Sunday, August 5, 2018

AV #182 - Schools & the English classroom; depression & suicide

Returning to class in the fall of 2018, a new awareness of the need to talk of life and death

Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a ‘secondary rationalization’ of instinctual drives.  This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning.”
Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl

Have you ever felt like nobody was there?
Have you felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?
Have you ever felt like you could disappear?
Like you could fall and no one would hear?

Well, let that lonely feeling wash away
Maybe there's a reason to believe you'll be okay
Cause when you don't feel strong enough to stand
You can reach, reach out your hand
                                                            “You Will Be Found,” From Dear Evan Hansen

   “Netflix released ‘13 Reasons Why season 2 last Friday — and the popular (and controversial) teen-suicide drama immediately popped to the top spot among all U.S. digital original series, according to new data…. ‘13 Reasons Why’ was the most popular show in the U.S. on a seven-day average per-capita basis (from May 14-20) ….”[i]
        Information – “Talk to Someone” -

May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
       “Forever Young,” Bob Dylan

I imagine you too have found it unnerving to encounter the stream of articles the past few months on the number of suicides among our youth. (I list many in the sidebar, below.)

I have argued recently that the mission of schools is to prepare students, above all, for life, not for careers and the workforce.[ii] In this newsletter I speak of life quite literally.  Over death.

If I were teaching again this year, I would find it impossible not to be thinking, more than ever, about the mental health of my students.  As teachers we keep the overall well-being of the kids and teenagers in our classrooms front and center; in some fashion every adult in the school building hopes we play a role in helping our students gain “a strong foundation.”   As we begin the new school year it feels especially important to acknowledge the emotional struggles of so many of our students, and to ask: what is our responsibility?

Educators cannot ignore that question, or the issue of teen suicide.  We are putting our heads in the sand if we do. 

What does this mean for a teacher? Are we supposed to be part counselor? Psychiatrist?  Minister, priest, rabbi, imam?

Most middle and high school teachers already feel burdened by so many expectations—do a good job by 150 students, know them well, individualize, personalize, and differentiate, etc. etc.  Is it also up to us to save them, body and soul?  To be sure they choose life?
The issue hit home over 35 years ago.  I had taught the senior and was friendly with his family; they lived up the street.  I drove to the hospital when I heard of the attempted suicide.  He was in a coma when I got there.  Hugs with his frightened mom and dad.  All of us asking why.

He survived – and when he walked across the stage that June to receive his diploma, there were more than few tears of joy. Tragedy avoided.

Like most, I know something of depression and dark thoughts. It did not take me eight years to wander in and out of college, at times lost, before getting my degree—because I was in great spirits.  And yet this topic is too vast, too great a mystery.  I have no answers.

“Attention must be paid” - from Death of a Salesman

Perhaps all I can hope to do here is convince you how important it is that we pay attention. That we ask ourselves some hard questions.

What follows is merely one educator’s belief, based in part on 18 years teaching English, where the literature asked students to understand characters in their search for meaning, and frequently invited discussions on death, mortality, and suicide.  

I believe the classroom can be a place where—directly or indirectly—we  explore the big questions.  Including the one raised whenever suicide appears: why choose life?  Educators who have read Man’s Search for Meaning, by Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, carry his message with us:  the 9-year-old, the 13-year-old, perhaps especially the 17-year-old—they are human beings eager to find meaning and purpose.  A reason to live.  A school has a responsibility to help our students on their journey to that goal.  (I doubt higher education would claim such a responsibility. See Frankl on “the contemporary nihilism transmitted on many an academic campus”; see also Allan Bloom on “the decay of the humanities” that has “left a void in the soul.”[iii]  A topic for another time.)
I believe that without pretending to be spiritual guides and staking claim to have the answer to life’s fundamental why, K-12 educators can welcome the questions and create opportunities for honest discussions that help our students in their own sometimes anguished search.      

