The national and local news have included too many recent stories about individuals who have committed suicide. The media have reported endless versions of how Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams took their own lives. Here in Indianapolis, two Cathedral students and a Brebeuf student have ended their lives since the start of the school year. As our hearts break and our minds race with countless questions, everyone at CRG expresses our deepest sympathies to the families, teachers, school staff and others who have been personally touched by these tragedies.
A recent article on msn.com provides some startling statistics. By 2012, suicide had become the second leading cause of death by injury in America, surpassing car accidents for the first time. In the past decade, suicide rates among middle-aged American adults have risen by 28.4 percent. Men in their 50’s seem most vulnerable, as rates of suicide in that demographic have risen by 50% since 1999. While each person’s story is unique, experts note some general reasons for this trend. The recession has created an enormous financial impact on many people. If men are the breadwinners in their family, losing the ability to financially support spouses and children can be overwhelming. Rates of depression are on the rise while the stigma about seeking help for mental health issues remains strong. The Werther Effect (“copycat syndrome”), which suggests that at-risk individuals are more likely to commit suicide after great attention has been paid to this topic, remains an issue that requires a sensitive response in our media-saturated world.
Death in young people is particularly unsettling as it contradicts the natural order of things. We grieve when a 90-year old passes away, but our sadness is coupled with an appreciation for that person’s long life. When someone in their teens or 20’s dies unexpectedly, the news can take our breath away. This can be particularly true when, from all appearances, that young person seemed to have had so much to live for. The quiet story behind the scenes in many cases is a mental health condition that created strong risk factors. WIBC radio recently interviewed CRG’s Dr. Julie Steck and others about teen suicide. The program included Stuart Hobson whose son, David, recently committed suicide. A highly successful student, athlete, and leader at Cathedral High School, David struggled with depression and lamented that it was the one aspect of his life he hadn’t yet been successful in mastering. Mr. Hobson recommends that schools develop support structures for students with mental health issues similar to those provided to students with LD and other types of disabilities. In calling for more efforts to de-stigmatize mental health issues, he said, “There are a lot of teens with depression. It’s the second leading cause of death among teens in Indiana. More people need to talk about it; it needs to be out in the open and more needs to be done.”
Perhaps the bar of success has been raised so high that many teenagers no longer feel they can safely make mistakes or encounter big disappointments without encountering devastating results. When did we lose the ability to become resilient by working through the ups and downs that life throws our way? In an era where our Facebook pages only tell the world about the exciting fun we are having, has being “average” become its own risk factor? In the article, “Resilience for Teens: Got Bounce?”, the American Psychological Association recommends a number of strategies young people can use to take care of themselves emotionally in today’s hypercompetitive, over-scheduled world. Talk to others, even if their feedback might challenge our mindset. Find a way to express our feelings, even when they are negative and dark. Stay connected with others and, when possible, take our mind off of our own challenges by trying to help others with theirs.
Sometimes teens or parents realize there’s a need for help but don’t know who to turn to. Sometimes parents aren’t sure if their son/daughter is just being a “difficult teen” or if he/she is really struggling with significant mental health issues. If you want to explore any of these issues, there are many community resources that can help you in a confidential manner. CRG can be a first start. Call us at (317) 575-9111 ext. 3. You can also find many excellent resources on Cathedral’s website. We stand together with the community during this difficult time and look forward to being a part of the solution to a complex problem.