Category Archives: Suicide

Bullies Depend on Your Cowardice

On Monday, I wrote about the event in Massachusetts that you’ve all heard about by now.  Several South Hadley, Massachusetts high school students are being tried on felony charges for the harassment of a high school freshman which led to her suicide.  It was worse than harassment – it was persecution, both physical and mental, and in the full view of other students and teachers.  No one did anything to stop them, not even fellow students.  Disgusting, really.

What I want you parents to do is to teach your children to stand between evil and the innocent, even if they risk being ostracized or worse.  It is only when people stop just standing by that evil will be squelched. 

My son came home from middle school one day to say he was in trouble because he was in a fight.  I asked what happened.  He told me that some kid was picking on another kid and it got physical.  I asked him what happened then?  He said that he got into it with the bully.  I asked him who won.  He looked down at his shoes and muttered “I did.”

I gave him high fives, made his favorite dinner, and sent my husband in to the school the next day to make it clear to the principal that we expected the bully (and not our son) to be punished.  I sent my husband, because he is more laid back than I (if you get my drift).

We can have a million court cases and school suspensions.  But it is only when parents teach their children to intervene that these bullies will be brought to their knees.  They count on the cowardice of your children for their freedom to torment.  Tell your children to band together if necessary and do the right thing.

Spoiled Brats Are the New Bullies

There is a precedent-setting action being taken by the District Attorney in South Hadley, Massachusetts.  A high school freshman, Phoebe Prince, new in town from Ireland, was harassed by a pack of older teens.  This was school bullying taken to the extreme:  she was subject to threats and physical abuse, and unfortunately, this young girl hanged herself when she could no longer tolerate the terror.

Criminal charges ranging from statutory rape to stalking and civil rights violations have been filed against the teenagers (two boys and four girls).

Unfortunately, the criminal charges stop there.  I would add that teachers, the principal and the administration should be subject to criminal charges as well or a civil lawsuit, because the bullying was common knowledge for months, and the girl’s mother twice complained to school staffers.  Some bullying was even witnessed by teachers.  It’s time to rise up and counter this vicious free-for-all going on in our schools.

Where do the kids get the gall to do this?  From everything around them! 

Watch “reality” television.  It’s all about being mean and out of control.  Even American Idol has so-called “judges” who insult people on national television.  Watch music videos and listen to mean/hostile lyrics with out-of-control sexually aggressive scenes.  What happened to the heartsick love songs of the 1950s?

Watch television or listen to most radio with people shouting angrily at each other, accusing each other of racism and such simply for having a different opinion or point of view.  Dominating people by humiliation is what we do for entertainment in our society.  “Lord of the Flies”-type behavior from our children should not be a surprise.  What is a surprise is that adults and parents stand by, afraid of their own children and handcuffed by political correctness, where vile behavior now becomes protected speech. 

That whole town of South Hadley, Massachusetts should be ashamed.  Phoebe’s parents should have taken her out of that school the same way I tell parents in step-families to leave with their children when the spouse or the spouse’s children become abusive.  The school should have thrown those brats out on their ears, worrying later about whether or not their parents would sue.

If you’re thinking “Well, no one could know that she would kill herself,” you should know that according to one source, “one of the girls posted on Phoebe’s Facebook page right after her suicide:  ‘Accomplished.’”

They tormented her to death on purpose.

This is our next generation?

A Sad Slide to Suicide

Former “Growing Pains” star Andrew Koenig killed himself, presumably with some chemical, and he did this in a park where he used to go to “chill” or “meditate.” Apparently, he stopped taking his anti-depression medications, which then allowed him to sink into a very dark place. That means his decision to commit suicide was a considered one.

He disappeared on February 14, Valentine’s Day. I wondered about that when I heard that. Here he was, with no wife and family on Valentine’s Day: alone, with a minor career (and he was also the son of a famous actor who was on the original “Star Trek” TV series). It seems he had also turned down a job offered by a friend, and when that friend was away, Andrew collected all the gifts his friend had given him over the years, and then made that last trip to the park.

Of course, his parents are suffering deeply, but whatever emotions they’re experiencing, guilt should not be one of them. The truth is that if a person is hell-bent on killing themselves, they will find a way.

