A Loss Too Hard to Bear

 In Seriously?

This month, our community faces the loss of another young person, a teenager who ended his life before it even began. In a time and country where so many teenagers have a hopeful future, it is hard to understand the teenager who feels a level of despair so overwhelming, so all consuming that suicide is the only answer they can find.

But, according to the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-19 year olds. In truth, we are hearing about teen suicides more and more frequently; as parents and educators, we struggle to find the cause. The parents of 16 year old Daniel Briggs feel bullying was the primary factor in their son’s suicide. In Newton, MA, the community and school are reeling from the third suicide in one school year. Controversy has been raised by the suggestion that the “High Achiever Culture” in  schools is creating pressure that some students simply cannot take. (http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2014/02/newton-suicide-stress) Or maybe science is a factor. In her article in the Boston Globe, Teen Brains Make Them Vulnerable to Suicide, Jan Brogan explores the theory that teens are very susceptible to suicide because their brains develop in an unbalanced way. The article explains

“Researchers have long known that the basic problem with the teenage brain is the “asymmetric” or unbalanced way the brain develops, said Dr. Timothy Wilens, a child psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital specializing in adolescents, addictions, and attention deficit disorder.

The hippocampus and amygdala, which Wilens calls the “sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll” part of the brain, feels and stores emotions and is associated with impulses. It matures well ahead of the section of the brain that regulates those emotions and impulses, the prefrontal cortex.

Throughout the teenage years and up until about age 25, this executive section of the brain, also responsible for planning and decision, lags behind, Wilens says.

Until the front part of the brain catches up, if kids get sad, “they really experience sadness un-tethered.” He adds. “It’s why first love really does break the heart.” (http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2014/03/09/brain-development-makes-teens-more-vulnerable-suicide-and-mood-disorders)


But whether it is bullying, academic pressure or simple brain development, schools must face the difficult question: How do we respond to this tragedy?

More importantly, how do we prevent it from happening again?

In the past, fear of “copy cat” suicides influenced schools to avoid talking forthrightly about the suicide to students on a large scale. But this approach can seem insensitive to the victim’s family. Locally, there were allegations that schools as far away as Pennsylvania honored the death of Daniel Briggs with a  moment of silence and his own school did not. This may have happened because the traditional response to tragedies such as this has been to avoid large scale discussion, not out of insensitivity, but as a prevention tactic.

In Newton, they are changing that. Officials at the school are taking steps to confront the issue directly and openly. Jon Mattleman, who directs Needham Youth Services, explains

“Once there’s been a completed suicide, someone has stepped over this threshold, and someone at risk now thinks, ‘This is a possibility,’ ” said Mattleman. “When there’s a youth suicide, it’s so tragic. When there’s more than one, it’s terrifying. It’s a call for parents to have a conversation with their kids.” (https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/02/15/amid-tragedy-teen-suicide-schools-try-confront-issue-squarely/rKakxdFBGGkAvAaevjBdoI/story.html)

And it may be time for schools to have more conversations about this as well. I strongly recommend reading the above article as it goes on to explain that it may be time to break the silence and change the way we approach the tragedy of teen suicide.

After all, if we save even one more child by increasing awareness, isn’t it worth it? In honor of Daniel Briggs and all the others, we need to do all we can to help our young people find their way back to hope.

Featured image available: http://www.beta-gibbs.pcsb.org/essays/11395a.jpg






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  • Jennifer Hanno

    As a fellow compulsive reader, I just love that you found strength and salvation in reading. You’ve written a strong and moving testimony to the power books can have. But as powerful as they are, books alone did not save you. The kindness of “Clara” is clearly something that had a strong impact on you. The encounter you described shows us that one seemingly insignificant act of kindness can have unexpected and powerful consequences. Great post- thanks so much for reminding us how painful high school can be and how important it is to show respect and kindness. Thank you for reading and for your thought provoking comments.