The English classroom – “To be or not to be…”

And while not wishing to burden one department or one dimension of the curriculum as the place for such discussions, I believe the English classroom is the most natural setting where we can engage our students in the big questions.  Why? Because it’s there in the literature we read together. I speak now of English in its broader context–not just where skills are taught, but as part of the humanities curriculum, where we read about characters and their quest to make sense of the human experience—and where, let’s be honest, themes of hopelessness and the possibility of choosing death over life appear time and again.

This former English teacher recalls passages about suicide in works considered part of “the canon” of high school literature:
9th grade – Romeo and Juliet, Night, The Catcher in the Rye
10th grade - Death of a Salesman, Antigone, Julius Caesar  
11th grade – A Doll’s House, Hamlet (“To be or not to be…”)
12th grade - King Lear (Gloucester stumbling towards the Dover cliffs)
(You might recall passages from three of them – see Addendum B.)

But what, exactly, is a teacher to do?  We want to respect students’ awareness of this issue in their lives, in their school and community; nevertheless, we hesitate, we give such scenes a light touch—and fail to make the connections.  How far should we go?  We are in dangerous territory—well beyond our expertise.  Who in our classroom carries a story of a friend or family member who committed suicide?  And do we know how such discussions might be interpreted by the teenagers in our class in considerable pain?  If not, should we even head down this road?

The question, of course, goes well beyond the English classroom.  Is it appropriate the ask middle and high school students to confront the reality of suicide in America, in Colorado, and to bring it home, for us here in our community?[iv] And how?  Should every administrator, teacher, and staff member in the building—now the school resource officer too—see it as our role to somehow “affirm life,” whatever that may mean?

I think it is.  And I believe the English classroom can be a place where we welcome and support the very real search taking place in the hearts and minds of our students. I believe it is part of our responsibility to these young people.  They need a safe place for such discussions.  And they need the assurance that we are not deaf - that we are open to hearing of their fears for a friend … or of their own confusion or dejection.  Maybe we can be a bridge and refer that boy or girl to those with the needed expertise ….    

Furthermore, I believe we have a responsibility to respect the literature and its portrayal of the human condition.  As teachers we don’t want our students to identify with 16-year-old Holden Caulfield confessing: “I felt so lonesome all of a sudden.  I almost wished I was dead” (ch. 7).  “What I really felt like, though, was committing suicide. I felt like jumping out the window” (ch. 14).  And yet some will; for a few guys and girls in our classes, such moments hit home.  We do not serve them well—or the author, J. D. Salinger—by skipping past such lines as “too dark.”  

If the novels, plays, and poetry we teach ask us to empathize with characters in despair, the English classroom can help us do so, together.

It is one way we as teachers can lend an ear … and extend a hand.
Quotes from these 15 news articles follow in Addendum A.
“Suicidal thoughts, vaping and low perception of risk among concerns for El Paso County youth, survey finds,” The Gazette (Colorado Springs), by Debbie Kelly, July 26, 2018.

We must work together to prevent suicide,” Denver Post, by State Legislator Dafna Michaelson Jenet, House District 30, June 28, 2018. 

“Colorado Vet's Death Offers Glimpse Into Suicidal Mind,” The Gazette, by Stephanie Earls, June 23, 2018.  
“Rates up in all but 1 state between 1999 and 2016,” The Washington Post, by Amy Ellis Nutt, June 7, 2018. 
“NAMI looks ‘Below the Surface’ to combat teen suicide,” The Colorado Independent, by Faith Miller, June 6, 2018.
“My Mother’s Suicide in Part of My Story and It’s Helping Me Change the Lives of Students,” Education Post, by LeeAndra Khan, CEO of Civitas Partners, June 6, 2018. 
Teens Are Cyberbullying Themselves. Why?” Education Week, by Sasha Jones, May 29, 2018. 
“Greeley high schools rocked by series of suicides,” The Greeley Tribune, by Tommy Wood, March 26, 2018.
“Four takeaways from a new report on the status of Colorado’s children,” Chalkbeat Colorado, by Ann Schimke, March 22, 2018.

