I hate even saying the word. Suicide. There I typed it.
Let’s face it. Despite what our kids, the social media generation (iGen), may think, suicide is not a new phenomenon, and it is far from a teen-centric issue. I lost two adults in my life to suicide just in the past year.
Last week I was unpacking a box of photos my mom handed off to me and uncovered a note in my teen handwriting. I stared at the two-sided, yellowed small paper and the memories of that night unfolded in front of me. I remember it so clearly. I was 16, doing my homework on a school night when the phone rang. It was my friend—let’s call her Melissa. She was having a rough year, hanging with some people I didn’t care for, and I was trying to distance myself.
“Hi,” Melissa said. “Ummm, I want to tell you something, but you have to swear not to tell anyone.”
“Uh, okay, I guess,” I said. I probably had my fingers crossed behind my back.
Again, she said, “You have to SWEAR not to tell ANYONE, okay?”
“Yes,” I said. “What?” feeling annoyed now.
“Okay. I’m really just calling to say goodbye.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“I just swallowed 18 Sudafed, but do not tell anyone.” Now she had my attention. Did I imagine that her voice started to slur?
“Did you really? Why?” I’m sure I sounded incredulous. Maybe she was lying, saying it for sympathy, attention, drama…
“Yes, but DON’T TELL ANYONE.” Now I was more certain that she sounded a bit sleepy. I knew what I had to do.
“OK, I won’t.” I don’t remember who hung up first. I was busy writing… this note (pictured).
My mom immediately called her mom. Melissa did not come to school the next day. Or the next. When she finally returned, she did not speak to me. It was clear she no longer wanted to be friends. That was fine by me; we didn’t need to be friends, and I didn’t care that she was angry.
I saved her life, and that was what mattered to me. I was glad that I lied and told her I wouldn’t share her secret. For me, it was the right thing to do. It was a heavy burden to carry as a teen, but keeping quiet was not the answer and it never occurred to me to do so. Even back then it seemed crazy to me that she never spoke to me again.
With season2 of Netflix’s viral show, 13 Reasons Why, just released and a letter circulating from my teen daughter’s school with resources about suicide, it’s hard for me not to think about Melissa.
Teen suicide, described as an epidemic, is now the second leading cause of death amongst teens and even higher amongst girls, according to a study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Netflix’s first season of 13 Reasons Why went viral last spring and is thought to be linked to the rise of teen suicides this past year. Google searches for “how to commit suicide” rose by 26%, according to a study conducted by San Diego State University. It glamorizes the act and may put the thought in these kids’ minds. And that is very concerning.
I can only hope that my teen knows that suicide is never the right answer and that as bad as things may get, she can always come to me. I would like to think that if she is faced with a Melissa situation, she’d choose to save a life vs. keep a confidence.
And it can’t hurt to re-read these tips on how to spot suicide warning signs.
Please also see our recent PIA editorial by Melanie Wells for additional resources, “13 Reasons Why, Season 2: Yes, it’s back. And no, don’t watch alone. It’s a scary world for kids.”