In the time it took me to write this blog, eight people in the United States will have ended their own life by committing suicide. This is based on the national average of a suicide taking place every 15 minutes. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 15 – 24 years old, it is the fourth leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 – 14 years old, and the sixth leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 5 – 9 years old. The leading cause of death for America’s youth are accidents and homicides.*As a human being who cares about other people, the thought of another person killing themselves is disturbing; however as a parent, the thought of a child deciding to end their lives by killing themselves is downright horrific. During the course of my life, I have lost a daughter to natural causes and a wife to suicide, so I am no stranger to death. Believe me when I tell you that the wake of devastation wreaked upon my life by the suicide was much more severe than my daughter’s death to a rare disease… the grieving and justification processes for me were entirely different.
Unfortunately I am not alone in my status as a Survivor of Suicide. If one person ends their life every 15 minutes in the United States, it stands to reason that for every person who kills themselves, at least one other person is affected. This of course assumes that each person has only one other person in their lives who cared about them… but usually this is not the case, the odds are that their suicide will affect the lives of their husband, wife, father, mother, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousin, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and so forth.
In the case of a teenager committing suicide, the impact of their death is likely to have a significantly greater impact upon the entire community than the death of an adult. This is partially because the social network of adults is dramatically smaller than the social network of a teenager. Another reason is because it is difficult for many people to comprehend why a young person would kill themselves when they have their entire lives in front of them. Most importantly, their suicide will directly impact the lives of every single other student at their school.
When faced with the reality of death under “normal circumstances” such as an automobile accident, heart failure or a terminal illness, children tend to become fearful that there will be more losses, that something like that could happen to them, or to another person they are close to. But when one of their friends, or another classmate commits suicide, their world is rocked completely because not only do they experience all of the “normal reactions” but they can also feel guilty, angry, resentful, betrayed, victimized and suppressed.
Ground Zero – Right Now:
In the past week, there are two separate incidents of teenage suicides that I am aware of, the reactions of their peers can be seen on Twitter by searching the hash tags #RN20 and #PrayingForOttawa [Ohio]. Unfortunately I’m sure that there have been other instances of teenage suicide in the past week, these just happen to be two that were brought to my attention because the hash tags represent online #SuicideAwareness and #SuicidePrevention campaigns initiated by their friends and other students at their schools who have been affected by their untimely deaths and want to do what they can to #StopSuicide.
Regardless of whether you have a Twitter account or even know what Twitter is, parent to parent, I urge you to go to Twitter.com and type both #RN20 and #PrayingForOttawa into the Search Box and simply read the comments posted by the friends and fellow students of the young people who killed themselves. Doing so will not only provide you with insight into the gut wrenching emotional pain which they are experiencing as a result of one of their peers killing themselves; it will also provide you with valuable insight into the inner thoughts of America’s youth, a better understanding into the world of your son or daughter. An understanding which you might not be aware of if you think that growing up today is anything like the world which you and I grew up in.
Late Night with Suicide:
When the hash tag #PrayingForOttawa first flashed across the dashboard of the program which I use to manage my Twitter streams, it was 11 o’clock in the evening [Pacific Time] and the anguish of the students was clearly apparent. It was the day after Mother’s Day and two of their friends had killed themselves and two others were rumored to have tried, but not succeeded. Not being able to comprehend, let alone rationalize the untimely deaths of their friends, a growing number of students were flooding various high profile Twitter accounts asking various celebrities to support their campaign by retweeting (sharing) #PrayingForOttawa with their followers in hopes of bringing worldwide attention to their plight. Which is what? On the surface, the students wanted to #StopSuicide by raising online awareness, but in reality the campaign is a way for them to express their anguish and grieve together as a tribe.
With tears streaming down my face, I stayed up typing right along with them until three o’clock in the morning [Pacific Time] which if you’ve been paying attention, means that it was six o’clock in the morning for the grief-stricken youth of Ottawa, Ohio. They had stayed up through the night and I was #TiredAndYellow right along with them… Yellow is the color of the ribbons and clothing they were wearing in solidarity against suicide to school the next day and #TiredAndYellow is the hash tag that began to pop up in their chatter as the darkness turned into light.
