Teen suicide…

6 Jun

I’m about to be really, truly, horribly politically incorrect and insensitive. Seriously. This is not a humorous rant… In fact, it’s rather serious.

During my time as editor of a couple of small, local papers, I saw more funeral notices due to teen suicide than I care to think about. That charming little town had an amazingly high number of teen suicides. And I mean amazingly high. It was actually creepy.

Like most small town newspapers, we didn’t announce that a child had committed suicide. We danced around the subject in order to be sensitive to the parents and loved ones. Every now and then, parents would request the information be public – to help spread the word, or raise awareness, to attempt to reach other kids before they made such a horrible and final choice.

In the wake of any suicide came vigils, prayer meetings, etc – essentially, it amounted to a lot of post humus attention.

Bear with me, here’s where I get insensitive…

While I understand the need for closure and healing, and I understand the need to provide an outlet to other teens and grieving family members, is that amount of public attention really a good thing?

A hurting teen, one who is in so much pain that they are considering taking their own life, is going through hell and often feeling unloved, underappreciated and even ignored. To a hurting teen, all of those things can seem attractive, desirable.

There is a strange, macabre glamorization going on after a teenager commits suicide. They become the center of attention, lavished with love and affection, remembered with fondness and talked about incessantly. Add in that many teens romanticize death and you have a potent combination.

To a hurting teen, none of this is a bad thing. The fact that they will not be here to receive the accolades doesn’t make an impact.

Am I suggesting that suicide should return to being some shameful thing that is spoken of only in hushed tones? Of course not! Suicide is a terrible, permanent solution to a temporary problem. It hurts everyone. It’s never the right answer.

What I am suggesting is that perhaps, instead of hosting community-wide candlelight vigils where everyone is invited to share their memories of the deceased, schools, churches, families, whatever, make an effort to keep memorial services small and restricted to family and close friends.

I am suggesting that schools provide counseling services (which I know they already do) and keep their “celebration of life” restrained.

While I understand and respect the need to mourn and celebrate the life of a lost teen, I truly believe that providing a community-wide event, inviting anyone and everyone to share their fond memories of the departed child creates an atmosphere that is attractive to some hurting teens.

By all means, provide counseling and help with grief management and a safe environment for friends and family to mourn. They will find strength and healing in each other. But is it really necessary to open these things up to the entire community? Is it really wise?

Perhaps the real lesson we need to learn is that we should never miss an opportunity to share with those we love – tell them how much we love them, appreciate them, respect them.

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