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Archive for the ‘Suicide’ Category

Kid got killed here recently; got hit by a train. That doesn’t sound like a very pleasant way to die. His mother was out looking for him, and she stopped a group of his friends, asking if they’d seen him. They admitted that they had but didn’t know where he was. It was about this time that the state police helicopters started circling overhead, not far from where the mother and the kids were talking. It got me to wondering…was this an accident or was it suicide. Today, a week after I wrote what you just read, I learned the truth…he stepped in front of that train intentionally. He had been bullied to the point where he felt that his life was no longer worth living. How, in the name of God, does one reach that decision?

Kids growing up today have it much tougher than I did and even tougher than my own children. Heck, social media was a term that I don’t believe my kids ever heard. Today, there are chat rooms, dark chat rooms, and probably more kinds of rooms that you have to be “in on” in order to access. Cyberbullying has been added to the lexicon of the 21st Century, and it’s causing some serious problems.

One of the resources that I used in preparing this essay is The Anika Foundation in Australia. One of its objectives is, “To raise awareness about, the problems of youth depression and suicide.” I have found their research to be sound, sane, and very informative. It’s not limited to the happenings “down under,” but is international in its scope. For example, one of the first citations in their research is of a paper written by Harvard Professors David Cutler and Edward L. Glaeser, along with Assistant Professor Karen E. Norberg of the Boston University Medical School. In their study, they note that “Suicide is now the second or third leading cause of death for youths in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many countries of Western Europe.” While this study was published in 2001, other articles from more current sources agree that suicide is still number two or three, overtaken in some years only by homicide among youth.

Recently, two high school friends in Texas killed themselves hours apart in what appears to have been a suicide pact. Less than a week later, Arizona State University junior, Thomas Wagoner, jumped to his death from a campus building. The victim of bullying in high school Wagoner was known to have suffered from depression because of his experiences; it was something he mentioned in his suicide notes. According to his roommate, Jared Blevens, “He mentioned being depressed. I had known he was depressed, but I didn’t realize how depressed he was. I thought he would talk to me or one of our friends.” Blevins added, “I would say if you are concerned at all then you should get help…because I didn’t realize how bad it was with Thomas. And I knew him better than anyone else.”

These are sad stories, crazy stories, stories that didn’t seem to happen when I was growing up or when my children were growing up. It makes me worry for my kids and their children. Getting inside the head of a teenager is about as easy as herding cats or nailing jello to a tree, ergo, it cannot be done. If they are depressed or suicidal, most of them appear to hide it well, and if they go ahead and commit suicide successfully, we never know the reasons because they take those with them. Suicide.org says that “…teens who attempt suicide and survive tell us that they wanted to die to end the pain of living. They are often experiencing a number of stressors and feel that they do not have the strength or desire to continue living. We also believe that the majority of youth who die by suicide have a mental disorder, like depression, which is often undiagnosed, untreated or both.”

I care about this for two reasons (1) I have grandchildren, some as young as five. I probably won’t live to see him to adulthood, but I don’t want my daughter and her husband to suffer the pain of losing a child. I don’t want any of my kids to lose a child. I think the greatest fear that Joan and I ever experienced was that of having to bury one of our own. Perhaps, in a way, she was fortunate to have died when she did. I still live with the fear that one of my kids may go before me, and it terrifies me. (2) I worked in higher education for 40 years. During that time I saw students who had friends who had committed suicide. When a young person looks you in the eye and asks, “Why do you think…?” how the hell do you answer them? Their pain is palpable and feeling it along with them is just too easy to do. One young woman sat in my office after missing mid-terms. She had gone to the funeral of her best friend in Washington, D.C. The friend had hung herself. Frankly, working with this young woman was physically and emotionally draining. She got through it and graduated. Her faculty members were wonderful in their understanding of what she was going through.

How do we know when a person is getting ready to commit suicide? Wow, that’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question. As a parent, a teacher, or a friend, you just have to keep your eyes and ears open. It’s been estimated that perhaps eighty percent of those thinking about suicide want other to know they’re hurting and want to stop them from dying. If they begin to give away things that they’ve highly prized in the past; if they seem hopeless or depressed; if they show signs of a preoccupation of death, it may be time to step in or to call for help from the professionals. As I say, knowing the signs, seeing the signs, is not the easiest thing in the world for an untrained friend, teacher, or family member. Several years ago, a high school student I know surveyed her class about suicide. She found that thirty-two percent of the class had considered it. Fifteen students had actually tried it unsuccessfully. She was shocked as were other members of our committee.

Jared Blevens said about his friend, “I didn’t know how depressed he was.” Perhaps the one-time use of any word that’s even associated with depression should be a key to begin talking. Or, perhaps, communities should begin developing programs to talk about suicide in much the same way they now openly talk of bullying and cyberbullying. We cannot allow this to continue to be the second or third leading cause of death among our youth. If we do nothing, it could easily challenge motor vehicle accidents as the number one cause of teenage fatality.

