Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Opinion

April 19, 2014

OUR VIEW: Tragedy of teen suicide begs for greater discussion

GLASGOW — The awful specter of teen suicide was again thrust into the state’s attention this week when a 16-year-old student at Louisville’s Male High School posted what was essentially a video suicide note to YouTube shortly before taking her own life.

Sadly – but not surprisingly, considering the voyeuristic undercurrents of social media – the young woman’s video drew thousands of views before being removed from the site within about 24 hours, according to the Courier-Journal. Jefferson County Public Schools attempted to stem the tide of online discussion about the death by temporarily blocking access to YouTube and Twitter on school equipment – an approach that failed, of course, because the school system is powerless to block access to students’ personal electronic devices. So the online conversation continued, largely unabated.

We understand the school system’s desire to prevent a frenzy, but we also wonder whether such a response is indicative of the larger societal problems hovering around teen suicide. As much as we talk about bullying, depression and drug abuse, we still seem hesitant to talk seriously about the most tragic outcome of those circumstances. Teenagers are teenagers, so undoubtedly, and unfortunately, there was a gossipy quality in the social media reaction to the girl’s death. But at the same time, teenagers are teenagers, so the gossip was spiked with confusion, with questions for which many of us still seem afraid to seek answers.

Every community has dealt with teen suicide, and every community will deal with it again. It is, horribly, a circumstance that – with legitimate, meaningful effort – is preventable in many cases, but cannot be eliminated outright. No matter what we do, we cannot save every life.

But we can get better at talking about the issue. Not in platitudes or afterschool-special melodramatics, but in meaningful attempts at substantive dialogue. Plenty of counselors, mental health professionals and researchers are trying to start such conversations, but how many of us are listening? How many of us are ready to face our own fears, doubts and confusion? Are we willing to explore an uncomfortable topic in hopes of making positive change? Or are we content to continue tiptoeing around the real issues?

Until we can answer those questions about ourselves, we will be unable to help anyone else.

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