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"Why do so many young Americans end their own lives?"
December 21, 2001 4:04 PM   Subscribe

"Why do so many young Americans end their own lives?" With so much attention focused on understanding why Islamic youths are so driven to suicide, this article I ran across about U.S teenagers really hit me hard: "The suicide rate for Americans aged between 15 and 24 tripled between 1950 and 1994.....but when it comes to working out why young people end their lives, much of the clarity of the research disappears."
posted by Voyageman (50 comments total)

 
I think there are social issues behind the increase of suicides. Young boys and girls are exposed to increasing amount of social pressure ( be good looking, be smart, be nice , be brilliant, be intelligent, buy all those things you don't really need) and many of them can't just stand this pressure, go into deep depression and decide to end their life.

It's not a new problem, social pressure was present in 1950 as well as today; maybe today media is more efficient when it comes to transmitting social values, if compared to 1950 relatively non existant media ?

So it's a values problem, imho : even if life is much easier today then in 1950, apparently some young people can't appreciate this difference, maybe because history is largely forgotten in schools , thanks to the innovative and completely wrong slogan that "past doesn't matter, only future matters" that isn't correctly understood as "past can't be changed, let's try to change our future".

It's much like the Columbine disaster: that guy was a psyco, don't you remember ? But at the end what it did was committing suicide in a Hollywood way..I don't think he hoped to leave the school alive ..but he needed to express himself the only way he knew, by using violence ; all "good" social values were forgotten, or probably never learned at all.
posted by elpapacito at 5:01 PM on December 21, 2001


I think part of it, especially with the Columbine yahoos is that kids are taught that the world owes them a living and they must get everything they want. When they realize that not everyone and thing kowtows to their whims like their parents do, they can't deal with it.
posted by owillis at 5:13 PM on December 21, 2001


i think many young people perceive the reality behind the bullshit - the american dream is a lie, the constitution is a lie, money talks and your rights walk, the greatest nation ever was built on the massacred bodies of the natives who were here first, no - you really CAN't grow up to be president, there is no free (as in liberty) speech, speech is very expensive (as in beer). it wouldn't be so bad if we just wouldn't lie about it.
posted by quonsar at 5:14 PM on December 21, 2001


I feel there's a danger in generalising about 'kids' and attributing motivations and values to them wholesale. Depression often stems from feelings of frustration and disempowerment. Attributing these feelings to some greater social malaise rather than addressing the issues directly affecting the youngster's life is dehumanising, and unhelpful. It's not much solace to tell a kid that it's society's fault he feels alienated and confused.
What is needed, perhaps, is more people who are prepared to listen, rather than pronounce judgement on the state of the nation's youth. It strikes me that no one ever thinks to ask the kids themselves what is getting them down.
posted by RokkitNite at 5:19 PM on December 21, 2001


Can I be the first to blame the suburbs? Ok, thanks. The urban landscape has changed dramatically over the past 50 years, and while that obviously can't be the only cause, it must be considered as a contributing factor. Cul-de-sacs and walled subdivisions do not a community make. Kids grow up not only isolated from the world at large, they grow up separated from the world directly around them. Not only that, they're made more reliant on their parents, who frequently have to drive them everywhere until they're 16. Feelings of isolation seem like an almost inevitable result.
posted by mrbula at 5:23 PM on December 21, 2001


"I have been in America now for seventeen years without having adopted anything of this country's mentality. One has to guard against becoming superficial in thought and feeling; it lies in the air here."

-- Albert Einstein
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 5:27 PM on December 21, 2001


Yes, let's blame everything except the direct members of the dynamic - the parent and child. Come on, are we going to start blaming suburban-based "suicide molecules" next?
posted by owillis at 5:46 PM on December 21, 2001


Frankly, I think that a lot of the suicides not committed by the mentally ill or addicted are of the classic "they'll all miss me when I'm gone variety" , as they're swallowing the pills they're secretly wondering what everyone will say at their funeral.
I blame at least some of this mindset on the "pornography of greif" phemomenon of the media of the last decade or so. After every atrocity of the past ten years-Oklahoma City, Columbine, 9/11- the news media responds with outpourings of greif and sympathy, gallons of op-ed ink and and solemn-faced investigations into the minute details of the lives of everyone involved. While a certain amount of this is understandable, even healthy, the lengths to which our media got to exploit these events has more to do with greed than any kind of sympathy.
On top of that the message many of the more muddle-headed young people out there get from all this is this-"just do something horrible to yourself or others and instead of being nobody you will become a hero, an anti-hero, a sympathetic victim or at any rate get a lot more attention than you do now."
Now obviously, I don't want to blame the whole phenomenon of teenage suicide on the media, but there is truth in what I just said and I believe it is a major factor.

owillis- while I agree with the sentiments you express, the Columbine kids were basically sociopaths, and inside their minds is not a place a sane person wants to go, it's a place well beyond any kind of politics or sociology.
posted by jonmc at 5:52 PM on December 21, 2001


Rokkitnite: you're right kids also need parents and relatives behind them , or at least somebody with more experience that is willing to honestly help them when they're confused or in trouble.