  “Colorado kids doing better in many areas, but face problems with suicide, school funding, infant mortality, report says,” Denver Post, by Monte Whaley, March 22, 2018.
“Middle School Suicides Reach An All-Time High,” National Public Radio, by Elissa Nadworny, Nov. 4, 2016.  

School grants to fight suicide,” by Monte Whaley, Denver Post, June 24, 2018.
“Colorado lawmakers take one small step – but no more – to reduce youth suicide,” Chalkbeat Colorado, by Erica Meltzer, May 8, 2018.  
“A Growth Mindset Isn't Enough. It's Time for a Benefit Mindset.” Subtitle: “Could a focus on altruism curb student suicide?Education Week, by Arina Bokas & Robert Ward, June 19, 2018.
Letter to Editor – response by Joseph W. Gauld, founder, Hyde School, July 17, 2018.

“How Teens Are Helping Other Teens With Suicide Prevention,” 4 CBS Denver, by Jamie Leary, Sept. 25, 2017.

I quote from three articles that might be of interest. The first two especially for English teachers, the third for any educator. I am not endorsing any program here, just sharing a few ideas and efforts.

“Dealing with Suicide-Related Curriculum,”[v]
from the Society for the Prevention of Suicide

From classic Shakespearean literature to post-modern fiction, the theme of suicide is woven throughout high school language arts and English assignments. It also appears in history lessons, health classes, and psychology curricula and may be impossible to avoid in the course of an academic year.  Its inclusion reflects its reality as a provocative and unsettling social concern.

[Included at this site:] … suggestions that both reflect a teacher’s sensitivity to the reality of ‘traumatic reminders’ as well as give students permission to emotionally take care of themselves.

When suicide appears in other course material, classroom discussion and assignments could explore the reasons that suicide is an international public health concern and the strategies that have been successfully employed to address suicide rates.   Students could be encouraged to create lists of age-appropriate internet resources that address suicide awareness and prevention or to develop suicide prevention resources for their peers.   An excellent resource that models this latter strategy can be found on the website for the Washington state youth suicide prevention program-

“Literature as Suicide Prevention,”[vi] Orlando Sentinel, by Linda Shrieves, Dec. 5, 1988.

   Using examples such as ``Romeo and Juliet,`` Deats and a group of humanities professors from the university, working with several psychotherapists, have come up with what appears to be an unlikely method of preventing teenage suicides: having kids read and discuss literature that focuses on suicide. They maintain that this approach will teach kids not only the early warning signs of suicide but also that suicide isn`t a solution to one`s problems….
   What Lenker and her colleagues are hoping is that someday high school students across the country will read such works as Herman Melville`s ``Moby Dick,`` Sylvia Plath`s ``The Bell Jar,`` Shakespeare`s ``Hamlet,`` William Styron`s ``Lie Down in Darkness`` and Willa Cather`s ``Paul`s Case`` and then follow the reading with group discussions to analyze the suicidal characters. Such discussions, the educators believe, might help students openly talk about a subject that often is not discussed at home or at school.
   ``This is not therapy for someone who`s already in trouble,`` said Lenker, humanities coordinator of the university`s Division of Lifelong Learning. ``We don`t say it`s a cure-all. Unfortunately there are none. But we are trying to show two things. One, that teen suicide is not a late 20th Century phenomenon; the other is that literature can be used as a way to introduce a difficult subject and to start a nonthreatening discussion.``

 “Middle School Suicides Reach An All-Time High,”[vii] -National Public Radio, by Elissa Nadworny, Nov. 4, 2016

    We've been reporting about the role that schools and school staff play in addressing students' mental health.
    "Kids spend a lot of time at school ... it's where they live their lives," says David Jobes, who heads the Suicide Prevention Lab at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. "Suicide prevention has been focused on schools for a long time because it's a place where kids are and where a lot of problems can manifest."
    Many educators don't feel comfortable talking about suicide, or often don't know what to do or say when a student needs help, Jobes says. He recommends resources from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that are specific to schools.
    “It's really hard to prevent it, if we don't know it's there," he says. So educators shouldn't be afraid to talk about suicide — because saving lives begins with ‘asking a question.’”

