Create safety nets for teens with suicidal thoughts

The recent suicides of two students at Mandeville High have shaken the northshore community, prompting the issue into the spotlight as parents and students attempt to find peace and begin the healing process.

The loss of any life is certainly regrettable, but it is almost unimaginably heartbreaking to hear and witness teenagers – individuals with their entire lives ahead of them – feeling as though death is the only way out of whatever situation they happen to find themselves.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSA) clearly labels the most accurate statistics for suicide on its homepage: Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and, each year, an estimated 42,000 Americans die by suicide.

While local newspapers have reported that suicides in St. Tammany parish are, on the whole, down this year, the AFSA reports that in Louisiana, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for individuals aged 15-34. That bears repeating: for young adults in Louisiana, suicide is the third-leading cause of death.

And yet, nationwide, suicide is one of the most underreported causes of death due to the stigma surrounding it.

Part of the problem is that there is no single cause of suicide.

Often, society believes victims of suicide are afflicted with mental illness, addictions or crime. Our culture seems to drive those assumptions, if we trace the portrayal of those issues and the outcomes in popular media. Such stigmas are pervasive, which means that often suicide is an issue left unspoken.

With the pollen circulating in the air, many will have the symptoms of allergies, colds, and bronchitis: cough, sore throat, runny nose, itchy eyes, fever. At the sign of those symptoms, either we’ll bring ourselves to the doctor for help or we’ll be told by a friend to make ourselves go to the doctor. Either way, we’ll seek help.

There is no stigma associated with seeking help for allergies. And yet, what if there were? What if the common cold had such a negative connotation that people were prevented from seeking help?

This is the precise problem faced by those at risk for suicide: they don’t seek help because of the stigma.

New ways of reaching those suffering with suicidal thoughts and actions need to be found.

The AFSA funds research for interventions and training in prevention and advocates for policies. Communities, workplaces and schools need to find better ways of making mental health a priority so that young adults no longer suffer and so that high school communities are no longer torn apart by tragedy.

Communities need to take back their voices and remove the stigma so that all at risk for suicide know they are not alone.

Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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