AUSTIN, Texas — When the pandemic started, suicide attempts among youth began to increase. A father who lost his teenage son to suicide is using his nonprofit to change that.

In October of 2014, David James' son, Peyton James, took his own life. 

“I was just basically screaming, 'Why?' 'Why?' 'Why?' over and over again,” James said, recalling the day he received a phone call that his son was in the hospital.

James says he didn’t see it coming, and said his son always had a smile on his face. 

“Kids especially are feeling it,” James said. “It's been very difficult for them to be isolated away from their peers.”

Peyton’s story isn’t uncommon during the pandemic. Starting in May of 2020, there’s been an increase in suicide attempts among youth in Texas and around the country.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was a 22.3% increase in ER trips for children 12-17 years old. Those trips being related to potential suicides.

“COVID and the issues that come along with it can obviously create a very stressful environment, especially for a teenager,” Sarah Allen, the area director for the North Texas Chapters of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said.

While the pandemic is a factor, Allen says there’s no one single cause, emphasizing the importance of difficult conversations with kids. 

“If we notice something that just doesn't seem right,” Allen said. “It doesn't feel right. It's just kind of unusual behavior. It's OK to ask. Ask your child, ‘Are you OK? Are you feeling depressed?’ And even asking outright, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’” 

“Talk to them,” James said. “Talk to your kids.”

James is helping people across the globe start the conversation through the Peyton Heart Project.

“Hopefully it finds the right person,” James said. “We all have our struggles. We all have our battles. We need to be reminded that there are people out there that care.” 

Through the nonprofit, he along with other volunteers leave threaded hearts in public places

“This one says, 'no act of kindness is ever wasted,’” James said, reading one of the threaded hearts he left on a pole in downtown Dripping Springs.  

It’s a reminder to those who need it most, and one he wishes he would’ve gotten years ago. 

“It means that Peyton still lives,” James said. “That his legacy lives on. My goal is to keep another family from ever having to go through what ours has. If it saves one person, it’s worth it.”