[This article also includes “6 Myths About Suicide That Every Educator And Parent Should Know.”]

Addendum A

15 articles on suicide in our country, our state (including 10 from May to July 2018)

“Suicidal thoughts, vaping and low perception of risk among concerns for El Paso County youth, survey finds,” The Gazette, by Debbie Kelly, July 26, 2018.[viii]
   Responses from a voluntary, anonymous survey on risky teen behavior show suicide remains a pressing concern….
   According to the fall 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, released this week, one in five El Paso County students said they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. The statewide average is 17 percent.     And almost 16 percent of El Paso County teens indicated they had made a plan about how they would take their lives, compared with 13 percent statewide….
   The county in recent years has trended “slightly higher” than statewide rates in terms of teen suicide, said Megan Haynes, Teen Suicide Prevention Planner for El Paso County Public Health….
    One encouraging part, Haynes said, was that local adolescents scored high on “protective factors,” that help ward off suicide attempts and other risky behavior, such as good access to mental health care, connectedness to family, other trusting adults and friends, and the ability to problem-solve and be resilient when facing life’s setbacks.
    “These things we are hopeful about,” Haynes said, “such as the percentage that had someone to talk to when they were feeling sad, 81 percent. We recognize that as an opportunity, as to how we can develop that connectedness.”

We must work together to prevent suicide,” Denver Post, by State Legislator Dafna Michaelson Jenet, House District 30, June 28, 2018.[ix]
   Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in our country. In 2016, we lost 45,000 sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers and friends to suicide. That is more than car accident related deaths. An epidemic is unfolding before our eyes and studies tell us that suicide continues to increase, but we are failing to adequately invest in solutions….  
  A big disappointment this year was that the legislature did not pass my bill to establish a coordinated statewide campaign to end youth suicide. The bill would have also reduced the age at which a youth can seek confidential psychotherapy services from a licensed mental health professional without the consent of his or her parent or guardian, from 15 to 12. Suicide prevention does not happen at the moment of suicidality, it happens long before a person reaches the crisis stage — this is true for adults as well as youth.
   The bottom line is this: Kids are committing suicide at young ages, and they should be able to access the help they so desperately need. It could save a life.  
  The suicide epidemic knows no bounds. It is affecting teens, veterans, and people of all races, identities and socio-economic backgrounds. We must do more to help Coloradans locate and receive the support they desperately need.

NAMI looks ‘Below the Surface’ to combat teen suicide,” The Colorado Independent, bFaith Miller, by June 6, 2018.[x]

  When five teenagers at his high school took their own lives in a single semester, Chad Hawthorne knew he had to do something.
  Two years ago, the 
National Alliance on Mental Illness Colorado Springs offered him — and a handful of other El Paso County students who’d been affected by tragedy — a way to help.
  In 2016, there were 15 completed youth suicides, a jump from seven in 2014 and 14 in 2015, according to El Paso County Public Health. Colorado has one of the highest overall suicide rates in the country, and while statistically it’s hard to compare rates across counties, El Paso County’s rate has long been one of the worst.  

“Colorado Vet's Death Offers Glimpse Into Suicidal Mind,” The Gazette (Colorado Springs), by Stephanie Earls, June 23, 2018.[xi]
Higher rates
   Since 1999 in Colorado, the heart of the so-called “suicide belt,” the number of people taking their own lives has increased by more than 34 percent.
   Higher rates in the American West are likely the result of a confluence of several factors, including greater access to firearms and terrain that can make crisis intervention especially challenging.

