By Edward T. O’Leary, Chief of Police
Last Tuesday I attended the District Attorney’s Anti-Crime Council Meeting. One of the key issues that were addressed was that of teen suicide. This discussion was brought into focus by Bill Keating talking about a case he had just been to in a neighboring town where a young man had hung himself. Since becoming Chief of Police, our community has also suffered several tragic deaths when young people took their own lives. The children in our community must deal with substantial challenges in their day-to-day life and the pressures they face are significant. I know that most of us do not want to talk about teen suicide as it makes us feel uncomfortable. We might even be afraid that by talking about “it”, we might encourage someone to make an attempt. I would suggest that the opposite is true; if we do not act, we may be enabling some young person to act out on his or her feelings.
In Massachusetts, suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers. There are an estimated 24,000 suicide attempts by high school students each year. In 1999, there were 430 deaths from suicide (all age groups), 433 from motor vehicle crashes and only 128 from homicide.
According to the 1999 Massachusetts Risk Survey of Students:
21% reported considering suicide in the past 12 months, 8% attempt it;
Adolescent females had a high rate of suicide thinking and behavior;
9th grade students are more likely to attempt it than 12th graders;
Teens who have been victimized at school and believe no one will listen are more likely than their peers to attempt suicide.
Adults have an important role in the prevention of youth suicide. Knowing what to look for and how to respond can make the difference between life and death.
There are some known risk factors:
Most suicidal youth suffer some degree of depression:
It is important to distinguish depression from a temporary “case of the blues.” The “blues” usually affects teenagers only briefly and may disappear after talking with someone who cares.