The most common cause of suicide is an underlying mental disorder, followed by alcoholism as the second cause, and drug abuse as the third most common cause. Financial difficulties or other undesirable situations can add stress too. Over 1 million people commit suicide every year, and it’s the leading cause of death among teenagers and adults under 35.

I’ve listed below all the warning signs, but people who don’t clearly show these signs can kill themselves as well, and people who show most of these signs may not. There is no “cut and dry” signal, but there are indications which serve as a warning. When you’re aware that someone is LIKELY to kill themselves, please call 911 and have that person taken to a psychiatric ward at your local hospital. Physicians have the legal option of a 3 day “hold” to discern whether or not that person is a threat to themselves or others. When that determination is made, the potentially suicidal individual may very likely be put in a “forced commitment” status for treatment. Even that doesn’t insure that they will never commit suicide, so it is good to be alert and know how to respond.

Here’s an easy way to remember the warning signs of suicide (this is from the American Association of Suicidology):
IS PATH WARM?
I   Ideation
S  Substance abuse

P  Purposelessness
A  Anxiety
T  Trapped
H  Hopelessness

W  Withdrawal
A  Anger
R  Recklessness
M  Mood changes

If you observe these, seek help as soon as possible by contacting a mental health professional or calling 1-800-273-8255 for a referral. You can find out more information at http://www.suicidology.org

The Dangers of Teen Sexting

In the more than three decades I have been on the radio and in counseling practice, the saddest experiences (and the most difficult to be helpful with) are those where parents call to tell me their child is dead.  The child may have been the victim of an accident, war, a crime, an illness, or a suicide.  No matter which, the pain is unimaginable and the duration is infinite.  It is against the “order of things” for our children to die first; and it is against the order of things for us to feel incapable of protecting our children from everything, anything, and anyone. 

The hurt and rage a parent feels is understandable.  A desire to do something with that hurt and rage is also understandable. It is generally difficult to get a sense of closure or justice or revenge.  And so many parents believe that, if they can get one or all of those, the pain goes away.  It doesn’t….not really.

An 18 year old young woman in Ohio sent nude pictures of herself to a boyfriend.  Apparently, this “texting” of private parts is quite the rage in the youth population.  At some point, the relationship ended, and he, I guess, thought it would be amusing to send the photos to other students at the school.

In May, 2008, the young teen went on a local Cincinnati television station to warn other teens against sending personal body part or naked photos to others, lest they also go through the harassment that she got, as students – mostly girls – called her a “slut” and a “whore.”  In spite of her noble efforts to warn other young people, and the gratitude she got from innumerable parents, two months later, she decided to kill herself, apparently as a way to avoid the painful embarrassment.

“Sexting” (as it’s called) is a growing problem that has resulted in child pornography charges being filed against some teens across the country, because sending sexually charged pictures of minors is a crime  One national survey found that 39% or more of teens are sending or posting sexually suggestive messages, and 48% report receiving them!

This young woman was humiliated by the daily snide remarks, and she started skipping school.  Her mother drove her to school to make sure she got there.  Then, after attending the funeral of one of her friends who committed suicide, this young, tormented woman hanged herself in her bedroom.

Of course, the focus for her mother is an attempt to punish those students or the school with lawsuits and criminal charges.  The mother is understandably beside herself and wanting to lash out in rage.  However, the fault doesn’t lie in the stars.  The openly sexual environment that children are exposed to makes these behaviors (like oral sex in middle school classrooms and bathrooms across the country) seem like the norm for the day.  Girls have always wanted to make boys love them, and cell phone texting technology just gives young people another avenue to express their hopeful desperation to be wanted and loved.

It was pathetic and stupid of her to send the picture; it was unconscionable of her ex-boyfriend to expose her to ridicule; it was disgusting for girls (competitive little witches that some can be) to make fun of her; it was brave for her to use her experience to warn others; it was too bad her family didn’t get her mental health support or transfer her to another school; it was a deadly coincidence that her friend committed suicide; it is an unspeakable anguish that she thought this was the best solution for a “temporary” problem.

I hesitate to write “temporary” because, with the Internet, such photos are forever, and those who wish to cause hurt to others relish in exploiting such mishaps for their own pathetic ego gain.

