Capital News Service
By GLORIA NZEKA
LANSING — Suicide rates among teenagers nationally are at a 40-year high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The federal study shows that the rate of girls 15 to 19 years old dying by suicide between 2007 and 2015 more than doubled, from 2.4 to 5.1 per 100,000. Meanwhile, the rate among boys in the same age range rose from 10.8 to 14.2 per 100,000.
Among states with the highest rates of suicide among residents between 15 and 24 in 2016 are Alaska at 45.6, Montana at 29.2 and South Dakota at 27.9, the American Association of Suicidology reported. Michigan’s rate was 14.7 per 100,000.
For families who have lost someone to suicide and for communities seeing the rising death toll among teens, the most frequent question is – why?
“It’s really hard to say why that would be,” said Michael Pyne, the chair of Muskegon County’s Suicide Prevention Coalition.
Among adults, Pyne said men die from suicide more frequently than women. Men use more lethal means such as firearms and suffocation, which is why they probably die at an higher rate, he said. Although that’s changing, women typically try less deadly means such as poisoning and therefore stand a better chance of surviving.
Among the younger population, however, Pyne said the statistics show a complex situation, but it’s hard to positively state why rates are on the rise.
“We do see young people using guns more frequently. It’s possible, too, that young females might attempt suicide more frequently, repeatedly at times,” Pyne said.
In Grand Haven, Steve Shannon, the facilitator of the Survivors of Loss to Suicide support group, said young girls seem to be the children who are dying most often. Although suicide rates for boys remain higher, males who commit suicide are usually older — young adults in their mid-twenties.
“For young teenage girls, it’s been our opinion in the group that it goes back to the pressure on them to be beautiful, sexy and all that, which is why I’m so glad that the #MeToo movement is happening these days,” Shannon said.
Shannon and his wife lost a son, Patrick, to suicide six years ago and are now working to help other parent-survivors.
In trying to understand what could be the leading causes of the rise in teen suicides, Shannon pointed to the rise in cyberbullying and depression rates as negatively affecting youth.
Pyne, however, said more often than not, there are multiple causes.
“Oftentimes, people want to put one singular reason to it, but the reality is that it’s quite often a complex concern. It’s usually more than one thing,” Pyne said.
He added that today’s teens are the first generation to be completely raised on social media, which makes bullying — a contributing factor — easy because it’s done over a distance. But probably a more important factor than that, Pyne said, is personal resilience and an ability to handle stresses.
“You may have been bullied and ridiculed but you got through it. Maybe a friend of yours also got bullied, had other pressures maybe from family to achieve and they died by suicide,” Pyne said.
The number of Michigan teenagers dying varies from one county to another.
To tackle the growing problem, Shannon of Survivors of Loss to Suicide said there’s a need to raise awareness, and he said parents of teenagers need to pay close attention to their children’s internet activities.
“We have had four different parents in our group who lost a child because they were being bullied, and they didn’t know they were being bullied that bad. They weren’t aware because they were not on top of their texts and internet activities. That has a large part to do with it,” Shannon said.
Pyne said complex layering of issues and concerns in society contributes to suicides.
“It’s a sick society frankly,” Pyne said. “There’s a lot of name-calling, there’s a lot of bullying just in general with groups, there is a lot of in-fighting that is seen because of social media. I think this trickles down to young people in a way that is different from the older generation.”
Shannon said that for some parents, current affairs content on TV also fuels confusion and depression in young people. “Today’s journalists are very argumentative, especially conflict newscasters,” Shannon said. “They argue, they talk over each other on TV.”
Shootings, politics and leaders who Shannon said are acting like children all contribute to an overall feeling that the world is negative and hopeless.
“I think it’s difficult for young people to watch adults fighting,” Pyne said. “You think adults are going to be in control, control their temper, their words, they’re not going to be bullies. But the reality is, they are.”
“You also live in a country where you think we’re supposed to have an equal shot at achieving the American dream, and I think that is just simply not the case,” he said.
Shannon and his wife have been working to raise awareness of the issue, such as an interview with the Grand Haven High School student-run newspaper. “It was kind of refreshing to see the students taking care of themselves and report on these tough-to-talk-about issues,” Shannon said.
Pyne recommended raising awareness about the ripple effects that behaviors such as bullying, harassment and name-calling can have on people.
“If we start to work on those things that have impacted us as human beings in a negative way and recognize that once we identify those things, we can actually get well,” Pyne said.