents can say, 'This isn’t something that you need to hide but if you don’t feel comfortable talking to me who can you talk to about it?'"

While some children will show signs, not every child will appear to harbor thoughts of suicide That's why parents should be concerned if they notice a dramatic change in behavior, such as withdrawing from friends and family or acting more stressed out. When this happens, parents should talk with them, especially if they do express thoughts about dying.

"If your child is making those kinds of statement, they are upset that something is not going well for them. It may not be they are going to act on that statement but we need to have an intervention," she said.

Parents can always contact the suicide hotline or other resources, such as the Child Mind Institute's symptom checker, to get support.

And experts say it's important to know that talking about suicide will not cause it.

"We are providing support to that person and helping them through their pain and that they are no longer alone," Cadieux said.