Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Permanent Solution To a Temporary Problem

The suicide of Rutgers 18-year-old college student Tyler Clementi, a promising young musician, has left people stunned and mourning his death. A video of Clementi having sex with another man on campus was put on the internet, causing Clementi to jump to his death off the George Washington bridge.

This most recent tragedy has brought suicide once again into the light. Here are some facts. Suicide is the 3rd leading killer of this nation’s youth, after firearms, suffocation and poisoning. Thirteen hundred people have leaped off the San Francisco bridge since it opened in 1933, making it the most popular place to commit suicide.

It is a disturbing trend and a classic example of a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

At the San Francisco bridge, preventing suicide is called ‘means reduction.’ This is when you eliminate ways people can kill themselves until the impulse passes and they can get help. At the bridge, placing a net will cost $45 million, but groups are determined to see it completed.

The message is that suicide can be avoided. According to the president of Cornell University, Dr. David Skorton, Cornell has had six students jump off a gorge bridge, “Underlying mental health issues are the main explanation for suicides, not a breakup or stress,” he said. “It’s okay to raise your hand and say you’re suffering. The most important thing we can do is to take away the stigma of seeking mental health care.”

In 2009, 13.8% of high school students seriously considered attempting suicide. Lori Flynn, who runs Columbia University’s teen screen program to identify 14-17 year olds who are at risk and whose daughter attempted suicide but survived, says that sometimes it is hard to sift out what is adolescent moodiness and what is depression. When kids are asked why they didn't say something about their problems, their answer is always, “Nobody asked.” “We ask,” said Flynn.

Another counselor, Jamie Torkowski, who is the leader of the To Write Love on Her Arms non-profit movement, tours the country reaching out to teens at concerts and festivals. He started his group because of a girl he knew who took a razor blade to herself because she believed she was a failure. Torkowshi believes he has reached over 100,000 youths by social networking.

“Prevention can start with discussions,” he says. “Hear what they are saying. One key weapon is to let struggling young people know they are not alone and that we care.”

As for Tyler Clementi, the stakes of not hearing those who are young and vulnerable was brought home to Rutgers students. A tribute to Clementi was held in his hometown this past Thursday.

“If we identify social support, identify those struggling, make it okay to raise your hand and say I need help, and restrict the means to follow an impulse, we will succeed,” said Skorton.

If you have a moving story of suicide attempt or completion and would like to share it with me, send your story to

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