To the Editor,
In the wake of the recent tragedy in Connecticut I want to take this opportunity to talk about Teen Suicide. As a former high school health teacher I am keenly aware of the significance of this problem in our society. In the United States, Suicide is the No. 2 cause of death for youth between the ages of 15 and 24.
The Centers for Disease Control did a nationwide survey of high school students and found that 16 percent of the students had seriously considered suicide, 13 percent had reported creating a suicide plan, and 8 percent had reported attempting suicide in the 12 months preceding the survey.
Most (81 percent) of the youth who commit suicide are male and the most prevalent (45 percent) method of committing suicide is through the use of firearms.
Prevention of tragedies such as what happened in Connecticut is more than just about gun control and school security. It’s also very much about tending to the emotional health of our teenagers. It’s about recognizing the risk factors of suicide. It’s about recognizing the signs and symptoms of suicide. It’s about removing the stigma of counseling. It’s about having access to health care that includes mental health care. It’s also about parents paying a lot of attention to their teenagers.
Some parents may believe that their teens no longer need as much attention as they did when they were in elementary or intermediate school because teens are more able to take care of themselves. But, in actuality, teens need attention and support more than ever. Teens deal with a lot of stresses – dating and sexuality, schooling, parental divorce, pressure about college, pressure from peers, drugs, pregnancy, problems at home, etc. Unlike adults, many teens have not yet developed all the coping mechanisms necessary to deal with life’s stressors.
As a teacher my experiences with teen suicide was close. I have known students who have committed suicide. Each year I had several students in my classes who had once attempted suicide. When the “Suicide Prevention” unit was moved from the 10th grade curriculum into the 9th grade curriculum, my 10th grade students asked me to continue teaching the lesson anyway. Each year I introduced the school psychologist and social worker to my classes. After that presentation the school psychologist would report to me that he had several of my students come knocking at his office door for help.
I already hear media pundits debating gun control. But until we take mental and emotional health seriously, tragedies such as the Virginia Tech, Columbine and Connecticut shootings are likely to continue repeating themselves.
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