The topic of teenage suicide has been high on my list of concerns since the first of two suicides of girls my daughter’s age in the seventh grade. Six of my children’s peers have committed suicide in the same number of years. When the national statistic for teenage suicide is 7 out of 100,000 students of the same age, the suicide rate in my daughter’s class alone is alarmingly high! FIVE OUT OF 250! As a parent, and a psychological and personal development professional, I am deeply concerned! What is happening with our children and how can we help them?
Teenage suicide is an enormous topic and one that will not be solved through a single action (or blog in this case). But as a dear friend and respected colleague recently stated, our goal around the topic of teenage suicide should be ZERO TOLERANCE. None of our children should be left to believe that suicide is the only way out of whatever difficult situation is troubling them. Preventing teen suicide and providing support for those who have lost a family member or friend to suicide requires the collaborative efforts of many people, social service, educational and government entities. Before we can solve the problem of teenage suicide, however, we must first explore the underlying causes of suicide.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, it gives us a glimpse into many pieces of a complicated puzzle that when added up, might lead one to believe death is the only possible solution.
Our teens are under an enormous amount of stress. Stress related to:
Relationships – peers, friends, family, cliques, boyfriends, girlfriends, breakups, heartbreak, unrequited love, divorce, etc.
Pressure to Achieve – school, pressure to do well in school, decisions about college and career, pressure from the media, friends, family, pressure to belong, pressure to conform, etc.
The World – as I mentioned in a previous blog, “Our Kids Are Not Alright!,” our world is a mess! Our children have NEVER not known a world at war! Our economic and political situations are the worst they’ve ever been. The educational outlook (the reason for pursuing education post-high school) is grim. Our children know that the promise of a “financially rewarding career” after college is a lie. They are facing the very real possibility of not being able to afford college (tuition rates are at an all-time high), and that the only way to attend might be through student loans which will leave them forever indebted to the government and never able to buy their own home. This is real folks! And our children know it!
Stress untreated = more stress = apathy = anxiety = depression
Every death, change, disappointment, hurt feeling, divorce, physical move, school transfer, breakup, change in the status of friend relationships, etc. triggers grief. In our culture we don’t know how to do grief. We don’t even know what grief is, let alone how to deal with it. This is no different for our children. They are grieving, they might not know they are grieving (or the symptoms of grief), and there are few there to help them (we can’t help them if we don’t know how to grieve ourselves!).
Grief untreated = anxiety and depression
Abuse is rampant in our society and many of our children are living in abusive situations – physical, emotional, mental, verbal, spiritual, sexual, being bullied or neglected. Whether they are being abused, or someone else in their home or close-knit circle of friends is, they suffer the effects of abuse. On-going abuse can lead to PTSD, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and other “diagnosable” mental illnesses.
Abuse untreated = anxiety = depression = PTSD = panic attacks
While teenage suicide is not unique to any specific socio-economic category, poverty adds another dimension of stress– poverty, hunger, homelessness, poor nutrition, access to quality healthcare (or any healthcare for that matter), transient families, etc. all contribute additional stressors in an already difficult situation that might lead to believing death is ones best option.
Poverty = anxiety = isolation = depression = helplessness = hopelessness
LEARNING DISABILITIES, PROCESSING and SENSITIVITY ISSUES
According to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), this category should fall under that of “mental illness.” I refuse to put learning and processing issues under this category as it would only reinforce the false perception that if we learn differently from what the Common Core says is the “norm” there is something “wrong” with us. While some “learning disabilities” are readily identified and accommodations are able to be made (because this is mandated by the State or Federal government), most are not. Dyslexia, for example, is one processing issue that often falls through the cracks. This does not even begin to touch learning style differences and sensitivity issues. HSP’s (highly sensitive people) are not identified in education, neither are accommodations made for them. When our children learn by seeing or doing and teaching is not adapted to meet their needs, or accommodations are not offered to help them learn, they can’t learn. And when they can’t learn, they cannot succeed in education.
Not learning=not achieving=not succeeding=feelings of failure=stress, depression, anxiety, etc.
See above! No wonder the number of children who are being treated for symptoms consistent with mental illness – depression, anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, etc. is at an all-time high. Our children are suffering and much of this remains unrecognized, unacknowledged and therefore, untreated. Throw in access to healthcare (or rather, the lack thereof) and a culture that is incapable of processing grief and you have a MESS! Our children need our help!
Depression Anxiety Panic Attacks PTSD
Preventing teenage suicide begins by treating it at its cause. When we go directly to the cause we effectively eliminate the issues that would lead one to believing death is the only answer. While this approach ultimately means widespread systemic change, the resources are already here, if we know where to look and if we can figure out how to work together toward this common goal. While we might not save every life, our goal should be to make teenage suicide rare, instead of what has already happened in Oshkosh where teenage suicide has become expected and almost normal. This is wrong….way wrong, and as parents and professionals, it is our responsibility to do something about it!