But is that happening ? I'm optimistic and I want to believe that only a fraction of parents aren't paying enough attention to their kids , but if that's true we should try to understand what's the factor that starts the suicide idea and wastes any parent effort.

Honestly, I think parents are spending less time with their kids then in 1950 ; more work troubles, more stress, rapidly changing life-goals and common life failures are perhaps happening in a way that we don't understand completely and so more time must be invested, if we really want to contain the suicide problem (and we surely want).

Perhaps parents can't compete with 24h, hypercompetitive, highly disorganized society that's always evolving. Let's compare Happy Days to Beverly Hills 90210 ..both are TV series, more or less aired at the same time. I spent some time watching both and the differences are noticeable ; both are somehow nevrotic, happy days is mildly pedagogic but 90210 is extremely depressing and hyper-realistic. I wonder if which one has a better, long term effect on kids.

And by the time you've learned about the 90210 thing a new series have replaced them, which is probably different because you know, people like new shows much more then reruns and investors want new shows.

It seems to me that being good parents today is more chaotic then 50 years ago, when the world was less "evolved".
posted by elpapacito at 6:02 PM on December 21, 2001


A lot of behaviour in youth, suicide included, is of the attention-seeking variety, and I agree to some extent that this can be attributed to western social models and the pervasive influence of the mass media.
But, in my experience at least, people don't get depressed about abstract concepts or social phenomena; these are peripheral factors. Take the suicide rate amongst young men and women in Japan, for example. Scores of them commit suicide upon failing exams or after serious business blunders, because of the pressures of the work ethic and the high expectations of others. Although the dynamic is different, the causes are just the same - feelings of inadequacy, of social alienation.
posted by RokkitNite at 6:07 PM on December 21, 2001


90210 is extremely depressing and hyper-realistic....

ummm, in which hyperreality do you live, elpapacito, the glamour, wealth and indulgence of that show have absolutely zero to do with what my adolescence (or that of anyone I know) was like.
posted by jonmc at 6:07 PM on December 21, 2001


if you're feeling suicidal you might try the purple pill, nexium! it's like gleemonex, "makes it feel like it's seventy-two degrees in your head, all the time!"

aren't suicides epidemic? like in somoa or somewhere noone ever committed suicide and then it happened once and then everyone was doing it. sort of the same deal with school shootings i guess.

the article points out some correlations with press coverage and guns, but i think the cause is the same as it's always been: nothing left to live for. sometimes once you get an idea in your head it's hard to get it out.
posted by kliuless at 6:15 PM on December 21, 2001


American youth kills themsevles because of suburbs. Islamic youth, for the cause. Both go the Paradise. And then they fight each other there.
posted by Postroad at 6:26 PM on December 21, 2001


Funny, just like mathowie’s link to HyperX I was going to post something on this a couple weeks ago.

Anyway, yeah, why are kids/young adults killing themselves in large numbers? Is something happening to them that’s unique from other age groups?

“... more than one-quarter of Americans said they were lonely. Since 1972 the porportion of Americans who describe themselves as very happy has fallen by five percent, even though the average American family earned 16 percent more in 1999 than it did in 1970...

“A 1999 study in [JAMA] concluded that the higher the degree of economic development, the higher the rates of depression. ... The political scientist Charles Lane quotes a study showing that the number of friends a person has is a better predictor of his or her state of well-being than any other resource... And yet increasingly we find ourselves struggling to maintain friendships, buffeted from all sides by a sense that we must operate in fricition-free environments if we are to succeed... A nine-nation study found that people born after 1945 were ten times more likely to have experienced depression in their lives than those born before WWII.”
— “The Diamonds of Neptune” The American Scholar, Autumn 2001 (Buy it today!)

