I don’t want to go here. This post brings back sad memories, too many sad memories. My middle school graduated a dead girl a few years ago, a girl who never made it to graduation but who was included among our graduates nonetheless. To my knowledge, no one ever understood why she had decided to hang herself. She spent some days in the hospital before doctors and despairing family members gave up and turned off the machines keeping her alive. My daughter had a friend who discovered her brother’s suicide, the first in an act copied more than once in the near future. Families can tumble into the abyss in mere seconds of a child’s life.
From “Study: Adolescent Suicide Risk Can Start in Middle School” by Sarah D. Sparks on December 5, 2011, located at the following site: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/inside-school-research/2011/12/study_social_behavioral_econom.html
“Educators have long known that puberty is a tough time for students, but a new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health suggests the risks for depressed children can start much earlier than expected: Nearly 40 percent of adolescents who attempt suicide first try to kill themselves before high school.”
From “Suicide and Suicide Attempts in Adolescents” by
“Suicide affects young people from all races and socioeconomic groups, although some groups have higher rates than others. American Indian/Alaska Native males have the highest suicide rate, and black females have the lowest rate of suicide. Sexual minority youth (ie, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning) have more than twice the rate of suicidal ideation.6 The 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey of students in grades 9 through 12 in the United States indicated that during the 12 months before the survey, 39.1% of girls and 20.8% of boys felt sad or hopeless almost every day for at least 2 weeks in a row, 16.9% of girls and 10.3% of boys had planned a suicide attempt, 10.6% of girls and 5.4% of boys had attempted suicide, and 3.6% of girls and 1.8% of boys had made a suicide attempt that required medical attention.7
This post will not be about the politics of trying to prevent suicide. We can take steps to help prevent these tragedies, but we are fighting a holding action most of the time, trying to support children until they get past whatever demons are whispering in their ears, the demons that tell them they are unloved and unlovable, destined to feel hopeless forever, or whatever other demons hurt so much that oblivion seems like a reasonable alternative.
Specifically, I am worried about fragile children and fragile young adults in the wake of the election.
Eduhonesty: To teachers and parents who are grieving this election — please, be careful.
What are the precursors to suicide and suicide attempts? Bullying has always run near or at the top of the list. Unfortunately, bullying that once used to end with the end of school can now spill over into every hour of the day via social media. Other stressors include divorce, unemployment, and emotional states of anxiety and depression. Stress at home has always been identified as a source of suicidal ideation. The other BIG marker: Problems with personal identity, especially those of a sexual nature.
This election has ended with LGBT youth running scared. Many parents remain outraged and some are even working through stages of grief. Children who supported Hillary in Trump bastions and vice versa may be under attack for their minority political views. How could we expect otherwise? We adults certainly modeled attacks, as liberals compared Trump to Hitler and conservatives made extremely sexist remarks about pants suits and talked about Hillary’s nefarious past, especially related to emails that none had personally read. Personally, the whole idea of the “Clinton Death Squads” sounds batshit crazy to me, and I think a lot of dialog on both sides sometimes sounds like the Conspiracy Theorists have won.
But let’s step back from immediate political issues and think about the kids. Imagine being an LGBT kid right now. Think about the anxious kids, like a beloved former student who is having daily panic attacks for fear of being deported, Put yourself in the shoes of that young Trump supporter in an angry, inner-city school. Even Kanye West gets booed by his fans for saying he “would have voted for Trump if he had voted.” To those teachers and parents running scared, I’d like to say, please try to look confident and hopeful for the kids. Please, try to BE confident and hopeful for the kids. Scared and hopeless adults create scared and hopeless children. Teach your children to write letters to their senators and representatives, to start online petitions for justice, and to come out fighting for their own particular versions of right. Teach them to listen to each other, even — especially — when they disagree.
Faltering hope will never be a force for good. We have to protect the fragile children, the ones who may be nearing the edge of that suicide attempt. We have to make sure that election results do not become the final gust of wind that knocks down a wilting reed.
6 Committee On Adolescence, Office-based care for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. Pediatrics. 2013;132(1):198–203pmid:23796746
7 Kann L, Kinchen S, Shanklin SL, et al; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Youth risk behavior surveillance–United States, 2013. MMWR Suppl. 2014;63(4):1–168pmid:24918634