Tag Archives: teens

Suicide and Six Degrees of Separation: You Can Get Help

I Need to use my Yellow Ribbon! by Circespeaks

I Need to use my Yellow Ribbon! by Circespeaks

Suicide is a problem worldwide. May we all have the good fortune to only experience suicide at such an arm’s length as “six degrees of separation” implies. This is not, unfortunately, the case for most of us: We have friends, or our children have friends, who have committed, or attempted, suicide.

The daughter of neighbors, my daughter’s friend, committed suicide just before her fifteenth birthday. It was the end of the school year. Her brother, suspecting nothing, left for yearbook signing at his high school. Her family’s world changed forever. Our neighborhood changed forever. I had seen “Alicia,” my daughter’s friend, taking out the mail earlier that day.

Some suicides occur without warning signs, but knowing what signs to look for, and taking rapid action, can prevent many. What I have since learned is that people do not commit, or attempt to commit suicide to end their lives. They take this extreme action to end pain, pain which they can find no other way out of at that moment.

My response to learning what had happened was feral, completely wild. Neighbors came home to find me screaming and crying in the front yard. As we do, I pulled myself together, and did the only thing I could think of doing: I made and brought food for the ever-growing group of family and friends who gathered at the home that evening. At first I felt that I was being intrusive, but this small act, even at the most tragic time, was appreciated.

My children grieve, become angry, and are sometimes too sad, and simply worn down, as though this is an inevitable scourge, to fully engage when they lose a friend to suicide. One of my children did report a suicidal threat to a school guidance counselor. All threats of suicide should be immediately reported. Never take the threat of suicide or a question about how to commit suicide lightly. Breaking the code of silence, especially among teens, may make you unpopular, but it may save the life of someone you care about. Stay with the person if possible, and report the incident to someone who can help. My son was first shunned, and later thanked, by the child who had made the threat.

Suicide remains a somewhat taboo subject, so is under-reported. Many single car accidents involving young men are suicides. Many gun “accidents” are also suicides. What can we do? The Yellow Ribbon Society of Southern California, formed by parents after a son’s suicide, suggests one obvious solution: If you have any concern at all, do not keep a gun at home. Many young men, especially those with any known social or emotional difficulties, or those exhibiting unusual behavior, are too impulsive and unstable to safely live in, or even visit, a home where guns are kept. This is also true of young women, and people of all age groups, but young men are at highest risk.

This is not an attempt to blame the victim. If someone you know has committed suicide, or a violent act using a gun, it is very likely that you had no idea that your child, parent, sibling, partner or friend had any deep-seated emotional difficulties. Suicide, as mentioned, may be an impulsive act that cannot be predicted. Do not blame yourself, but grieve and honor your lost loved one, as in any case of tragic and untimely death.

There are many worthy suicide-prevention organizations, but I leave you with the website information of an international non-profit organization that has saved many lives over many years, the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program: http://www.yellowribbon.org/ This program has saved the lives of young people from Australia to the United States. Awareness and vigilance are the first steps in preventing preventable suicides. Depressed, abused, LGBT youths, and youths who have recently experienced a loss are especially at risk.

The recent spates of suicides and suicide/homicides are a reminder to us that none of us is immune. A friend who lives in California knows one of those injured in the recent LAX shooting. My son is an acquaintance of one of the unsuspecting (but not immediate) and also devastated family members of the shooter. We are all in this together. No one likes to discuss suicide, but bringing this issue out into the open saves lives.


The National Lifeline will access local help for you, whether you make contact through an email, or a live chat, or a phone call. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ Do not hesitate to call to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255.) Don’t wait. If you are thinking about, or anyone you know, mentions suicide, get help right away.

You, alone, should not attempt to determine whether your own suicidal thoughts or threats, or those of a friend or family member, are serious or not. Let a medical professional help make that determination. Take thoughts and threats of suicide seriously, and help save a life. Be a lifeline.

May you, and those you love, be well.

Happy Halloween!