There is something going on here larger than the suburbs, than sheltered children, than post-modern parent-child relationships.
posted by raaka at 6:29 PM on December 21, 2001


There's a book by Mark Etkind called "...Or Not To Be: A Collection of Suicide Notes" that makes very interesting, albeit harrowing, reading. I think one of the things that studying the various notes (I think there are about three hundred) shows is that there is no single reason for suicide. It is an intensely personal thing.
I don't think one should be too hasty to draw a correlation between suicide rates and the happiness of a country's citizens. Suicide is just one way of responding to trauma or depression. It relates to how people view their own mortality and the value they place upon it. If you genuinely believe in blissful afterlife then the dreadful morbid odium we tend to place upon suicide disappears.
posted by RokkitNite at 6:35 PM on December 21, 2001


Perhaps one the biggest changes from the 50's, and a potential causal factor, is the unintended consequence of the vast exposure to information from all sources- radio, magazines, web, film, TV - allowing children to be influenced by many more "role models" than their parents, teacher and "pastor " (a certainly overly simplistic image of the 50's). No doubt many parents, teachers, and "pastors" today haven't learned to cope any better than the teens they are supposed to nurture, and no doubt much of the information exposure is positive, but it must be tough for a child who is already "fragile" to be bombarded with depressing CNN coverage of Columbine, 9-11, Islamic suicides, Afghani misery, so easy for him or her to explore first hand web sites on how to die.
posted by Voyageman at 6:36 PM on December 21, 2001


Kids, if you're going to kill yourselves, at least have the decency to help bring about the Glorious New Regime. Remember, the only death worth having is the one that helps oppress those left behind!
posted by aramaic at 6:51 PM on December 21, 2001


Re: a country's economic development being related to the rates of depression - surely this is because people are more at leisure to examine their own lives. Sacrifices and hardship are expected if everyone around you is struggling to find clean water sources and food, but free market economics and capitalism emphasise an ideology where happiness is related to material wealth and, since material wealth can always be added to, one can never be satisfied.
People will blame a whole raft of sociological factors on suicide; the growing religious/moral vacuum, television/the media, drugs/alcohol, poverty, abuse, etc. The truth tends to be rather more prosaic; someone got dumped by his girlfriend, someone failed an important test, someone lost their job. These are, obviously, less palatable reasons. Spurned lovers have been offing themselves since the year dot. Show me the societal model that prevents people from rejecting another's amorous advances!
posted by RokkitNite at 6:54 PM on December 21, 2001


My best friend killed himself in the 9th grade. I don't have a clue as to why. One afternoon we were walking home from school happy as clams, the next morning he was dead, having blown the top of his head out with his father's .357 Magnum.

If you come up with the answer, let me know. I've been wondering for twenty years now.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:09 PM on December 21, 2001


kliuless: I saw the story you're citing in The Tipping Point (highly recommended), nobody comitted suicide for the longest time on some island, then one kid did it - became a legend of sorts and then kids kept doing it to be "cool".

Now, according to these stats, suicide rates for blacks and nonwhites are half that of white males/females. Might that have something to do with the relative permissive nature of parenting and differences in family structure? My forte is not statistics, so feel free to point me in the correct direction on this.
posted by owillis at 7:13 PM on December 21, 2001


I think people got depressed back in the 1950's, and were expected to hide it....also back in those days i would hazard to think that most people believed that suicide was a one-way ticket to hades.(Frankly I have no answer to that one )

Please don't blast me on this one as I have a personal connection with the topic.
posted by bunnyfire at 7:35 PM on December 21, 2001


Show me the societal model that prevents people from rejecting another's amorous advances!
The one in which Glorious Lord aramaic controls all human thought and feeling? O happy future day!

But seriously. Blaming capitalism (or the sheer existence of America) is a cop-out, and it's ridiculous to assume that all societal ills can be pinned on one single root cause. I don't buy the idea that capitalism forces you to be unhappy unless you're Bill Gates; most people are just not that greedy, although I can see how someone who has trained themselves to think of people as mindless resource-consumption machines could believe that.
It's not impossible for healthy social frameworks to exist under capitalism; conversely there's no evidence I'm aware of that communist China or the Soviet Union were particularly happy states. Still, playing the economic card makes for great rhetoric.

There are a million causes of depression. Exactly what they are isn't important, because as RokkitNite says, at least some will always be with us. What's important is teaching people how to cope with their problems. Instead, modern psychiatry has become a chemical affair--trying to find the balance of brain chemistry which will withstand any shock, horror, or trauma. It's not going to happen, and on the whole, it hurts a whole lot more than it helps. (A friend of mine has been severely depressed for about two years now--even after attempting suicide several times, he spends at most one or two days in hospital having his medication retuned. Is the system failing him? You make the call.)