Two days later, the #PrayingForOttawa Twitter campaign is still going strong, the students are still #TiredAndYellow and the campaign is picking up speed as Parents, Teachers and Members of the Community demonstrate their support by retweeting the hashtag. If you are one of the people who generously lent your circle of social influence to these fine young people, I earnestly thank you from the bottom of my heart. If by chance you have a Twitter account and you have not yet done so, I urge you to do so now.
For the most part, the online response to the #RN20 and #PrayingForOttawa campaign have been supportive, although not to the degree which I would like to see, perhaps this is because the vast majority of people judge suicide as a type of taboo, a social leprosy of sorts… and as long as talk about suicide is kept in the closet, the darkness it brings will continue to seep into our lives, one person, one tragedy at a time, every fifteen minutes on the hour, day after day, week after week, year after year. Tick Tock.
So Let’s Actually Talk About Teenage Suicide:
Despite the amazing potential which we see for America’s youth, the fact of the matter is that many young people do not share our enthusiasm for life… they get horribly stuck in tiny fragments of time which seem like forever from their young perspective. Looking back over the past 45 years of my life, it seems like the passing of time has gotten faster and faster, but for most of the teenagers I talk with, time moves by at a snail’s pace and seems to drag on forever and ever.
I imagine that if we could talk with the students who stayed up all night #TiredAndYellow promoting the #PrayingForOttawa campaign on Twitter, they will tell us that the first night was the longest night of their young lives. I imagine that their schools looked like something out of AMC’s the Walking Dead with all of them staggering about like Zombies dressed in yellow, trying to function on zero sleep this past Tuesday morning. Their biggest fear was that they would show up to school that morning to discover that more of their classmates had killed themselves, thankfully this was not the case and a wave of relief gently spread across the online world which they created for themselves. I was quite thankful to see that many of them turned in to go to sleep #TiredAndYellow at a reasonable hour on Tuesday night.
The Underlying Cause of Teenage Suicide:
While there are many factors which contribute to teenage suicide, the most common is depression which can be brought on by feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, feeling trapped, being unpopular or bullied. In some cases, people perceive that suicide is the only viable solution to their problems, but this is truly a matter of perspective.
Additional factors which may contribute to teen suicide include:
Abuse or Violence at home.
Divorce of the parents.
The death of somebody close to the teen.
The suicide of a friend or someone they know online.
Feeling like they can’t succeed at home.
Feeling like they can’t succeed at school.
Feeling unworthy of something or someone.
Being rejected by friends or peers.
General feelings of melancholy.
Being unable to see a sustainable future.
Obviously one of the reasons I stayed up through the night with the group of students in Ohio was because I know the influence that “the suicide of a friend” can have upon the sense of purpose and overall outlook of the people close to them. In lieu of their actual parents being available to watch over and comfort them, I felt a responsibility as a parent and as an adult, to be there just in case one of them expressed a desire to kill themselves… thankfully none of them did, I am so proud of them for recognizing the tragedy of the circumstances and launching their own public awareness campaign to #StopSuicide
Dawn Always Follows the Darkness:
Every human being, but especially children and teenagers, need to be empowered to express their emotions in order to heal. This is why it is so important that young people be encouraged to talk about death and suicide when it touches their lives. Simply telling them things like “it will be okay” and “this kind of thing happens” is not enough, they need to be allowed to express themselves in a variety of ways which encourage healthy responses to loss. One of the ways you can encourage your child to accept the death of a friend or loved one to suicide (or any other means) is to help them focus on better times, ask them to tell you stories about the person and encourage them to practice gratitude for the period of time they were present in their lives. Every minute we are able to share engaging another human being in playful conversation and laughter is a gift. Talk about your friends and loved ones when they’re gone, it is an important part of the healing process and their life will have meaning if it lives on within you.
