Recently, a Missouri teenager killed herself. She was 18, a few days before graduation. In all respects she had everything going for her. Her future looked bright, so much brighter than most. I didn’t know this girl personally, but I knew people who knew here, and they were devastated.
Earlier in the year, a 20 year old committed suicide. He was a talented musician, a person who was loved by almost all including me. I don’t know what happened in these young peoples’ lives to make them think there was nothing else to do but die, but I can tell you that before i was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and started receiving treatment, there were times when I did not want to live. I think the only thing that kept me from killing myself was that I was more afraid to die than I was to live.
As most of you know, I had a friend who decided that he would be better off dead than alive. We were in middle school when he killed himself. I found out afterwards about some of his problems, but at the time I didn’t know for sure why he would do something like that. Even when I did find out, I wondered how what I had heard was bad enough to want to die.
Over 4,000 teenagers kill themselves every year. The three cities that make up the Arcadia Valley where I live do not have 4,000 people in them total. What do we do about this? It seems like we never even mention it until some tragedy occurs and then people start talking about all the things we need to be doing to change things, or worse still, they start trying to figure out who to blame. Our society is to blame.
It seems as if we do not confront problems until they escalate into tragedy. Pardon me for being blunt, but that’s stupid policy. We need to ask ourselves why our future is slaughtering themselves rather than living in the world that they have to live in.
I know this is a complex issue, but there are things we have to do. We have to do everything in our power to remove the stigma from mental illness first, so that teens who have mental illness will not be afraid to seek treatment without feeling weird or somehow broken or weak. I can tell you that one of the worst fears that teens have is to be cast off, to go through their lives without friends, without a group to belong to. Many would rather suffer than seek help for a mental illness because they think a mental illness will make them a freak and that no one will like them.
Another thing we have to do is address bullying. Most schools require their students to watch a video or else they will have some kind of assembly and then sit back and think that they have done their part. Yeah, right. I’ve heard comments about how bullying never really hurt anyone, how bullying is a natural phase kids go through, and then grow out of. Maybe the bullies grow out of it, but the scars they leave do not fade.
We need to reach young people across the country, and the best way to do this is to use the very media that teens enjoy: movies, books, video games, social media.
I didn’t kill myself fortunately. I did a lot of other self destructive behaviors I won’t get into here, but I managed to survived, and once I was diagnosed and started receiving treatment, I began to thrive in many ways — through teaching, through writing to name a couple. My scars can not be seen by the outside world, but every once in a while I wince from the stinging stabs of memory.