So what's to do? We need to learn how to deal with pain. That's all suicide is, after all; taking the quickest route to ending your pain. We need to learn how to endure and beat pain, instead of taking the cop-out route. (Gom jabbar for every child!)

If you want to call it 'lazy, stupid Americans', go ahead and do so. Personally, I think it means that we have learning left to do. For 90% of human history, we've been living in small, closely-knit groups, and our psychology reflects this. This isn't feasible anymore, and I doubt the evolution of civilization would have continued to allow it in any case, even if the mean bad West hadn't interfered. Maybe we need to grow up, as a species, and learn to rely on ourselves.
posted by darukaru at 7:48 PM on December 21, 2001


Maybe teens are committing suicide for the same reason that they are drinking themselves into near comas on the weekends and doing any drug that they can find.
"He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man".
I think that these same factors drive people to do drugs and drink and eventually commit suicide. Why is there so much pain involved in being a man (or woman)?
I know this didn't add very much to the discussion, but its just my 2 cents.
posted by bytecode at 8:04 PM on December 21, 2001


So long and thanks for all the fish
posted by stbalbach at 8:11 PM on December 21, 2001


A lot of people seem to be verging on making the assumption that suicide is a white middle-class thing. It's not.

Like the article says, in the US, 'the highest rate of all is among young Native American males: more than 40 per 100,000'. Likewise, in Australia, suicide is more common in aborigines than those of white descent, and is also more common among those who live in rural areas (21.6 per 100,000 deaths of 15-24 year olds, as opposed to 15.2 per 100,000).

(It's also interesting to note that in Australia in 1998, the age group with the highest levels of suicde was the 25-44 year-old group. Which doesn't mean that youth suicide is not a problem.)
posted by eoz at 9:36 PM on December 21, 2001


Call me shallow, but i blame Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" video for the spike. Absolute artisic irresponsibility. Fire.
posted by nagchampa at 9:39 PM on December 21, 2001


Like the article says, in the US, 'the highest rate of all is among young Native American males

Couldn't that probably be attributed to the higher levels of alcoholism among Native Americans? That would certainly lead to depression.

Personally, I think the high rate of suicide is directly attributable to the permissive parental theory of the '60s generation in which there is no judgement made, the world owes you a living - even though you have not yet contributed to the world, "if it feels good - do it", and parents try to be best friends versus a figure of any authority with their kids.

In a lot of kids, they're able to realign their thought when they go out into the world beyond their parents. But for some it seems they react violently, either to others or themselves in some selfish manner.
posted by owillis at 9:59 PM on December 21, 2001


I attempted suicide several years ago. During the weeks it took me to recover I thought nearly continuously about why I did it. I can't say why anyone else would want to end their life, but here was my reason: I looked back on the past and believed that, given the opportunity, I wouldn't have the strength to life my life over again. Looking forward to the future, I believed that my struggle would never be any easier. To me, there was no point in living.

The years since I attempted haven't been any easier than the years before. Not in my wildest dream did I ever imagine that I would bury two daughters before I turned 25. But all the same, I've come to understand that I'm more than the sum of the molecules that make my body, and that the life I live has a higher meaning than the stuff around me. I still couldn't bear to do it all over again, but that's no reason to deny myself tomorrow. It could be that a lot of the people who kill themselves are like I was, and they never comprehend before it's too late that life is worth living for its own sake.
posted by CalvinTheBold at 10:27 PM on December 21, 2001


So much web-spinning, for an N of 1!

It's the suburbs. It's the superficial US culture. It's TV. It's information overload. It's capitalism. The kids were just psychos. The American Dream is a lie.

Let's get some more N's. The US suicide rate among young people is in the middle of the pack, compared to other developed nations. Among most age groupings of young people, suicide has actually gone down since 1980. (Table 138)

If it's the American Dream, do twice as many young Austrians kill themselves because the Austrian Dream is a lie? Are Swiss suburbs three times more dehumanizing than Israeli suburbs? If capitalism is to blame, is Sweden more capitalistic than the US? If it's TV, is Irish TV five times more life-affirming than Danish TV?

I don't know what the cause of suicide is, but I doubt simple explanations. Given such marked differences between nations, and even marked differences within the US among different states (Table 130), I suspect it may be somehow related to micro-culture, local pockets of cultural norms and expectations. And obviously there's a link to depression.

What is encouraging in the the Economist article is that it seems that it's possible to identify kids at risk and intervene: Florida and New Jersey seem to have reduced teen suicide rates by half with such programs. That's great, and it's something I didn't know before.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 10:29 PM on December 21, 2001


Couldn't that probably be attributed to the higher levels of alcoholism among Native Americans? That would certainly lead to depression.

Probably, and similar reasons (petrol/glue-sniffing) would apply in many Indigenous Australian cases. Substance abuse is a serious problem among all young people, and reducing it could well reduce suicide rates.

But in Australia, at any rate, it seems that those who are already at a disadvantage (eg: indigenous youth, those in rural areas) are also more likely to commit suicide. These people are not brought up into a situation where their every wish is their parent's command, quite the opposite.

Then again, in the suburbs, owillis' arguments may apply. If only the ABS reported the reasons given by those who comitted suicide for their actions.
posted by eoz at 10:58 PM on December 21, 2001


"I have been in America now for seventeen years without having adopted anything of this country's mentality. One has to guard against becoming superficial in thought and feeling; it lies in the air here."

-- Albert Einstein


Great quote, but you have to realize Einstein didn't move to America until he was 54. Doesn't relate to this post.

Couldn't that probably be attributed to the higher levels of alcoholism among Native Americans? That would certainly lead to depression

Probably, but the underlying point is that the reason for more Native American/Indigenous alcholism most likely falls under the lack of quality education and job opportunity. I live in Oklahoma and the Native Americans steroetypically live lives of running bingo parlors and smoke shops. Not real life-affirming postions, but that's what the state gives them to live on. Lots of issue lie under this.

I'm also sad to see many of the joke posts on this very serious topic...i.e. Kids, if you're going to kill yourselves, at least have the decency to help bring about the Glorious New Regime. Remember, the only death worth having is the one that helps oppress those left behind!
The entire time I was in high school (a school of about 2000 kids) not a single student commited suicide. The following year, my frosh year in college, there were 7 suicides from my school. Whether it was the cool thing to do, or shit just snapped, I don't know. It just really put it all in perspective. Yeah, a lot of it is just "I want attention", but a lot of it is just self doubt and denial and a lack of self worth, something i've dealt with, but not on that level.
posted by Ufez Jones at 12:03 AM on December 22, 2001


"I have been in America now for seventeen years without having adopted anything of this country's mentality. One has to guard against becoming superficial in thought and feeling; it lies in the air here."

-- Albert Einstein

Great quote, but you have to realize Einstein didn't move to America until he was 54. Doesn't relate to this post.


I don't think you're getting Einsteins quote, or the reason fold_and_mutilate posted it.
posted by Doug at 12:24 AM on December 22, 2001


I don't think you're getting Einsteins quote, or the reason fold_and_mutilate posted it.

I understand it, sympathize with it, and dig it completely. But a 54 year old German coming to America has a very different mindset from a 15 year old suburban kid. I feel, as much as I can, very much the same as Einstein presents, yet I've lived in America for 22 years, with exceptions of travelling to 6 other countries. It's just not the same, and I don't see it as being relevant.
posted by Ufez Jones at 12:28 AM on December 22, 2001


I don't think anyone can point at any one factor and see that as the cause or cure. I read the responses in here and am a bit stymied: to compare the rough existence of young people in third world countries to the comparatively luxurious yet often hollow existence of some American suburbs and try to find a correlation or comparison or contrast that actually matters? There is none. And in saying that, I do speak from some experience.

The causes of suicide, if mapped out, would make theoretical quantum temporal physics look like a stick figure. If the first dimension is a line, the second dimension is a square, and the third dimension is a box - what would the fourth dimension look like? Then multiply that by about a thousand. Maybe you'd be close.

Suicide is the end result of a dramatic complexity of problems, issues, events, and seemingly unrelated but important just the same.. things which can't be easily classified. Ultimately all of these things, separately, are temporary, but the sheer cumulative pressure of them cause many to buckle under the stress. Instead of a bunch of little things, to someone contemplating suicide it looks like one big thing.

Sometimes all a person battling with thoughts of suicide needs is a shoulder to cry on, or a voice on the phone, or just someone there who doesn't lie to them telling them everything's alright, but that they're not alone.

And yeah, sometimes even that's not enough. Sometimes there's simply no other answer for that one person.

