TEENAGE SUICIDE

The topic of teenage suicides has been very popular. It is not the first time the suicidal behavior has been increasing in popularity among a particular sub-group but it is particularly distressing when it is the adolescent group simply because it is in this part of our lives that we have the strongest need to identify with our peers.

I remember reading about a mysterious "malady" that struck France several hundred years ago. It was a very mysterious condition that only struck socially affluent women. When the illness struck, they became distraught, would begin to faint, and were driven by some mysterious power to kill themselves. A very wise French king recognized that since the disease only struck the upper crust of the social order, that to be stricken with the disease was akin to achieving some level of social prominence. Using this logic, he passed a law that instead of the funeral procedures that were the custom for the upper social levels, any woman dying as a result of this particular illness was to be carried out of the city in open ox-carts and disposed of in a manner benefiting peasants. That ruling prompted an almost instantaneous cure of the illness.

What I am suggesting is the issue of suicides among teenagers is a double-headed serpent. We do indeed want people to be aware that it is a problem and to look at factors that we hope will be helpful in bringing the problem to an end. On the other hand, to publicize the fact that it is a problem is in some sense an advertisement to emotionally distraught teenagers as one of the role models that they might choose to identify with by demonstrating suicidal behavior in some form. To aim information at parent groups, teacher groups, the clergy, etc., about the dynamics that go together to result in this behavior has at least a chance of being helpful and productive. But I am afraid that no matter how many good intentions there may be, attempts to reach teenage groups with the same kind of information may well have the reverse effect of stimulating the problem rather than bringing about an improvement in mental health. Prevention of this problem, like many others, is going to be brought about by focusing on the positive aspects of life that represent the opposite of depression, but not by focusing on recognizing depression and its causes. The two approaches sound similar but they are miles and miles apart.

Now lets put some questions through a logical test using this point of view. First, is it good to talk to your teenagers when you see signs of depression? The answer is yes. It's even good to ask them about their depression. But don't dwell on it. Instead concentrate on spending more time with them and talking with them when you do not see the signs of depression. After all isn't that the area of their lives that you would like to reinforce and build up? We certainly would not want to build up a pattern of getting parental attention and shows of concern only when a person is exhibiting depression.

Secondly, based on the above logic, should we even listen to our teenagers if they want to talk to us about their feelings of depression? The answer is of course we should. But LISTEN is the key word. It is doubtful that much constructive advice about most situations that cause depression could really be offered as solutions anyway. However, nothing is as supportive as someone who will listen to us as we describe the problems in our lives. As a good parent, you are always expected to listen to your children. You are not expected to always have the answers or the solutions to make the bad feelings go away. Listening provides a way of identification, and that is what strength is built on. Finally, since I hold this view, why would I write yet another article about teenage suicide? The answer is I hope that this "other side of the coin" will make some sense and it needs to be said. Additionally, I really don't think that many of the readers of this web site are teenagers. But if there are one or two teenagers reading this right now, let me tell you that I will have my own solution to the problem as soon as I can find a place to buy a few oxen and carts.

Think about it.