Barely heard over the loud buzz of the lunch room, associate principal Jeff Storey’s voice sounds from the same microphone they use to make announcements about the proper way to dispose of leftover sandwich bags and banana peels. “Make sure to pick up some candy and bracelets before you leave!”. Wait, I missed the first part. Candy and bracelets? What for? When I wondered this aloud, a friend leaned over and whispered, “It’s suicide awareness month”. Shrugging slightly and looking uncomfortable, she shifted her eyes back down to her plate of pizza.
Oh. For some reason, I assumed that suicide awareness month would be a bigger deal than a brief announcement that I could hardly hear. I’ve been thinking about this September for a while, wondering what East was going to do to acknowledge its importance. Apparently, it’s no more significant than a bowl of dollar store candy or reminders about trash.
According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is one of the leading causes of death in teens and young adults, second only to accidental fatality. It kills more people in our age group than heart disease, influenza, lung disease, pneumonia, birth defects, stroke and cancer combined.
Why is this not important enough to talk about beyond a muffled announcement during lunch time? Why is the general ignorance for teen suicide not prompted anyone to make this a subject we are required to learn about? We need to talk about something causing this amount of heartbreak and loss. Something so prevalent in America, in our community, needs to be discussed.
And I’m not trying to completely criticize the administration. Two years ago, we had an entire assembly devoted to the story of Kevin Hines, who attempted suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Tears were brought to my eyes as I listened to him recount his experiences, and I fought back sobs as I heard fellow students talk about the horrors they faced on a daily basis. But after I walked out, I couldn’t help but think: is this it? Is this where the conversation stops?
I wanted so much for it to be continued. The students who came forward to talk to Hines were surely not the only ones who were struggling, and it scared me even more to think that I had no idea how to identify who was hurting or how to help them. The amount of students that were walking the same halls I did, feeling as if their life is not worth living, seemed overwhelming.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that there are many warning signs that most suicidal individuals evoke, such as withdrawing from activities, isolating oneself from loved ones, aggression, talking about being a burden, giving away prized possessions and acting recklessly.
Before I took it upon myself to research the topic, I knew none of these warning signs. No one ever told me. How can we prevent suicide if we don’t know what to look for?
Four out of five teens who attempt suicide give clear warning signs, according to CDC. Think about that. So many lives could be saved if we decided it was important enough to invest our time in learning about it.
How to recognize and combat suicide needs to be something that each teen – wait, scratch that, everyone – is taught. I urge SMSD to make this topic something we are required to be thoroughly informed about. And more than just a quick lunch time announcement, teen suicide is a topic that needs to be acknowledged more than it is.