‘Epidemic of premature deaths’ needs our attention. Now.

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These are adolescents and teens, feeling pressured beyond unnoticed breakpoints.

The irony is, collectively, these young people who are committing suicide to escape pressures to perform mostly grew up shielded from failure. Some blame parents, plenty blame school systems, and many blame social media.

It’s probably a combination of all the above, but while causes are being figured out, it’s a time of triage. Families need help from experts on how, even, to be a healthy family.

Dr. Aaron Kheriaty is one of those experts. He has written and spoken a lot about these issues with the depth of expertise on depression and mental suffering, and compassionate care for human flourishing and help to conquer despair and find happiness. Because social factors seem so out of control and dysfunction is taking such a toll on young people and everyone whose lives they somehow touch – which, cumulatively, is all of us –  I asked him to be my guest on radio again and devoted the show hour to Dying of Despair.

That was weeks ago. It has turned into a series, and each week when Dr. Kheriaty is on the air again talking about these issues, callers light up the phones and ask questions, share experiences, seek help and hope, offer gratitude for the open discussion of what seemed taboo. It’s a powerful experience hearing people from California to New Jersey and many states from West to Midwest to East Coast join the conversation, even anonymously, engaging the conversation.

The recent ones are here, here, and here.

Between the last two, just after discussing these issues on radio, we learned that a teen in Dr. Kheriaty’s community had taken his life out of desperation over what he felt was unbearable pressure in school, or so he conveyed in letters he left. We were careful to talk about what needed to be shared, avoiding what didn’t.

A listener wrote this afterward:

Suicide needs to come out of the closet and spoken of. We need to take the story of the young man last week and talk to our kids openly. Not just about the act of suicide, but what it does to those that are left behind. Kids are so savvy, and when it happened twice (one student, one adult) within weeks at our local high school a few years back, teens felt like they could not express their fears or outrage. They expressed feeling shut down by the school to express how they felt…

 

My point is that if we don’t start speaking of it in the light, our kids will… in the private online chatrooms, snapchat, or Instagram. 1989 is long behind us, and we are in a rapidly moving scary age. As parents, we need to step up to the plate and talk to our kids! The high school kid was sandwiched between two other young (middle school) suicides in the same county. Perhaps the CDC can study the effects of not allowing children to fall, or feel any disappointment. For when disappointment of not good enough rears itself in their head, they see only one way out, because no one taught them that “this too shall pass”. It is truly an epidemic…

 

This is NOT our high school years. This is a whole other game of pressure and lack of connection to one another in our schools… Catholic, private, or public. #peacebewithyou

The principal of the teen’s school sent students and families a letter that quickly got published in local media and social media, because he wanted to generate awareness and cause change.

We ache…yet there remains valid, heartfelt concern for this tragic incident…A lot to ponder, and many conversations and changes ahead but how did we get here?

 

Our teachers and District have simply created and maintained a system that our community/country has demanded from us over the past 20 years since college admissions mania went into hyper drive, since vocational training programs were dismantled, and since earning “A’s” in AP classes became the norm.

 

Our teachers feel the pressure, administration and counseling feel the pressure, and now parents/students are really feeling the pressures. When we grew up nobody asked us what our GPA was, and it was “cool” to work on the roof of a house. This competitive culture has significantly impacted our young adults. We endlessly discuss test scores, National Merit Scholarships, reading scores, AP scholars, comparisons to other school Districts and this is when we start losing our collective souls–and our children.

 

We often shield our students from failure. We think that earning a “C” grade in a class is a the end of the world, and we don’t allow our students to advocate for themselves. We have also devalued a military career, a plumbing or welding job, and we are a little embarrassed if our children wish to attend vocational training schools instead of a major university…

 

We say hooray for those students who enter the armed forces, who want to work with their hands, who don’t want to be weighed down with the burden of being perfect in high school, and who earn a “C” in a tough class and are proud of themselves.

 

ALL of us as a community have to get to this point if we want to avoid our students feeling shamed, isolated, or worthless…

 

We must reach the point where, if our sons and daughters don’t live a perfect young adult experience, it is not the end of the world…it is simply an opportunity to lift the sails and head in another direction.

 

I sound like a broken record. If this offends anyone I am sorry.

 

We need to start now.

 

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