Teen Tuesday – Teen Suicide
In my 7 years of teaching, I have never had one of my students die, and I truly hope I never live to see that. However, 4 of my students have either attempted suicide or seriously considered it. It always comes as a shocker because they are most often the outgoing type that you would never suspect was depressed or considering something so serious and permanent. Everyone has their own opinion about suicide. Some are overly judgmental and some are the opposite, sympathizing with the person to the point of condoning the act. I think there’s a happy medium. No, I don’t believe suicide is ever the answer. There is always help, and there is always a way out. For teens, this is even more true! They have their whole lives ahead of them, and there’s no way anyone can know for sure what the future will hold. The events and actions of today affect tomorrow, meaning we have a great role in affecting our own future. For teens, things may seem helpless because they can’t see far beyond the now. It isn’t their fault, however, that they have a hard time seeing anything but their own emotions and the situation they’re currently in. We never truly know what they’re going through and what’s going on inside their minds, so who are we to judge? All we can do is be kind to everyone, offer help to those who need it, and do something when we see signs of depression or desperation (which sadly are often extremely hard to detect). I’m copying and pasting an article on Teen Suicide below if you’d like to read it. The author does a great job of explaining the issue even more.
by LuAnn Pierce, MSW, CMSW
Question: I was wondering if suicide is a selfish act? Also, is pity a form of selfishness?
Boy, you’ve asked a couple of excellent questions! First, let’s talk about suicide. People who get to the point of taking their own lives are most likely suffering terribly. In fact, for all but the most impulsive people, they’ve probably been suffering for quite sometime.
We can never know the pain others are going through. Even if they attempt to tell us to help us understand, it is not possible to know how a particular set of circumstances affect another person, whose life experience and internal biochemistry are different from ours. This explains why some people bounce back easier than others who share similar traumatic experiences.
Teen Suicide: Why?
Generally speaking, it is believed that people who attempt to kill themselves are not thinking rationally. Suicidal thoughts are usually associated with major depression or some other mental illness, or possibly shock or trauma. Even very impulsive people are seen as suffering from a mental disorder that doesn’t allow them to fully consider the ramifications of their actions.
An exception to this understanding might be a person who is suffering great pain from a chronic or terminal illness, and who truly will not find relief any other way. The case can be made that because of their pain they are not thinking rationally either. Then again, they might be more rational, logical and practical than the rest of us.
It’s just impossible to say! The point is that if we can’t fully understand or appreciate all the contributing factors for their decision, and so, who are we to judge them? After all, it is their life. It’s not your life.
My best understanding is that suicide is truly an act of desperation.
As for pity, many of the same principles apply. People who have self pity have often learned through their life experiences that things seldom work out the way they would like, so they stop trying. This is called “learned helplessness” in the professional community.
These people feel powerless to change their circumstances, for whatever reason. They may view the world and the people in it as controlling them and their destiny, seeing themselves as victims many times.
Minorities and other subjugated groups are a good example of a group of people for whom these feelings have been substantiated and reinforced year after year. Although subordination and class struggles are not as obvious as they once were in the United States, they exist in overt ways in many foreign countries.
The result of the many years of subordination of one group of people by another has devastated generations of minorities, and those effects will continue to impact others for years to come. It will take years of positive, empowering experiences to reverse these effects. That is true not only for minorities, but anyone who has repeatedly and systematically been beaten down by negative experiences, attitudes and beliefs.
On the other hand, 12-step programs are well known for confronting their members if one is perceived to be using pity as an excuse or crutch to continue self-defeating behavior. They often say “So and so is having a pity party.” Or “Get off your pity pot.”
These comments may seem harsh to outsiders who are not accustomed to the climate and culture of these groups, but members understand that their sobriety, and indeed for many their lives, is at stake if they engage in pity.
So, I now ask you the original question . . . in light of this information, do you think suicide and pity are selfish acts? Or do you believe that people who resort to these behaviors are usually doing so for reasons that defy our understanding and therefore our judgment of their actions?
About the Author:
LuAnn Pierce, MSW, CMSW is the author of Growing up Sane (in uncertain times), Seminar Leader Growing Well Adjusted Kids, Editor-in-Chief Person to Person: Strengthening Youth & Families and Telephone Counselor Affinity Counseling Center.
Originally published 3/12/98
Revised 12/03/08 by Marlene M. Maheu, Ph.D.