Understand that it is often moments of grief and turmoil like these when people make key decisions that may influence the rest of their lives in positive or negative ways. The manner in which you help your child, or do not help your child, manage the grief process may have lasting effect upon their lives.
Preventing Suicide of All Ages:
My mentor and teacher of Strategic Intervention, Tony Robbins, likes to say that he has sat down with millions of people from all walks of life, from every country on the globe, from Presidents and First Ladies, to Kings and Queens, Actors and Actresses, Celebrities and Normal People like You and Me, and they all share one thing in common… the core fear that they are not enough.
To quote my other teacher, world renown Psychologist, Cloe Madanes, “Anyone who experiences a psychological or emotional pain needs to understand that this source of pain, the fear of not being enough, is universal to all human beings.”
At some point in their lives, every person on earth, shares the hopeless feeling that they are not enough, that they are unworthy, that they will not be loved. Every person on earth, all 7,013,820,965 of us! If you, or your spouse, or your son, daughter, friend, co-worker, fellow student, whoever, has a tendency to unfavorably compare yourself to others, because they are better, smarter, luckier, prettier, skinnier, more handsome, better built, more successful, or whatever, to you — this is something which you need to remember! It is part of the human condition, heck for all I know, it is part of merely being alive! That might just explain why my German Shepherd gets Green Eyes of Jealousy when I pet another dog.
The solution for dealing with our fears is to forgive yourself for being human instead of perfect. Be aware of the Six Human Needs and how they affect your emotions, actions and behaviors and find positive ways to fulfill each of them for yourself and other people on a regular basis. Learn to use your Focus, Language and Physiology to control your emotional state.
And remember, it gets better…
I know that at the moment, Junior High and High School seem like the entire world, it did when I was in school too. However I promise you that this whole popularity game and so much of the bullshit stops when you graduate. All you have to do is commit to being the best that you can be right now, if you’re not popular at school, find a group of people online who share an interest in something which you are passionate about, the odds are that they won’t care what kind of jeans you’re wearing because that kind of stuff just isn’t important in the real world. But yes, I remember Junior High and High School, it’s all part of the social experiment, we all go through it and sometimes it sucks, but sometimes it is wonderful too! Interestingly enough when you get a chance to sit down and talk with all of the other “kids” at your 20 year high school reunion, they’re going to amaze you with how different they’ve become because hopefully they’ve grown up and realized that being human is all about love.
If you or somebody you know is feeling suicidal please call:
the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
In the U.S. call 1-800-273-TALK that’s 1-800-273-8255
Your life is precious…
A personal note to the parents and community of Ottawa, Ohio and especially to the parents and family members of the children taken from us this week by the tragedy of suicide. The intention of this post is to highlight what I consider to be an impressive and amazing response by the students of Ottawa to a tragedy which affects them on a deep and personal level. This blog post is not intended to highlight the nature of the suicide themselves beyond mentioning that they occurred. Please know that I am deeply concerned for the parents and families of the two deceased young people. As stated previously in this article, I lost a daughter before her time and lost my wife to suicide. I know all to well the depth of the pain which they are feeling, although our experience and personal pains are distinctly different as all losses in life are. My personal approach to coping with the suicide of my wife has been to try and use my experience to promote suicide awareness in an attempt to shed light upon the darkness of suicide.
In addition, I have made it a practice to talk openly and often about my personal journey as a survivor of suicide. In my experience, talking about my experience has not only been healing for myself, it has also enabled many other people to talk openly about their personal experience with suicide. In many cases, this has resulted in people being able to release the negative emotions which they had buried for years because of a suicide within their family which was never openly discussed. If anybody involved with the situation in Ottawa, or for that matter simply reading this article who has lost somebody to suicide, would like to talk with me, I encourage them to do so with an open heart and solely with the intention of helping them heal to the best of their ability.
* Figures from the National Center for Health Statistics for the year 2009