In honor of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which takes place in September, the staff of the Courier focused on sharing resources and stories to shed light on this significant topic.
High school is a crucial time for teens to understand what suicide is and how to prevent it. Orange High School is no stranger to suicide. Having experienced students commit suicide previously and having an administrator who lost someone to suicide, this story hits close to home.
According to www.afsp.org, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and, according to www.cdc.gov, it’s the third leading cause of death among persons aged 10-14 and the second among persons aged 15-34 years. This means that the third most common cause of death in teens is entirely preventable.
“To be honest, I saw no warning signs at all. Although, she was very quiet for a while and I tried talking to her and asking her if everything is OK. But, she never said anything,” said an anonymous OOHS student who lost her friend to suicide. “Most of the time when I saw her, she would have her headphones in and just be in her own little world.”
“He was a functioning alcoholic for years and only began to have issues in 2005 when he tried to stop,” said Whitney Hamilton, a psychologist at OHS, about her father. “He eventually went back to Florida where he had been the most successful and was living on his own with six months sobriety under his belt, when he picked up again. He became very hopeless and saw no way of staying sober or living with this disease. Within a week he took his life.”
Often, when a person takes their life, they think that perhaps the afterlife will be better than the world they are currently living in. But truly, the only certainty in suicide is the effect it will have on the family and friends who are left behind, also known as survivors.
Guilt can consume the minds of survivors, causing them to obsess over the life of their loved one before they passed away, trying to find out why they took their lives and often blaming themselves.
“No matter how much you can sit here and reason why someone shouldn’t commit suicide, they could still have 100 more reasons and 100 more feelings on why they should,” 2014 graduate Madison Tyler said. Tyler’s father took his life when she was in seventh grade. “It wasn’t you. There was so much more that pushed this person to that point. I know I can’t stop you from having these feelings. I can’t even stop myself.”
Whenever family or friends lose a loved one, they experience intense grief, shock and pain. However, when that loved one is lost due to suicide, those feelings only amplify and are often joined by feelings of shame, according to PsychologyToday.
“Due to the stigma surrounding suicide, many people are afraid to tell the people around them that they are struggling,” Suicide Prevention Program Manager at HelpLine Michelle Price said.
“People don’t talk about death when it is because of suicide, and I hate that I feel shameful to tell others how [my father] died; he did it to himself and because of that, people look at his death differently than someone who died naturally,” said Hamilton.
Sometimes, signs aren’t as obvious. They often feel culpable, that there must have been something they could have done to prevent this loss: that they must have missed some vital sign. Withdrawing from social situations and isolating oneself are subtle signs that a person may be considering suicide. Even though they can be hard to see because people often just don’t feel like being social, they can be key clues to knowing whether a loved one might take their life.
“Looking back on it, I do feel that there were warning signs. However, I think those were a lot harder to pick up, being that I was only in seventh grade and really did not know much about suicide,” Tyler said.
Saying goodbye to family members is something many people do before taking their lives, but it may go unnoticed because it happens in a seemingly- normal situation. They may also sleep too much or too little, stop doing activities they used to love and talk a lot about feelings of hopelessness and being trapped.
“Some common things include saying goodbye to family members, discussing what they would like done with their possessions, maybe even beginning to give away their possessions. They’ll feel very hopeless and helpless at the moment, cannot see any other way out of their problems, are most likely very depressed and start to isolate themselves from others,” Hamilton said.
"The day before, I got a text from her saying 'I'm sorry and thank you a lot ❤️' I replied back saying ‘why are you saying sorry and thank you?’ I was expecting a text back, but I never got one,” the anonymous student said.
Suicide hotlines like HelpLine are open for anyone looking for a safe space to talk about their feelings that they feel as though they cannot talk about to anyone else. Those who are not comfortable calling a suicide hotline may be more willing to confide in a close friend. If a discussion about suicide or depression ever arises, the most important thing to do is to listen and let the person focus
on what is troubling them.
"There's a tendency to ‘brightside people’ or brush the uncomfortable topics under the rug by saying it’ll be OK. Moving on to an easier topic might make the listener feel more comfortable, but it takes away the suicidal person’s ability to discuss what they’re really struggling with," former hotline worker and current AP Biology teacher Kevin Guse said.