Parents, many of your children have already done this via hand-held video cameras or computer cameras.  Many of your children have already been “embarrassed,” while others have become more popular.  Very few will kill themselves, but even then, something in them does die, as what is precious and private becomes entertainment for the immature and downright mean.  Parents, make sure your kids know not to become either.

Novelist David Foster Wallace’s Ironic Commencement Speech

Friday, September 19, 2008, I was reading the last page of the “Weekend Journal” in The Wall Street Journal.  It was adapted from a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College.  Mr. Wallace, 46, died recently, an apparent suicide.

I thought it odd that an entire page of The Wall Street Journal was dedicated to the musings of a man who opted out of life after giving advice to young people just beginning their adult foray into the trials and tribulations of existence.

The main focus of his presentation to the students seemed to be on the issue of self-centeredness:  “It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth.  Think about it:  there is no experience you’ve had that you were not at the absolute center of.  The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever.  Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real – you get the idea.  But please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called ‘virtues.’  This is not a matter of virtue – it is a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.”

First, he is “right on” with the hard-wiring of self-centeredness.  I remember my mother telling me once that when, as a teenager, she experienced the death of her mother from breast cancer, and was consumed with grief, that she looked out her window to see people outside driving, walking, talking, and going about their business as though nothing had happened.  She related feeling shocked that, somehow, the whole world did not stand still as did her own heart.

It is obvious that, of course, we are the most absorbed by our immediate environment and experiences….which pretty much means ourselves.  However, Mr. Wallace’s consistent dismissal of virtues is perhaps what was missing from his life. Seeing, acknowledging, and caring about others does not necessarily come naturally.  It is a virtue taught by parents and community as well as by religious teachings.  One of the most central aspects of religious training is to “love thy neighbor.”  Why?  Just because it’s “nice?”  No, although it is nice.  It is because caring for those outside yourself gives you a connectedness that minimized loneliness and a purpose which minimizes despair.

Towards the end of his speech, he points out:  “The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little un-sexy ways, every day.  That is real freedom.”

He then asks the audience to “please don’t dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon.  None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.  It is about making it to 30 or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head.”

So, in attempting to enlighten the young people about a bigger value in life – commitment and obligation to others – he came back to his essential hard-wiring:  it is all about living in a way which makes you not want to kill yourself.  Ironically, his thought process came all the way back to being self-centered.

In eschewing morality, religion, dogma, considerations of eternity – all of which he assembled under “finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon[s],” he disconnected himself from the kind of motivation, identification, support and spiritual reward which may have kept him from committing suicide.  Sad, really.

Instructions for Death by Suicide

People searching the Internet for information about suicide are more likely to find sites actually encouraging suicide than those offering help or support.

Professors of psychiatry and epidemiology from several universities in England found that nearly half of websites showing up in queries of the four top search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask.com) gave “how to” advice on taking one’s own life.  Only 13 per cent focused on suicide prevention or offered support, while another 12 per cent actively discouraged suicide.

According to this study, “Information on methods is not the only way that the Internet can contribute to suicidal behavior.  Contributors to chat rooms may exert peer pressure to commit suicide, idolize those who have completed suicide, and facilitate suicide pacts.  Such discussion may lessen any doubts or fears of people who are uncertain about suicide….[Researchers] observed that people posting notes concerning suicide on the web are often initially ambivalent, but that their resolve strengthens as others encourage them, and backing out or seeking help becomes more difficult.

It may be more fruitful for service providers to provide website optimization strategies to maximize the likelihood that suicidal people access helpful, rather than potentially harmful, sites in time of crisis.”

Frankly, I find it disgusting that these search engines do not vet their sites and allow such a proliferation of sadism; this is taking the concept of freedom of speech to an absurd point.  There needs to be a more humane balance between freedom of expression and public protection.  Currently, the main approaches to reducing the potential harm of suicide sites include self-regulation by Internet service providers and use of filtering software by parents to block sites from susceptible children.

Since 2006, it has been illegal in Australia to use the Internet to promote or provide practical details concerning suicide, and Internet service providers in Japan and Korea have attempted to block specific sites providing similar information.