Halloween seemed unimportant to me this year. For the first time, I would have no child of my own at home.
Through the years, we have continued to put a selection of candy–usually three individually packaged “fun size” candies into small, Halloween-themed paper bags. My mother and I did that together when I was small, and it is a fun tradition I have carried on with my own children. Since the candy is in a little bag, the kids aren’t sure what they are getting. Many ask “What is this?” The response to my “Bags of candy!” reply is usually “Oh, cool!”
Maybe it is the sociologist in me, but unlike my husband who hands each child a candy bag, I hold out a tray full of bags to see what happens. Some just grab and go. Others are very thoughtful, choosing among the bags like fortune cookies. The bags are not all the same, but isn’t trading the candy you don’t like part of the fun? And there should be some leftovers for your parents, shouldn’t there?
Of all the kids who came to the door, only four tried for more than one bag of candy. One was a very young toddler, too young to understand the concept of only taking one. Another was a boy of twelve or so, who was sorely tempted. He let his hand hover over the second bag long enough for me to say, “Just one, or we won’t have enough for everyone.”
At the beginning of the evening, after overcoming my resistance to the whole affair, and putting on a long black skirt, black top, black necklace, and heavy black eyeliner–just a Halloween-attired mom, no costume–I was not quite in the flow when the first couple of groups pounded on the door. One boy managed to persuade me to give him a second bag by saying that his friend hadn’t come by. That worked once.
Children do not willingly share candy. As the mom who had to pry too much piñata candy away from her quick and fearless kids, and force them to share with shy malingerers whose parents were glaring at me, I know this. Our home Easter egg hunts were competitive and fun. Public Easter Egg hunts were also painful. My kids were always the ones with too many eggs, and redistribution was always the painful part of the event. I wanted those shy kids to figure it out, to dive in there, and do their best. While I do believe that everyone should have equal access to safe housing, good healthcare, nutritious food, and a good education, all things need not be adjudicated. Everyone will not win the New York City Marathon. I wanted the kids to work it out. My job, as I saw it, was too make sure no one was hit in the head with a baseball bat, and let the Smarties fall where they may!
Last night we enjoyed a Halloween of all nations, sizes, and ages. To some the costume is all-important. I am just as happy to see the middle school or high-school-aged boy in his soccer uniform minus shinguards, as I am to see the creative child or young adult who has made his or her own extremely creative costume, or the little bumble bee, ladybug, or ballerina. Having handed out 150 bags of candy last night–despite some foot-dragging and a late start–I can say that Disney is, happily, “out” these days.
The one quality that all last nights trick-or-treaters shared was that of being polite and saying “thank you.” We were complimented on our decorations. Teenage boys stood patiently aside while toddlers made their way slowly up the steps, and made their equally slow selections. The older kids joked with us, and were friendly. I do not remember being that nice when I was a trick-or-treater myself, nor having much appreciation for the efforts of adults to make the night fun for me.
One girl, in a group of ten or so teenage girls, was unable to resist. As she was turning away, her hand darted out very quickly, and, thinking I wouldn’t notice, she grabbed a second bag. I said nothing. Was I tempting the kids too much by letting them decide how to handle the situation? I don’t know.
What I was reminded of last night is that we are raising very friendly, engaged kids. It was hard to begin again for the first time, without having one or more children of my own plus friends be the first to plunder from our trays of goodies, but I want to remain part of the communal village that makes all kinds of kids feel cared for, not the Grinch that Stole Halloween.
Boy of Silence, in your amazing, possibly homemade, costume: Thanks for explaining it to me. I don’t play video games. You may have more interesting things to say than you give yourself credit for. Next year, I hope you have one friend to Trick or Treat with. Unless, of course, you really do prefer going out alone.

9/11 Memorial Fatigue

Our town is embroiled in a debate about what to do with a piece of metal from one of the World Trade Center Towers. The cross-shaped beam is further decorated with a cross cut into the piece of metal.

Even though my religious background and affiliation is Christian, I am astonished, and even offended, that our mayor would consider using a Christian symbol to memorialize 9/11 victims. How do we know whether some of these victims were not Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, animists or pagans, to name but a few options? Atheists die, too, and possibly don’t desire posthumous conversion, so covering the cross in any and all religious symbols, even if the Darwin fish is added, still doesn’t hit home for me.

Honestly, I have 9/11 fatigue. Our nation has 9/11 fatigue. We are tired of the Iraq War and the ongoing war in Afghanistan. We have honored 9/11 victims again and again, and in a fitting memorial in the place where they died. Some were self-sacrificing heroes, indeed, and others had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, just as are victims of train wrecks. We have had national mourning and very private, family services and mourning. We did not turn the other cheek–through no fault of the innocent victims. But our government used their tragic deaths as an excuse to start war even when no WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) were found in Iraq. We surely need to reflect on what continuing to turn the 9/11 attacks into an unending Holy War–exactly what the attackers would have wished for?–and what constructive actions we might take.

Is it time to remember other victims and perhaps provide a tableaux with the possible power to prevent future accidents of a different nature? If we must decorate our town square with twisted metal to be patriotic, a very charged word that seems to involve loving ourselves and hating others, surely not the Christianity or humanity we strive for, why not the charred automobile wreckage in which someone died because they or someone else was driving recklessly, or inattentively, or under the influence of alcohol?

There is hunger in the country, and big agriculture-chemical companies want to keep it that way. Monsanto keeps forcing its GMO (genetically modified food) onto people and farmers. Supposedly crop yields will be higher, but pesticide and herbicide application rates grow right along with crop yields, and cost farmers lots of money. Small farmers in the United States continue to go out of business at rapid rates. The rates are even higher for African-American farmers, so this is a matter of social justice as well as health. The two are often tied together.

Small farmers in India have been committing suicide for over a decade now, suicide by ingesting the very pesticides they have been sold because monoculture agriculture fails them, their crops fail, and they are unable to repay the ag-chem giants. Crop yields, even with high–need I say toxic?–rates of pesticide application eventually peak, and then taper off, or dry up, when the effects of other matters such as drought or flood, or insect or weed resistance to pesticides or herbicides occur. Monsanto is not the only evil giant, but it is the one that made Agent Orange and DDT, so possibly my least favorite. Monsanto is currently trying to get pro-Monsanto legislation pushed through, to put even more family farmers out of business. (If you don’t like this idea, check out the Sierra Club site, which is gathering signatures for a vote as early as this coming Monday.)

So I suggest a tribute and monument to wholesome food, which can only be grown on healthy, nutrient-rich soil, with unpolluted water, and in clean air. Put up a monument to organic food. Less use of chemicals will decrease rates of cancer and many neurological illnesses. In New Jersey, we might want a monument to corn, strawberries and tomatoes. In California, where the strawberries taste like water, and tend to have an unpleasant crunchy texture, what about a monument to lettuce and grapes, held up by the farm workers who tend and harvest them? Farm workers are also healthier without being exposed to pesticides. We can’t all afford to buy organic, but we can all voice an opinion in matters of public health.

There are many, many heroic people and many, many social ills that plague this country. 9/11 was a great and horrific tragedy. But a monomaniacal focus on that tragedy, to the exclusion of the daily tragedies of gun and auto deaths and hunger, does a disservice to the living, who must also be honored, and whom we are in a position to protect.