“My Mother’s Suicide in Part of My Story and It’s Helping Me Change the Lives of Students,” Education Post, by LeeAndra Khan, CEO of Civitas Partners, June 6, 2018.[xii]
   We don’t talk enough about mental illness and suicide in our schools. There are phrases we throw around to explain away someone’s differences or to discard people who can’t get it right, like, “he/she is crazy.” But as teachers, parents and community members, if we are truly about social justice, reform and active engagement, this is one of the things we must talk about—at length—and be more sensitive about.
Listening Is an Act of Kindness
It’s hard for all of us to do, especially educators but listen with an empathetic heart. Our students are trying to tell us what they need, but the constructs of schooling sometimes prevent us from truly hearing them. When we listen, we open up opportunities to build relationships. When we build relationships, student can feel connected. If they feel connected, they may ask for your help.
“Four takeaways from a new report on the status of Colorado’s children,” Chalkbeat Colorado, by Ann Schimke, March 22, 2018.[xiii]

Colorado’s youth suicide rate is alarming —  and guns figure into the equation
   At a time when school shootings are fueling a push for gun control legislation in some quarters, KIDS COUNT’s authors note the prominent role that guns play in youth suicides, especially for boys. About half of males 10 to 19 who die by suicide use firearms. (In comparison, only about 20 percent of suicide deaths in girls involve firearms.)…
   KIDS COUNT also raises concern about Colorado’s high youth suicide rate, which came up in the state legislature earlier this year after a high-profile suicide of a 10-year-old Aurora girl. In 2016, there were 18 suicides for every 100,000 people aged 15 to 19 in the state — higher than in all but two of the last 25 years. The problem is particularly acute in two counties: El Paso and Mesa, where teen suicide rates were 29 per 100,000 in 2016.

“Colorado kids doing better in many areas, but face problems with suicide, school funding, infant mortality, report says,” Denver Post, by Monte Whaley, March 22, 2018.[xiv]

   One of the most troubling areas pointed out by the report is teen suicide in Colorado. In 2016, 18 out of every 100,000 Colorado teens died by suicide — the highest teen suicide rate since 1991.
   Among people ages 10-24 in Colorado, suicide is the leading cause of death, Kids Count said.
   “Tragically, suicide has claimed the lives of far too many Colorado children and adolescents,” said Kelley Causey (the president and CEO of the Colorado Children’s Campaign).

“Rates up in all but 1 state between 1999 and 2016,” The Washington Post, by Amy Ellis Nutt, June 7, 2018. [xv]

   Suicide rates rose in all but one state between 1999 and 2016, with increases seen across age, gender, race and ethnicity, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention….     
   Increasingly, suicide is being viewed not only as a mental health problem but a public health one. Nearly 45,000 suicides occurred in the United States in 2016 — more than twice the number of homicides — making it the 10th-leading cause of death. Among people ages 15-34, suicide is the second-leading cause of death.

Teens Are Cyberbullying Themselves. Why?” Education Week, by Sasha Jones, May 29, 2018.[xvi] 

  They conducted a nationally representative survey of nearly 6,000 middle and high school students. Their study, "Digital Self-Harm Among Adolescents," revealed that 6 percent of students say they have cyberbullied themselves.
  "These are youth who are knowingly and intentionally posting negative messages about themselves—and reporting that they did so to researchers. We should be deeply concerned that there are young people out there who are struggling and not getting the support that they need," researcher Danah Boyd said in an email.
…In March, Twitter introduced the policy by suspending accounts that had used trigger words implying self-harm or suicide, including the phrases "I want to die" and "kill myself." That resulted in criticism from Twitter users who share and post memes, expressing concern that the site may be unable to distinguish when such phrases are being used for humor and entertainment.

“Middle School Suicides Reach An All-Time High,” National Public Radio, by Elissa Nadworny, Nov. 4, 2016.[xvii]

   There's a perception that children don't kill themselves, but that's just not true. A new report shows that, for the first time, suicide rates for U.S. middle school students have surpassed the rate of death by car crashes.
   The suicide rate among youngsters ages 10 to 14 has been steadily rising, and doubled in the U.S. from 2007 to 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2014, 425 young people 10 to 14 years of age died by suicide.


