When trying to come up with a topic for this paper I was admittedly stymied. I figured, there are a number of issues that I could talk about, such as gang violence, or teen pregnancy, or child abuse, but I figured that you would have your share of papers dealing with these topics. For that reason, along with personal knowledge and experience on the topic, I chose to write about teen suicide.
It's funny how you never really see other people's problems as being as important as your own, until it's too late. Every year my mother's side of the family has a family reunion. It has been going on for the last fifty six years now, so some years, more people come than others, but by and large there is always a good turnout. The only problem with having big family reunions, is that more often than not, you don't really know who the majority of people there are. Of course, everyone is introduced as a aunt, uncle, or cousin, but after the hundredth time, all of the names and faces tend to run together.
Six years ago my brother and I meant our cousin Damon. Damon, I was told, was my cousin by way of my Aunt Nadine. He was thirteen, which at the time made him a year older than me, and four years younger than my brother, was an avid comic book reader, he had an Incredible Hulk comic in his hand when I meant him, and appeared to be unusually withdrawn and quiet. This was strange to my brother and I, because we have such an open and warm family, and me and all of my cousins get along very well. In spite of our initial reservations about Damon we still tried to make him feel comfortable around us by inviting him to play basketball with us and a couple of my other cousins, after all, he was family. Our invitation was politely declined by him because he "wanted to read his comic." After that, my cousins and I went to go play basketball, and Damon went to read his comic book.
Later on that night, my brother and I heard someone knocking on our hotel door (our parent let us have our own room), and it was Damon. We told him to come on in and offered him a soda and a seat. He came in and sat down. I think that it's pretty safe to say that it was a awkward situation for my brother and myself, but Damon seemed to be right at home. For about a hour the three of us sat there in silence, Damon, watching T.V., and my brother and I wondering how Damon found out what room we were in, and more importantly, why he was here, after all, he had turned his family down earlier to go read about the Hulk. After an hour or so, Damon just began to talk, about his school and how much he hated it, about his friends, or lack there of, about how none of the girls in his class liked him because he was fat, about why he hated to ride the school bus in the afternoon, because all of the kids would always throw spit balls at him.
Admittedly, while we didn't laugh in his face, we thought the whole situation was pretty funny. Some weird cousin that we had never seen before in our lives comes into our room and starts telling us about how much of a nerd he was. We never for one second thought that anything he was telling was in any way a look for attention or help, or anything else. We just thought that we had a dufus for a cousin. About two weeks later my mother call my brother and myself into her room. We could tell that she was disturbed about something, because her eyes were red and it looked as if she had been crying. She told us that our cousin Damon went into my uncle, his father's, closet and got his gun, and killed himself in his room.
In recent years, suicides among young people have increased dramatically. Every year in America, thousands of teenagers commit suicide. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, "[s]uicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to- 24 years old, and the sixth leading cause of death for 5-to- 14 year olds." Suicide crosses all ethnic, social, and genderal restraints. Suicide among teens is not limited to rich or poor, or good or bad students.
Thanks to recent studies is suicidal trends, we have an idea of some of the things that may be signs or precursors to the final act of suicide.
For most people, the adolescent and teenage years are the most strenuous and difficult times in a persons life. During this volatile time any number of events, from divorce to the formation of a new family with step-parents and siblings, to moving to a new community, to the breaking up a boyfriend or girlfriend, could lead a teenager to take this drastic and final step.
In dealing with a matter as serious as suicide, the obligation to find out what is troubling the teen can extend far beyond the parents, or friends of the teen, it may also extend to the place where the teen spends a good portion of his/her day, in the class room. According to the U.S. Department of Education, "[t]he primary role of all school personal is to detect the signs of depression and potential suicide, to make immediate referrals to the contact person within the school, to notify parents, to secure assistance from school and community resources, and to assist as members of the support team in follow-up activity after a suicide threat or attempt." According to all available data, the most important thing for a teacher to do once he/she notices changes in a student that may be an indicator of suicidal behavior, is to act immediately and not take any of the students words or actions for granted. If in any way possible, the student should not be left alone. It is also essential that the student know that the teachers and adults in the school do care about him/her and are concerned about their well being.
Once the child's suicidal patterns and tendencies are discovered, then one course of action may be to place the child in an Individual Education Program (IEP). In IEP classrooms, support, encouragement, a positive environment, and effective educational programs are stressed. While IEP classrooms are a very good idea, they have to be effective in practice as well as theory. A good IEP plan would include the following:
This paper was prepared in 1997 for a colloquium facilitated by Stephen Wright, instructor for the Advocates for Children program, part of the College Park Scholars community at the University of Maryland, College Park.