We are a generation in great despair. Every night, stories of crime, drugs, diseases, poverty, natural disasters, traffic accidents and bad economies fill television news hours. Disasters and problems of every kind are gathered by earnest reporters and regurgitated into the living rooms of millions of sympathizing Americans.
This nation does a lot to address these issues. From the cracked, frying, egg in the 90’s saying, “this is your brain on drugs” to the billboards today with haunting pictures of meth addicts, campaigns against drug abuse are ongoing. National funding for cancer research is greater than ever. There are federal programs to help the poor, public funds for people with disabilities and large-scale anti-smoking campaigns.
When hurricanes, wildfires and tornadoes strike, people and money come pouring into Louisiana, California and Alabama. Everyone agrees that the economy is bad. Everyone also seems to agree that no one is doing an adequate job of fixing it. Whether or not the solutions are working, however, senators, congressman and presidential hopefuls remain focused on the issue, promising to put the majority of their time and effort into fixing the economy.
We may not agree with the solutions, but at least we can agree that our leaders attempt to address the issues at hand and bring them into the public’s eye. When America has a problem, it is broadcasted, discussed, and picked apart until something is done, whatever that may be.
Despite our constant focus on the most pressing current affairs, one of the most persistent problems plaguing our youth right now is seldom spoken of, and it is certainly not being addressed adequately. That problem is suicide.
We are a generation in great despair.
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in college students and in the general population between the ages of 24-34. It is the 3rd leading cause of death in teenagers. The suicide rate in The United States has been rising for the past ten years, and every 14.2 minutes, someone in the U.S. dies by suicide. Sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers and friends are dying.
These numbers are both sad and horrific. There should be no question or doubt that something must be done to prevent one of the leading causes of death in our youth, our future leaders.
So where is the national campaign against suicide? Right now, I’m not sure it exists.
In the past month, one of the most popular topics in the news was the case of Dharun Ravi. Dharun placed a Spy Cam on his roommate, Tyler Clementi, and broadcast it live on the Internet. Clementi jumped to his death the next day.
Millions followed the story, eager to learn of the trial outcome for the man that many accuse of causing Tyler’s death. All eyes were on him. Pictures, stories and family members stirred up memories of Tyler, but the focus quickly shifted back to the prosecution and punishment of Dharun.
The focus needs to shift away from Dharun and onto the manner of Tyler Clementi’s death. Tyler died by suicide.
As a nation, it is time to focus on suicide.
Because of tragedies like the case of Clementi and many others, issues such as cyber bullying and privacy laws are starting to be addressed, as evidenced by anti-bullying commercials, YouTube videos and a beautiful new Shinedown song titled “Bully.”
These are important and necessary steps to take in the prevention of suicide, but as important as these issues are, they are not the causes of suicide. Neither a bad economy, bullying, nor Dharun Ravi are to blame for suicide. They may have been catalysts, but they are catalysts to a deeper, more persistent problem that already exists.
The causes of suicide are complex and difficult to understand. They come from feelings of despair, distress, desperation and depression. It is estimated that in 90% of suicides, the person had a diagnosable and treatable mental illness.
Federally funded research should focus on the causes leading up to suicide from a behavioral, brain, and genetic perspective and on effective medical and behavioral strategies for preventing suicide.
Suicide is preventable. We cannot continue to stigmatize mental illness and talk about suicide in whispers. Our fear will only push the problem further from the public’s eye, making help unavailable to those in need. Suicide must be brought into the public’s eye, and there it should remain. How can we ignore a problem that is killing our youth?
The same billboards used to wage the much-needed war against drugs should also be used to promote preventative campaigns against suicide. We need to see more commercials, You Tube videos and news stories on this issue. If people see that help is available and that it is ok to seek help, many will seek it.
We should talk to our teenagers. We should talk to our children. We should talk to our leaders. Help should be both available and affordable for people in distress.
Suicide is an urgent, national, public health crisis that deserves immediate attention. More people are affected and more families are devastated with each passing hour. Something must be done.
As Americans, we can continue to sit in front of our televisions, speculating over whether Dharun Ravi caused Tyler Clementi’s death. Or, we can stand up as a nation and actually address this crisis that is taking the lives of our youth and threatening many more.
There is no question that problems such as crime, drugs and the economy must be addressed, but unless we do something to help the mental health of our youth, we may be losing some of the best future leaders who could address these problems.
It is time to stand up to suicide.
Data taken from The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention