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Suicide: An Epidemic Affecting Every American

Editorial Staff

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We don’t like to talk about it, but we have to discuss the suicide epidemic. At some point or another, every family in America knows someone who has died by suicide. As Patriots and as a family, we have to be aware of the signs of this disease.  Suicide tears at our very core.

We, in America need to be alert and know the signs of those closest to us.  Suicidal behavior is a disease. As suicide rates rise in the United States, a growing number of psychiatrists are arguing that suicidal behavior should be considered as a disease in its own right, rather than as a behavior resulting from a mood disorder.

They base their argument on mounting evidence showing that the brains of people who have committed suicide have striking similarities, quite distinct from what is seen in the brains of people who have similar mood disorders but who died of natural causes. Suicide also tends to be more common in some families, suggesting there may be genetic and other biological factors in play (Reardon).

What’s more, most people with mood disorders almost never attempt to kill themselves, and about 10 percent of suicides have no history of mental disease. (Reardon). The idea of classifying suicidal tendencies as a disease is being taken seriously. The team behind the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Standards Manual (DSM-5)” (Reardon).

The recent excitement over the release and now the sequels of the Netflix hit Thirteen Reasons Why is a disturbing but new commentary on a young suicide. I’m not going to keep any secrets about my opinions of this show. While I think the lesson in the series about bullying is good, the other depiction about suicide is inaccurate.

First and foremost, I want to point out, Thirteen Reasons Why is just  a TV show and not a very accurate one.  A person who commits suicide isn’t in a rational state. The show is about a girl who makes 13 tapes and then mails them to 13 people she feels are in some way responsible for her suicide. This is 99% unlikely to happen in real life.

Young Depressed Woman However, the dangers of romanticizing this action are very real. In reality after a suicide, we rarely have closure even if a person leaves a note. Suicide leaves behind enough guilt that one does not need to go through 13 tapes of the guilt. Recently the NASP (National Association of School psychologists) came out with a statement about this series and what school professionals should do in the wake of multiple young people watching in record numbers:

Make sure parents, teachers, and students are aware of suicide risk warning signs. Always take warning signs seriously, and never promise to keep them secret. Establish a confidential reporting mechanism for students.

Common Suicide Signs Include:

  • Suicide threats, both direct (“I am going to kill myself.” “I need life to stop.”) and indirect (“I need it to stop.” “I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up.”).  Threats can be verbal or written, and they are often found in online postings.
  • Giving away prized possessions.
  • Preoccupation with death in conversation, writing, drawing, and social media.
  • Changes in behavior, appearance/ hygiene, thoughts, and/or feelings. This can include someone who is typically sad who suddenly becomes extremely happy.
  • Emotional distress.

Young people who feel suicidal are not likely to seek help directly; however, parents, school personnel, and peers can recognize the warning signs and take immediate action to keep the youth safe. When a student gives signs that they may be considering
suicide, take the following actions:

  1. Remain calm, be nonjudgmental, and listen. Strive to understand the intolerable emotional pain that has resulted in suicidal thoughts.
  2. Avoid statements that might be perceived as minimizing the student’s emotional pain (e.g., “You need to move on.” or “You should get over it.”).
  3. Ask the student directly if they are thinking about suicide (i.e., “Are you thinking of suicide?”).Focus on your concern for their well-being and avoid being accusatory.
  4. Reassure the young person that there is help and they will not feel like this forever.
  5. Provide constant supervision. Do not leave the student alone.Without putting yourself in danger, remove means for self-harm, including any weapons the person might find.
  6. Get help. Never agree to keep a student’s suicidal thoughts a secret. Instead, school staff should take the student to a school-employed mental health professional. Parents should seek help from school or community mental health resources. Students should tell an appropriate caregiving adult, such as a school psychologist, administrator, parent, or teacher. School or district officials should determine how to handle memorials after a student has died. Promote memorials that benefit others (e.g., donations for a suicide prevention program) and activities that foster a sense of hope and encourage positive action. The memorial should not glorify, highlight, or accentuate the individual’s death. It may lead to imitative behaviors or a suicide contagion.
  • Reinforcing resiliency factors can lessen the potential of risk factors that lead to suicidal ideation and behaviors. Once a child or adolescent is considered at risk, schools, families, and friends should work to build these factors in and around the youth.
  • Family support and cohesion, including good communication.
  • Peer support and close social networks.School and community connectedness.
  • Cultural or religious beliefs that discourage suicide and promote healthy living.
  • Adaptive coping and problem-solving skills, including conflict resolution.
  • General life satisfaction, good self-esteem, and a sense of purpose.Easy access to effective medical and mental health resources.
  • Strive to ensure that all student spaces on campus are monitored and that the school environment is truly safe, supportive, and free of bullying.
  • If additional guidance is needed, ask for support from your building or district-level crisis team. The team may be able to assist with addressing unique situations affecting your building.