Since “13 Reasons Why” was released on Netflix, the issue and initiated a worldwide conversation. However, viewers have mixed feelings on the accuracy of the show’s portrayal of mental illness, especially how to deal with it.
This popular show, based on a fictional book of the same name by Jay Asher, premiered on March 31, 2017. It details high school junior Hannah Baker’s life, the reasons she decided to commit suicide and the events that followed. The show itself has received immense praise and criticism for its controversial representation of suicide and the graphic images presented along with it.
Many of the critics cite the triggering nature of the show as major setbacks that could potentially harm impressionable people, such as teenagers.
Carrie Wittmer, a Business Insider reporter, who struggled with mental illness and wrote “Why people are saying the Netflix hit ‘13 Reasons Why’ glorifies suicide and is ‘dangerous’” said “a strong percentage of who I am, what I do for a living, my dreams and how I think is because of the media I consumed as a teenager. But every person is different.”
Part of the outcry against the show comes from people with personal connections to the issues depicted, especially the scene displaying Baker ending her life.
"The more graphic the suicide is depicted, then it can promote copycat suicides. I was upset to see that, see that, and I just worried about a lot of our students,” Pam Fine, dean of students at Oxford High School in Oxford, MI, said.
Oxford High School is no stranger to suicide and experienced one in 2013. The topic was brought up again when “13 Reasons Why” came out.
“I heard [students] talking about it, and they’d say things like ‘I have more reasons than Hannah Baker had,’” Fine said.
The U.S. Department of Health & Social Services calls this “suicide contagion,” which is caused when students are exposed to suicide or suicidal behaviors. “13 Reasons Why” broke down Hannah Baker’s suicide into an elaborate story that could be considered unhealthy for adolescents to be exposed to.
“Suicide is the result of many complex factors; therefore, media coverage should not report oversimplified explanations such as negative life events or acute stressors. Reports should not divulge into detailed descriptions of the method used to avoid possible duplication,” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services said.
Worried about the influence the show had on her students, Fine took action and “13 Reasons Why Not” was born. The show highlighted all of the negatives in Hannah Baker’s life, so, Fine set out to reframe the idea behind the show and remake the tapes to instead, focus on the positives in students lives.
Fine came up with the idea to have her students tell a positive story about something that happened at the school rather than focus on a negative story like in the show.
After selecting the first student to go, Fine worked with them on planning what to say. and on May 1, 2017, the first tape rang through the school over morning announcements. The tapes were a success, and student responses were all positive.
Oxford High transformed into what most would consider near impossible.
“It was honestly like someone had flipped a switch on our school: we had flowers in the girls bathroom, messages all over the mirrors saying ‘you’re beautiful’ and the staff was much nicer to each other. It was what you would dream that a high school would feel like for everyone,” Fine said.
Locally, a private school in Westerville took a different approach to help its students. Megan Webster, former guidance counselor and licensed psychologist, got specific about the tools and programs used.
“After the school experienced two suicides, we knew we needed school-wide prevention. We worked with experts at Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital and used the Signs of Suicide program,” Webster said.
The long-term success of these programs is still unknown since they took place recently. However, professionals at the school thought getting help from outside resources was useful in identifying warning signs.
"I think it helped us identify kids who may be in some type of emotional turmoil that we wouldn't have known about otherwise," Webster said.
Suicide is normally committed after a combination of struggles go unresolved due to the lack of asking for help. Because of this, programs and solutions tend to be reactive, opposed to proactive. Kristy Blackburn, teacher at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, California and her students started a project called “Changing the Narrative” hoping to help students through their journalism program’s web page, The Oracle.
“We want to help change the narrative by normalizing everyday struggles and showing the beauty of vulnerability,” The Oracle said. Each of these schools have experienced their own individual struggles with suicide, but the common thread connecting all three together is how they have approached suicide prevention thereafter: making it about life instead of death.
Regardless of the seemingly endless bad press, the show has been commended for addressing depression and uncovering the previously "shameful topic."
"Despite the controversy surrounding '13 Reasons Why,' it inspired a conversation about mental health that is absolutely necessary for me, a show like this is more suited for people who haven't experienced mental health issues to better understand them," Wittmer said.
Whether the show successfully portrayed mental illness or not, it initiated a significant discussion regarding mental health and has helped overturn the stigma surrounding the subject. Though watching may cause a regression for those struggling with mental health, the show gives a platform for people to openly talk about their own internal battles.