COLUMN: Teen suicide rates increasing, need attention

Ethan Newlin Columnist

When I was 12, someone close to me tried to kill himself. I was totally numb. I couldn’t believe it; it seemed too impossible. Over time, however, the grief of knowing someone you love preferred death over life caught up to me, and never truly left. Ever since then, teen suicide has always been somewhere close in my mind.

Too often, however, other teen issues are pushed to the forefront of our awareness, when each day 14 young people kill themselves in America.

When you’re watching television, you’re likely to see public service commercials from various groups preaching the evils of marijuana, ecstasy and tobacco use. Occasionally, if you’re watching MTV, you’ll see a commercial about sexually transmitted diseases. These issues are important, but not enough national attention is given to teenage suicide.

Our generation is killing itself, one by one, every day. Every single one of these deaths is preventable. Every single one of these deaths has a cure. This is not cancer or the AIDS virus we’re dealing with; in record numbers every day, our generation is choosing not to live.

In America during the past 25 years, suicide in general has declined, but suicide among Americans ages 15—24 has tripled. Depending on which statistical study you happen to look at, suicide is ranked as the second or third most common cause of death among adolescents.

Those are difficult numbers to grasp for most people. To put it another way, if these trends of teenage suicide attempts stay at their current rate of growth, one in every 13 high school students in America will attempt suicide this year. Teens are more likely to kill themselves than they are to kill anyone else.

The leading cause of suicide is depression. Clinical depression is a depression that persists for longer than two weeks without a discernable cause and interrupts the daily life of the sufferer. There can be “short-term” causes of suicide as well.

The warning signs include depression, substance abuse, frequent episodes of running away, family loss or instability, withdrawal from social activities and frequent aggressive outbursts.

Whether the causes are clinical or emotional, the answer is always simple; no problem is so overwhelming that people should choose death over life.

It sounds so easy, so simple to us. But for some people, including my friend, what appears so obvious to us was utterly alien to him.

To find out more on the Web, I suggest looking up for teen suicide facts and warning signs.

Because other issues tend to get more press, it is easy to see the problem of teen suicide as isolated when the incidents are so underreported. But this is not a problem that will go away with legislation, health care, quick fixes, a pill or anything else of that sort.

We don’t need to erect some monstrous new wing of the executive branch to specifically deal with the problem of teen suicide in America. For better or for worse, this problem starts in private and ends in private.

Looking back on when my friend tried to kill himself, it becomes all too clear that no politician or motivational speaker could have helped him. What he needed was an understanding ear, and people that knew the warning signs. I’m often haunted late at night by the two most painful possibilities of that time in my life. Maybe I could have seen the signs earlier and taken a hand in getting him into therapy that he needed, or I could have done less and maybe he would have succeeded in taking his own life.

What we need to realize in order to cope with these tragedies is that, in the end, the choice to take one’s own life rests solely on the individual.

No single group, parent or institution can be blamed for that death other than the person who took his or her own life. Regardless, we have a responsibility to keep an eye open for those we might have a chance to help.

This problem can only be approached one person and one issue at a time. We don’t need to take it upon ourselves to save everyone, because that’s unrealistic and impossible.

But don’t be distracted by thinking, “It could never happen to one of my friends.” I thought that once, and I was painfully wrong.

Even if the media do not give teen suicide the attention it deserves, it definitely deserves our attention.