See Preventing Suicide: Guidelines for Administrators and Crisis Teams for additional guidance.  Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) and the JED Foundation have created talking points for conversations with youth specific to the 13 Reasons
Why series, available online.

Conversations Matter

Guidance for Families

  1. Ask your child if they have heard or seen the series 13 Reasons Why. While we don’t recommend that they be encouraged to view the series, do tell them you want to watch it with them or to catch up, and discuss their thoughts.
  2. If they exhibit any of the warning signs above, don’t be afraid to ask if they have thought about suicide or if someone is hurting them. Raising the issue of suicide does not increase the risk or plant the idea. On the contrary, it creates the opportunity to offer help.
  3. Ask your child if they think any of their friends or classmates exhibit warning signs. Talk with them about how to seek help for their friend or classmate. Guide them on how to respond when they see or hear any of the warning signs.
  4. Listen to your children’s comments without judgment. Doing so requires that you fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. Put your own agenda aside.
  5. Get help from a school-employee or community-based mental health professional if you are concerned for your child’s safety or the safety of one of their peers.
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See Preventing Youth Suicide Brief Facts (also available in Spanish) and Preventing Youth Suicide: Tips or Parents and Educators for additional information.

Safe Messaging for Students

  1. Suicide is never a solution. It is an irreversible choice regarding a temporary problem. There is help. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or know someone who is, talk to a trusted adult, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text “START” to 741741.
  2. Don’t be afraid to talk to your friends about how they feel and let them know you care about them.
  3. Be an “up-stander” and take actions to reduce bullying and increase positive connections among others. Report concerns.
  4. Never promise to keep secret behaviors that represent a danger toward another person.
  5. Suicide can be preventable. People considering suicide typically say something or do something that is a warning sign.

Always take warning signs seriously and know the warning signs:

  • Suicide threats, both direct (“I am going to kill myself.”) and indirect (“I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up.”). Can be verbal, written, or posted online.
  • Suicide notes and planning, including online postings.
  • Preoccupation with death in conversation, writing, drawing, and social media.
  • Changes in behavior, appearance/hygiene, thoughts, and/or feelings.
  • Emotional distress.

Separate Suicide Myths and Facts

MYTH: Talking about suicide will make someone choose death by suicide who has never thought about it before.
FACT: There is no evidence to suggest that talking about suicide plants the idea. Talking with your friend about how they feel and letting them know that you care about them is important. This is the first step in getting your friend help.
MYTH: People who struggle with depression or other mental illnesses are just weak.
FACT: Depression and other mental illnesses are serious health conditions and are treatable.
MYTH: People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.
FACT: People, particularly younger people who are thinking about suicide, typically demonstrate warning signs. Always take these warning signs seriously. Never leave the person alone; seek out a trusted adult immediately. School-employed mental health professionals like your school psychologist are trusted sources of help. Parents and caregivers seek help. This is how we help save the youth of America.

Reardon, Sara. (2013) Suicidal Behavior is a Disease Psychologists Argue. New Scientist. Retrieved on
June 3,2015 from https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23566-suicidal-behaviour-is-a-disease-psychiatrists-argue/

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