School grants to fight suicide,” Denver Post, by Monte Whaley, June 24, 2018.[xviii]

  Colorado schools will soon divide $400,000 into small grants to pay for suicide-prevention training for all campus employees, including teachers, front-desk attendants and custodians. The training, supporters say, is designed to bolster the fight against a rising tide of suicides by youths.
  But a more comprehensive suicide-prevention measure that backers say would have done more to help troubled teens was nixed by Colorado lawmakers during the 2018 sessions. The proposal was attacked largely over a provision to lower the age from 15 to 12 that children could get therapy without parental consent….
  In Colorado, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24. And it’s mostly because youths today face unprecedented pressures from modern society and social media, Shannon Hawley said….
   Hawley said suicide-prevention training should not be limited to teachers and others who deal with particular age groups. “Nor should we put an age requirement on our youth seeking counseling,” Hawley said. “Suicide does not discriminate on age. We have 10- and 11-year-old babies who are taking their own lives.”
   The grants will be especially useful in Colorado’s rural school districts, which don’t have ready access to school therapists and counselors, officials say. The suicide rate among rural Coloradans ages 15-19 is double the rate of their peers in the state’s more urban areas….
   Metro-area schools districts, including Jefferson County Public Schools and Denver Public Schools, have their own far-reaching suicide prevention programs. At DPS, the Signs of Suicide curriculum — taught in sixth and ninth grades — focuses on supporting students to identify warning signs of depression and reporting to a trusted adult, say officials.

“Colorado lawmakers take one small step – but no more – to reduce youth suicide,”
Chalkbeat Colorado, by Erica Meltzer, May 8, 2018.[xix]

   A bipartisan bill that’s headed to the governor’s desk allocates $400,000 for small grants of between $5,000 and $10,000 to schools to train staff in suicide prevention.
   This modest yet hard-won bill is the only legislation this year that directly addresses the second leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 24 in Colorado. When the session started, many people were still shaken by the news that an Aurora fifth-grader had taken her own life, news that came on the heels of several suicides by teenagers at suburban high schools.

   “A Growth Mindset Isn't Enough. It's Time for a Benefit Mindset.” Subtitle:Could a focus on altruism curb student suicide?Education Week, by Arina Bokas & Robert Ward, June 19, 2018.[xx]

Halfway through 2018, our nation is deep in thought: What is happening—or not happening—in our schools and communities that causes our teenagers to take their own lives or cut short the lives of others? …
   Suicide rates increased in 49 states and the District of Columbia from 1999 to 2016
—including by more than 30 percent in 25 states, according to a report released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Nevada is the sole outlier.) For teenagers ages 15-19, the numbers are also alarming: After a decrease starting in the mid-1990s, suicides doubled between 2007 and 2015 for girls and rose 30 percent for boys, according to 2017 CDC data.
   Could it be that the escalating instances of teen violence are, in part, an unintended consequence of ensuring that the world around each child is tailored just to him or her? …
  This all gets to one of the root causes of teen suicides: Many disaffected youths see no purpose in living. Currently, we invest in teens' well-being by boosting their confidence, determination, and work ethic—all with an emphasis on self-improvement. Consequently, children define success by their grades, garb, and gadgets. Later, it's all about the job they will hold, the salary they will earn, and the things they will buy.
   Yet, how often do we expect our children to intentionally give back or pay forward?

Letter to Editor – (Education Week) - excerpts from a response to the article above,
by Joseph W. Gauld (Founder, Hyde School, Bath, Maine), July 17, 2018.[xxi]

   In a recent Commentary, the authors outlined how serious the plight of our young people is today, highlighted by the stunning increase in their suicide rates ….  a lifetime of trying to determine how we can best prepare children for the future has taught me that the roots of the suicide problem go much deeper.
   Our present education system wrongly sees children as mini-adults. Too focused on funneling students to become future workers or college students, the current educational system fails to recognize the individual potential of its students. Each child is unique, gifted with a potential which is guided by a moral compass.
   Education should first serve each child's potential—the foundation for a successful and fulfilling life. When education does this, students are in a better position to receive the support they need to succeed in the classroom….
   Students are often in a defensive position in the classroom, but they can develop a more open attitude when teachers show that they are willing to help them prepare for life. As a result, when teachers help students, students are then encouraged to reach out and help their peers. Connecting with students on a more personal level contributes to both scholarship and character development.

