Editorís note: The following opinion piece first appeared as part of the Young Writers Projectís online forum. While The Times Argus has a policy against publishing most suicides, this piece, with some specifics edited out, gets to the heart of the important issue of teenage suicide.
By Julia Hancock-song
I never knew her. I never talked to her. I never saw her in person, although allegedly Iíve been in the same room as her. She was one of those Facebook friends you have because everyone you know is Facebook friends with them. Thatís not the most poetical of truths, but itís the truth.
When I first logged onto Facebook and saw a bunch of RIP posts, I thought it was a joke. Maybe it was a ďfake-a-death-onlineĒ prank, or she was leaving her school or some such and her friends were exaggerating. The truth absolutely stunned me, meaning not so much that it surprised me but that it froze my insides and left me physically gasping.
Why grieve for someone I didnít know? I think itís bigger than that. At 10 I lost someone very close to me to suicide. At this point in my life I hear far more often than I should of friends, friends of friends like this girl, people Iím vaguely connected to and people Iíve never heard of attempting, planning, considering or committing suicide. Every time I hear about a friendís cousin or an auntís old friend, the injustice of it all grows on me. Who deserves to feel so awful about the world that they have to give up on it? No one. I wouldnít wish it on my worst enemy if I had the worst worst enemy possible.
Tragically, this is growing less and less uncommon. Suicide has now risen to the 10th leading cause of death in this country, and the rate is significantly higher in Vermont than the national average. Whatís worse, itís the third leading cause of death among people age 15 to 24. Third. Let that sink in. Thatís how many young people succeed, not how many try or want to, and itís still the third most common reason young people die in this country. People with energy, with futures, with so much to learn. If that isnít heartbreaking, I donít know what is.
Teen suicide is discussed as an issue in psychology magazines, but no one talks to teens about it. When I came to school the first day after the weekend she died, I saw some people looking sad. That was it. No one talked to us. No one made a speech or said to talk to a guidance counselor for support. No one publicly acknowledged the event at all. If we canít come together as a community and discuss this (admittedly sensitive) issue, how can we expect those who might be at risk to speak out?
People clam up about suicide. They do. No one wants to talk about it. Some people are suspicious or skeptical of psychology. Some people are afraid to be judged. Some people donít want extra attention and some are afraid that it will look like theyíre trying to get attention. Some people just canít find anyone to talk to. If suicide were a disease, they could ask for medicine. If it were an injury they could ask for treatment. If it were a malicious third party they could ask for protection. But itís none of those things. While many wish for help, they have no idea what kind of help to ask for. Something as ambiguous and isolating as depression is extraordinarily difficult to talk about.
On the flip side, knowing someone with depression or suicidal thoughts doesnít always prompt people to reach out. It might be too awkward, it might be a complete misunderstanding, it might be offensive, it might give them ideas, it might only make things worse ó the list of excuses goes on and on. And often these people end up fine. They get over their hill or find a lifeline. But just take a minute, as hard as this minute might be, to imagine if they didnít, and you could have maybe done something to help. Imagine that guilt. You see, itís not everyoneís job to take action, but in a way itís everyoneís responsibility.
I in no way am trying to blame this girlís community for a lack of support. Support isnít always enough. I also wonít presume to know more than I do, and I know next to nothing about what happened. I do know that the only way in which I knew her was on my news feed, and what I saw in my news feed was love. The posts I saw from her were always about her friends ó how much she enjoyed spending time with them, how much she loved them. I think that says a great deal about the people in her life.
Iím going to ask a favor from you all now, particularly the teens in my community. I want you to contact someone. Maybe itís someone estranged, or someone you know to be depressed. Maybe itís just someone you think you ought to know. But I want you to call them, message them, post on their wall, Skype them, text them, bump into them, visit them ó whatever it is you do. Ask about their life. Relive some old times or admit youíd like to be better friends. You donít need a cheesy flatter-fest or a theatrical speech. Just make sure to tell them before you hang up, log off or walk away that they mean something to you. Possibly that they mean quite a lot.
After that, you wonít feel like you just saved a life. Chances are, they werenít holding a gun to their head waiting for someone to text them. Chances are they wouldnít have hurt themselves if you hadnít shown up. And itís not because of the chance that they might that you should do this. But part of changing the direction of the graphs on the news is the small and everyday effort we make to take a risk and reach out. Just as a symptom of depression is a feeling of isolation and aloneness, part of the cure lies in connection and kindness. Thatís why we should smile at or greet each other in the hallway. Thatís why we should ask a downtrodden stranger if thereís anything wrong. Thatís why we should never drive away the people who want to be there for us, because you never know when they might need someone to be there for them.
Itís a challenging time for young people. The idiom goes ďtreated like children and expected to act like adults,Ē and itís not far wrong. Growing up is a difficult and sometimes painful process that can leave us confused, lost and often lonely. While there is usually a deeper issue, no one in this world should want to die because they feel no one cares about them, and that is where we all can lend a hand. So I am asking you one more time: Donít waste any more time being afraid of each other and the delicate social barriers that the teen experience creates. Open up. Reach out. Speak up. Lend a hand. Build a network. This tragedy should not go unacknowledged, and nor should any human being, living or dead.
Julia Hancock-Song is a junior at Montpelier High School.
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