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Would you believe that thirty-two percent of the seniors in your town’s high school have considered suicide? Would you believe that fifteen percent actually tried? These are shocking figures and yet that’s what we learned when we took a poll at one local high school in Massachusetts. This was not a suicide questionnaire but covered a much broader area of student concerns. To be brutally frank, it scared the crap out of the high school principal, health officials, and the school resource officer to name but a few.

Candidly, we don’t know what causes high school kids to kill themselves. Yes, there have been a number of highly visible cases where actual- as well as cyber-bullying has been considered to be the major factor, but that seems to be just a part of the story. Those of us who have never experienced teen suicide ‘up close and personal’ don’t have a bloody clue what goes through the mind of a teenager that permits them to believe that life is no longer worth living. As the third leading cause of death among adolescents, suicide is not something that we should hide as we did the subject of bullying for so many years.

Please don’t get me wrong; when our kids were growing up, I was so busy trying to make a living that I’m now convinced that I didn’t put the time in to truly help make a family life. Yeah, I coached Little League when our son wanted to play baseball…the girls weren’t interested. Yeah, the kids began competitive swimming when the youngest was only six, and we took them to practice and meets and learned how to officiate, but being more deeply involved in their lives was not something that we considered. We didn’t pry; we might ask how school was going, but we could see that on their report cards. Now that they are all adults, married, and have kids of their own, we’ve learned a few things that I for one am happy we never learned when they were young. Looking back, I’d have to say that we were pretty damned lucky compared to some other parents. Rarely did a week pass when Joan didn’t have one or more of the children’s friends in the kitchen without our own being present. She would inform me at some point if there was a problem she considered serious, and we’d attempt to decide whether or not the children’s parents should be notified. Most of the time it was concluded that the parents were probably better off being kept in the dark. One of Joan’s questions, however, was always, “They just want a friendly ear. How come they don’t have that at home?” It’s an interesting question.

There is no question that the pressures of today are far more severe than the pressures on me or even my children. Today’s teenagers are bombarded by emotional, social, and family issues that we didn’t have to face. Social media, television, having the newest, the brightest, the best of whatever can strain a child’s emotional well-being beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Recently, a high school classmate of mine – that’s Class of 1952 – recalled coming over to our house to watch television; he also remembered my mother’s brownies. I don’t remember any of this, but here it is, over 60 years later, and her still remembers. Pressures? Hell, we didn’t have a clue about social or emotional pressures. Family issues: What family issues? Every family we knew had a mom, a dad, and kids. There may well have been issues behind the closed doors, but we certainly never heard about them. Were there single parents? I never knew of any. Today, I hear nothing but stories of single parents, gay parents, dope-dealing parents, and yes, even a parent who has murdered. And we wonder why these kids commit suicide?

There are few if any teenagers who kill themselves who do not send out warning signals of some kind, directly to their parents; to their friends; to their teachers; or even to complete strangers. One of the problems is that everyone is too busy to take notice of them. When a child’s grades begin to fall inexplicably; when he or she loses interest in a social activity or sport that three weeks ago was their world; when things go missing from their room and the excuse is, “Oh, I was tired of that old thing and gave it to so-and-so,” there’s a problem brewing that needs to be discussed. Perhaps the child begins to abuse alcohol or drugs – not always the easiest thing to detect, but if you suspect it and work at it, you’ll find the signs; if they begin to act up or become bored with “just everything;” If they withdraw from family activities; change their eating or sleep habits, perhaps neglect personal hygiene, these are signs that there is a serious problem. You can find other signals and signs merely by going online and checking out various teen suicide sites…if you have the time…if you care about your kid…if you don’t want tragedy entering your life when you least expect it. No, I’m not really trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone. However, we brought them into this world. Along with the help of God, we created something more precious than anything we have ever owned. Don’t we deserve to see them reach adulthood…whether they want to or not?

There’s an old adage that goes, “A son is a son ‘til he takes him a wife; a daughter’s a daughter the rest of her life.” My personal philosophy is that their mother and I saw, interfered, and tried to influence their lives through high school. When they went to college, they entered an environment where they were to become semi-adult. Upon graduation, their life was their own. For us, it worked. Will it work for everyone? It most assuredly will not and once again we come back to the pressures of today being completely different from the pressures or the environment in which we raised our children. I don’t envy my kids or my grandkids. I cannot conceive of the pitfalls they will face.

Encourage openness and candor with your kids. You don’t have to get ‘into their face,’ but you do have to be aware of what is going on in their lives. I’ve searched through pages and pages of quotations with which to end this essay.  Since I can’t relate to Justin Timberlake, Snookie, or any of the other characters who seem to populate the teenagers quotes, I guess I’ll just have to settle for the late Erma Bombeck who said, “Never lend your car keys to anyone to whom you gave birth.”

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