“How Teens Are Helping Other Teens With Suicide Prevention,” 4 CBS Denver, by Jamie Leary, Sept. 25, 2017.[xxii]

    It took two suicide attempts before a Colorado Springs teen found a reason to live and began to wonder, “What if teens hold the answer to the youth suicide problem in Colorado?”…
    “I don’t really know how it started. Just one day, I woke up and I want to say I was bored with life. There was nothing keeping me here. I would cry at the drop of a hat and I just, I never knew why.”
    Compounding those feelings, Macy experienced the loss of several classmates by suicide. She said the efforts of her school to help were well-intended but didn’t work.
   “They (schools) have a script they have to read to us,” said Macy Rae. “These kids that are killing themselves, they’re our friends, they’re our classmates, they’re our peers. There’s an empty chair over there and that chair belonged to this person and it’s just traumatic and that script makes everyone so angry that we don’t pay attention.”…

   According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the suicide rate for teens ages 10 to 18 nearly doubled between 2006 and 2016. It rose from 5.4 per 100,000 to 10.5.
   It is the second leading cause of death among teenagers in Colorado.  While Macy’s voice brings a new and crucial voice to the issue, other organizations continue to fight as well. Since 2002, the Second Wind Fund  has helped nearly 4,500 teenagers who are at risk of suicide. Today, every single one of those teens is still alive. Like Macy, Second Wind helps teens find a reason to live. It has created a network of counselors ready to jump in, free of charge.

Addendum B – Passages dealing with suicide – from literature in the high school curriculum

Three works often read in American high schools. Students encounter scenes like these – on suicide.  Passages that deserve a good discussion. 
Topic for the English Department: How do we engage our students in such passages?  How personal do we get?  Where do we “draw the line”?


Act I, scene II -  O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
his canon ’gainst self-slaughter!

Act III, scene I - To be or not to be, that is the question:
Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep—
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
  That flesh is heir to. ’Tis a consummation
  Devoutly to be wished.

Death of a Salesman
From Requiem, following the funeral
LINDA: Forgive me, dear. I can’t cry. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t cry. I don’t understand it. Why did you ever do that? Help me, Willy, I can’t cry. It seems to me that you’re just on another trip. I keep expecting you. Willy, dear, I can’t cry. Why did you do it?  I search and search and I search, and I can’t understand it, Willy. I made the last payment on the house today. Today, dear. And there’ll be nobody home. A sob rises in her throat. We’re free and clear. Sobbing more fully, released: We’re free. We’re free … We’re free …

The Catcher in the Rye
From chapter 22
“…So Stabile, with about six other dirty bastards, went down to James Castle’s room and went in and locked the goddam door and tried to make him take back what he said, but he wouldn’t do it. So they started in on him. I won’t even tell you what they did to him – it’s too repulsive – but he still wouldn’t take it back, old James Castle. And you should’ve seen him.  He was a skinny little weak-looking guy, with wrists about as big as pencils. Finally, what he did, instead of taking back what he said, he jumped out the window.  I was in the shower and all, and even I could hear him land outside, But I just thought something fell out the window, a radio or a desk or something, not a boy or anything. Then I heard everybody running through the corridor and down the stairs, so I put on my bathrobe and I ran downstairs too, and there was old James Castle laying right on the stone steps and all.  He was dead, and his teeth, and blood, were all over the place, and nobody would even go near him.”

[ii] AV #180 - Mission statements from 10 high-performing schools–education for LIFE. (June 12, 2018)
[iii] The Closing of the American Mind, Bloom, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987.
[iv] Tragically, all too close to home for many schools in my school district, Douglas County.