  • Anonymous

    Speaking as one who was relentlessly bullied throughout my middle school and into my high school years, I can attest to the seemingly unbearable hurt and loneliness that one feels. Topics of taunts ranged from my small stature, to my sexual orientation, to the size of my family, which was possibly the hardest to bear. It takes a special kind of jerk to make you feel bad to be surrounded by seven loving (albeit not always lovable) siblings. Fortunately for me however, I had the great fortune to discover books. It sounds kind of ridiculous saying it like that, but in all honesty, books probably saved my life, in more ways than one.
    Firstly, I learned more about dealing with bullies and more about what it means to be a PERSON from David Eddings, JK Rowling, Markus Zusak, Robert Jordan, and a library full of other authors than any of my peers were from the so called reality TV like “Teen Mom” and “Jersey Shore.” In my tales on wizards, knights, long dead monarchs, and prisoners of war, I learned to hold my head high in the face of tyrants, and bear my cuts, bruises, and chipped teeth like badges of honor. When I was teased for always having my nose in a book rather than my eyes glued to “Call of Duty,” it didn’t bother me in the least because I knew their paltry insults paled in comparison to the insults I could have vaulted over their thick heads (which on occasion I admit felt the need to do). Now I’m not saying that every kid needs to start reading and miraculously all their bully problems will evaporate, I’m saying that every kid needs to find something worth living for, my “something” just so happened to be the cliffhangers at the end of Rick Riordan’s books or Tamora Pierce’s amazing ability to make any reader fall in love with an antagonist and some how want them to succeed. Which brings me to another important part of reading: talking about it.
    I can still remember being in rehearsal for a school production and accidentally dropping my mountain of books in front of the other cast members. I was carrying Four fantasy novels and a couple mysteries that I needed to return to the library, on top of my script, my english reading assignment, “The Nazi Officer’s Wife,” and three textbooks. I was rather embarrassed at my choices for entertainment, and knew I wouldn’t be able to come up with any excuse as to why I needed so many books, and to make matters worse the star if the show, lets call her Clara, came over to help me pick them all up. You should know that Clara is basically everything a freshman boy drools over. She’s attractive, smart, gorgeous, a senior, HOT, funny, athletic, and did I mention straight up sexy? My attempts at hiding my stash were futile, she picked up “The Shadow Rising” by Robert Jordan, and got this look of profound shock on her face, thinking she would put it on the slowly growing pile and then never speak to me again my little heart shattered, but alas, instead she said, “I never thought I would meet someone else that had the patience to read through more than one of these books!” I stared at her, gaping, for probably a full minute before I found my voice and mumbled a thanks and tried to stuff them into my already bulging backpack, she wouldn’t let it lie though. We went on talking about the book series all through the rest of rehearsal, whenever we were offstage at the same time we were discussing out favorite character, our favorite quotes, how we thought the series would end, out great sense of mourning over the loss of beloved characters. It had been the best day of my life. After that i rather proudly displayed my books at everywhere I went in the hopes someone would have read it and would strike up a conversation about it. I also started asking others about their books whenever I noticed one that hadn’t been part of an assignment. It was a real eye opener to suddenly be asked about subjects that were unrelated to Biology homework or the upcoming Spanish quiz on irregular conjugations. I made more genuine friendships in the first few weeks after the chance encounter with Clara, than I probably had in the previous two years combined.
    In the end, that is really what mattered. I had people to talk to. I drew on the vast reservoirs of fictional and real experiences portrayed in my books, and stumbled into society. I still think I’m terribly awkward, but a thief that goes by the name of Silk taught me to laugh at myself. I still am rather puny, but a German girl named Liesel Meminger showed me that one doesn’t need brawn to defy the Fuhrer. I might not agree with your opinions, but Egwene al’Vere showed me that I can influence your opinions with enough research, enough determination, and enough cunning. I could continue, but a dusty windbag named Korrodullin showed me that giving long drawn out speeches get really boring, his wife Mayaserana on the other hand had much more success by getting to the heart of the matter. If you notice someone is being teased sit down, have a real conversation with them about something other than the face you just saw them humiliated, find out what they’re interested in and either feign interest, or actually take interest, then introduce them to nice people their own age with similar interests…it could turn their life around.

    *Apologies for my rather rambling rant. It is quite scattered, and probably doesn’t make much sense,and doesn’t really fit perfectly with your post, but I’ve kept quiet about bullying for a long while, not only because I was bullied, but because I don’t really consider myself a victim. It’s like, if a burglar breaks into your house, steals your TV and computer, but leaves his wallet and a suitcase full of unmarked bills behind, so you not only end up getting all your stuff back, but you’re better off in the long run because of all the extra cash you now have. Why would someone steal you TV if he has a suitcase full of cash, I don’t know, It’s not a very good analogy. Anyway, I LOVE this blog. Keep the updates rolling my way.

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