My editorial offering this week might be a tad TMI for some readers, and that’s okay. Sometimes, in order to illustrate a point, you have to go there. No, I’m not about to describe the dirty details of deadline day here at the Statesman. You can unplug your dog’s ears and pull up the blinds on the windows.
I’m going to talk about being a teenager. Remember that? I’m sure most of you do, even if you’ve built enough walls around said memories to make Freud blanch with trepidation. Maybe you’re a teenager reading this right now, and if you are, kudos, because this column is for you.
Maybe it’s because I watch/read too much news, but I can’t be the only one with the impression that more and more of our young people are giving up on themselves. Seems like you can barely scratch the surface of a search engine without an article popping up about another teen that committed suicide because of depression. They felt isolated, dejected, like the only way out was on the other side of a choice that allows no reconsideration once followed through.
Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after accidents and homicide. It's also thought that at least 25 attempts are made for every completed teen suicide. Suicide rates differ between boys and girls. Girls think about and attempt suicide about twice as often as boys, and tend to attempt suicide by overdosing on drugs or cutting themselves. Yet boys die by suicide about four times as often as girls, perhaps because they tend to use more lethal methods, such as firearms, hanging, or jumping from heights.
Between the mid-1950s and the late 1970s, the suicide rate among U.S. males aged 15-24 more than tripled (from 6.3 per 100,000 in 1955 to 21.3 in 1977). Among females aged 15-24, the rate more than doubled during this period (from 2.0 to 5.2). The youth suicide rate generally leveled off during the 1980s and early 1990s, and since the mid-1990s has been steadily decreasing.
There are many theories as to why, and what should be done. I can’t say what is going through these people’s minds when they contemplate suicide; I can only tell you what was going through mine.
I was 17-years-old in my junior year of high school. I had struggled with depression and anxiety since junior high. Before entering 7th grade, and the shark-infested waters of puberty, I had attended a three-room schoolhouse in the country where we played with dolls and sang Disney songs. As soon as I went to junior high, to say things were a culture shock would be like saying you’ll feel a twinge if you tongue a light socket. All of a sudden, it mattered what you wore, whom you hung out with, if you drank during the weekends, and whether or not you had had sex yet. Hormones had fallen on me like a sack of bricks, which was reflected in the persistent acne that smattered my complexion and the copious amount of boobs and butt I sported in comparison to my female peers. My fellow schoolmates were less than mollifying: I was stopped in the hallway to be told I was ugly; girls refused to get undressed next to me in the locker room for track and PE unless I started shaving my legs and armpits. Not having any comprehension of fashion or trends, I went from dressing like an average kid who is unconcerned with such things to dressing provocatively, sneaking miniskirts out of the house to avoid my parent’s censures. In my misfired attempts to gain the approval of my contemporaries, I only drew more of their scorn and indifference.
I wish I could say that I was above it all, that I turned the other cheek and forged ahead with an academic record that glowed and a gentle perseverance that served as a beacon for my fellow underdogs. I didn’t though. In classic totem pole example, I disparaged the kids who were less popular than myself by not including them and whispering about them behind my hand in a tasteless effort to make myself feel better (no big surprise that it didn’t make me feel anything but worse). My grades become worse and I began to withdraw more and more, finding solace in writing and drama class, the only two things I felt I didn’t suck at.
Looking back on it, I don’t think I really meant to kill myself. I just wanted to go to bed and not wake up. It sounds crazy, but it made sense in a time when I felt I had no control over anything in my life, not even myself. So I overdosed on pills.
The details aren’t important, but if you are reading this than you can fairly assume that I survived myself. My parents rushed me to the hospital in the middle of the night and the good nurses and doctors there helped me get back on my feet. Since I had found out that oblivion really wasn’t where I wanted to be after all, the only thing I could do was get better, whatever that meant.
Where were my parents through all this, you might ask? Doing the best they could with what they had, is my answer. Like most teenagers, I didn’t comprehend the consequences my actions would have, not just on myself, but also on those nearest and dearest in my life. How scared mom and dad must have been, certain that they had some how failed their daughter, that they had done too little, too late. It wasn’t fair to them. My parents aren’t perfect, but whose are? They loved me, and continue to do so, which is a blessing some people don’t receive.
It turned out I wasn’t alone as I thought I was. There were people who were willing to listen, to try and understand. Eventually, it did get better.
So if you are a young person reading this and you feel like no one would care if you disappeared tomorrow, don’t give up hope. I’m not going to offer you up clichés about looking for silver linings, and lights at the end of the tunnel (which is really just a bad joke if you’re already contemplating suicide), but please believe me when I say what you’re feeling is not the entirety of your life.
Things will get better. How? Start by talking with an adult you trust, whether that’s a relative, a teacher, a counselor, your clergyman, whomever. Talk about it and give yourself time. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it, because you are worth it.
If you need help right now and think you might hurt yourself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
*To those who have taken the time to read through this, I dig comments, criticism, or any excuse that allows me to check my email. So if you would like to vent or share, please send questions and whatnot to Sophia@statesmanexaminer.com .