Teenage suicide – such a difficult concept to grasp – that so many young people feel ending their life is the only solution to their anguish. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) states “There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.” Then the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states suicide is the second leading cause of death for 15-24-year old’s, behind automobile accidents, and you have to wonder why so many of our children are suffering a mental break at such a young age.
The enormous pressure to succeed academically and socially in the age of social media can be overwhelming to our impressionable youngsters. The need to be perfect can create unrealistic goals which lead to certain failure and, with this instant gratification generation, that failure can be very public. According to the Georgia Strategic Prevention System (GASPS), in 2016-2017, over 58,000 youth seriously thought about suicide. Of those, over 25,000 actually made a suicide attempt. That is far too many of our children feeling such depth of despair that death is their only relief.
To what can we contribute this unfathomable number of suicidal thoughts or attempts? The University of Texas Harris County Psychiatric Center states that approximately 75% of students who commit suicide suffer from some form of depression. And the negativity constantly bombarding our youth through powerful devices which are permanently attached to their bodies like an extra limb further exacerbates their insecurities. Furthermore, it has been proven that the adolescent brain does not fully mature until well into one’s twenties consequently making it an impulsive and dangerous weapon in the hands of a child but in the body of an adult. The feeling of social isolation, ridicule or being “invisible” amongst one’s peers can be debilitating on already fragile and hormonally charged teens.
The CDC defines bullying as “the unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and purposefully excluding someone from a group. Bullying can occur in-person or through technology”. In today’s world of social media, bullying is no longer confined to the school yard. It reaches our children anonymously through their phones and into what should be their most safe spaces. Cyber bullying has become an epidemic because it’s easy to be cruel when you cannot see the pain you are inflicting from behind your screen. Furthermore, the permanency of the internet makes reclaiming one’s life and dignity virtually impossible. Pair that with the traditional definition of bullying, and it is no wonder that the CDC has determined those involved in bullying —either as one who bullies, is bullied, or both — is one of several important factors that appear to increase the risk of suicide among youth.
To help combat the horrifying rate of teen suicide, we, as a community, must strive to recognize the signs of despair in our children. We must, as parents, be good role models and cease engaging in divisive, hateful discourse. We must be active participants in the moral and academic education of our children and guide them to be good citizens who recognize and accept those who are different. We must teach our children that cruel words said anonymously from behind phone screens can inflict horrendous suffering. But most importantly, we must teach our children to be kind and inclusive to one’s fellow student so as to be a deterrent to social isolation and self-destruction.
This article was written by By Tammy Andress, Co-President of the Lassiter High School PTSA and Vice President for the ECCC PTA, and originally appeared in our October issue, on page 10. Click here to view our digital edition.