A Harsh Lesson: Suicide In Our Schools
Suicide has become a top cause of death for middle schoolers
Youth is supposed to be bright, radiant, full of opportunity and self-discovery. In middle school, this journey is often just beginning, and it can be an incredibly challenging one to undertake at such a young age. Children are introduced to a new social dynamic in middle school, one that has made itself notorious for bullying, cliques, and social pressure all while students undergo the changes that come with puberty. Not all of those changes are welcome.
The CDC reported that in 2014, more middle school students died by suicide than in car accidents. Car accident fatalities have been on a steady decline, with a few hiccups here and there, but the suicide rate among youth ages 10-14 has set itself to a painful beat, increasing steadily year by year. In the 7-year span before the CDC report, 425 children within that age bracket were victims of suicide. What went wrong, and what is currently wrong, with treatment and acknowledgement of mental health?
What causes suicide?
Teen and youth suicide is a growing health concern. As recently as January, two girls aged 12 and 14 leapt to their deaths from the top of a parking garage, with the reasoning surrounding the incident left unclear. According to the Jason Foundation, an organization devoted to addressing and preventing youth suicide, there are over 5,000 suicide attempts daily among young people from grades 7-12.
Many youth who feel like social outliers are often targets for bullying, a theme so ingrained into our society that it’s hard to find any form of entertainment with a middle or high school setting that doesn’t include the token “outcast”, often a “geeky”, “alternative”, or otherwise non-conformant youth. However, they aren’t the only targets. LGBTQIA youth are often preyed upon by cruel peers, and even teachers. Religious and ethnic minorities, along with troubled or disabled students often fall into their sights as well.
High Speed Connection to Harassment
Whether it be by personal computer, tablet or phone, access to social media and the internet as a whole is widespread and often unsupervised. Cyberbullying is a particularly potent form of harassment: the anonymity provided by the Internet gives bullies more freedom to inflict pain on their victims, and students often feel like there is no escape because the harassment follows them home after school hours. One victim died from suicide after enduring years of online harassment, her weight being the target for torment.
In Alamo Heights, a 13 year old girl died from suicide, harassed by classmates on an anonymous Instagram account. It wasn’t the community’s first encounter with youth suicide, with a previous loss leading to the implementation of “David’s Law.” Anti-bullying seminars are being held and bills passed, counselors are available, but the continuing epidemic has yet to be solved. Even emergency room providers sometimes fail to stop what is an exceptionally preventable cause of death.
Addressing Mental Health
Due to neglect from schools to fully address the problem, mental health issues in youth are often on the back burner, if addressed at all. Identifying at-risk students is critical to preventing youth suicide. Middle school students aren’t too young to develop serious mental conditions that often have high suicide rates, such as:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Eating Disorders
- Anxiety Disorders
In addition, ADHD and autism spectrum disorders may go unchecked, and have the potential to impact grades and a student’s social life during a critical development period. The services students have access to at school, including academic and counseling resources, are often too few and under-utilized due to stigmas surrounding mental illness.
Look for the Signs
Parents, educators, friends-everyone involved in a student’s school life should be willing and able to spot warning signs of potentially life-threatening behavior in youth. “Picky eating” or “moodiness” due to oncoming or onset puberty are common dismissals of problematic behavior in youth, especially in girls. Talk of death, a disrupted sleep pattern, loss of appetite, sudden fears and social withdrawal are all common identifiers and red flags that may be easier to spot if adults combined seminars and programs with listening.
Survivors Aren’t Alone
Where the mental health system falls short, families of victims are left with few answers. The public is left with mounting concerns for the care of the suicidal, and those who may be inching closer to being at risk. The last group anyone wanted to consider a risk pool is undoubtedly our youth. The Law Offices of Skip Simpson take every case seriously. Children should not only have access to adequate mental health care, but to understanding support networks and opportunities to flourish academically and socially. Suicide prevention attorney Skip Simpson is dedicated to this cause, and to finding justice for survivors who have been let down by flaws in the system. If this tragedy resonates with you or someone you know, contact us today.