Many of the cumulative factors would have a cross-relation to other choices people make. Why do so many young people run away from home? Why do so many turn to drugs? Why do so many turn to cults? From catholicism to standing on a street corner giving away flowers. Why do some people become schizophrenic, or obsessive compulsive, or bulemic? Any number of things. They're all choices. Suicide is just the one choice that is so intrinsically final: it's like the black hole of a life. It's like a star burning out before its time.

Each individual on this planet has the choice, every minute of every day, to continue to live, and simultaneously each one is striving to find a concrete purpose for living. Family. Friends. Politics. Religion. Improving oneself in some way. Improving one's society so it's a more comfortable place to live in. Wanting to make a difference. Wanting to make one's mark on the world so they're remembered when they do die of (hopefully) natural causes. Wanting to be remembered in some way. Wanting to stand for something greater than themselves.

Wanting to find out what happens to Luke and Laura on General Hospital. Whatever. Each individual faces the choice and finds an answer. The question, and the answer, differ for each of us. Sometimes that answer is to live. Sometimes that answer is to give up.

One silly saying that's gotten me through many days in the past is this: Suicide is always a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Probably rather stupid from your perspective, but it's something that's kept me going. I'm sure most people have a silly phrase like this. Many simply have a feeling. Something they can't express with words, but it's what keeps them going. Some simply look at the futility of attempting to solve whatever problems that come up knowing there's just gonna be more further down the line and they incorrectly conclude that it's worthless. They give up. They give in. They cop out. Foolish bastards. Someone very wise once said: "It's not the destination. It's the journey." That's a phrase that's gotten me through a lot of days too, come to think of it. Again, perhaps stupid from your vantage point, but our brains are wired differently as individuals so what works for me won't work for you. Nor should it.

My point is, the answer's different for each of us. What works for one won't work for another. Those who commit suicide simply don't find that answer for themselves before they decided to throw in the towel. They think they do themselves and those they love a service by copping out, but they don't. They're the losers in life's game.

I survived. I survive. There've been many days since my first bout with suicide over fifteen years ago, where I've had to face that demon again. I'm a survivor. All I have in my heart for the others who fight that good fight as I have, is hope. I have no pity for the ones who give up. I am still haunted. And if I have anything in my heart for those who don't find that reason to live for themselves, it's contempt.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:19 AM on December 22, 2001


The causes of suicide, if mapped out, would make theoretical quantum temporal physics look like a stick figure.

This is the main reason I wanted to stay away from this thread. The discussion here isn't much more than picking one's pet peeve about kids or society and making a stink about it. owillis's comment is a great example of this. Those darn whippersnappers!

I also don't buy the assumption that a rise in suicide rates is a bad thing. Who's to say what the acceptable level is going to be? Obviously, the US in the 1950's is just as incomprehensible regarding suicide as it is today. All you can really say is there's a trend here and then get into a lot different theories as to why and treatment. You can't make arbitrary distinctions about rates like 1.3% is the sign of a healthy society while 3% means everything is about to fall apart or even that a massive change in suicide rates is a meaningful datum in itself let alone what it means when applied to suicide bombers.
posted by skallas at 4:02 AM on December 22, 2001


I also don't buy the assumption that a rise in suicide rates is a bad thing.
Maybe not in terms of dry social demographics, but in terms of the human cost? If people feel so dejected that they are prepared to take their own lives, is that not a bad thing? I get an odd feeling I'm not being terribly contraversial here.
posted by RokkitNite at 5:45 AM on December 22, 2001


School, in its own ways, is a difficult thing. Many teenagers (at least my friend and acquaintences) find a great deal of difficulty with schoolwork and handling the teachers and their old-school ways of teaching. And since difficulties such as ADD and ADHD have arose to new heights recently, some may feel that they are incompetant for school, and realize that they may later be incompetant for the "real world".
posted by GirlFriday at 6:01 AM on December 22, 2001


Darukaru, "modern psychiatry" keeps a lot of people alive, and enables them to be productive citizens instead of rot in the back of an asylum somewhere.
posted by bunnyfire at 6:07 AM on December 22, 2001


This is true. I'd just like to see it stop being so drug-centric.
posted by darukaru at 6:14 AM on December 22, 2001


The problem with demanding that psychiatry cure all ills is that people are self-determining, free-willed entities and if they cannot be forced to 'get better'.
Certain mood-stabilising drugs can give psychiatrists a chance to bring their patients to a state where they are at least capable of cogent, rational thought. Depression stains a person's entire world. It is no good telling a suicidal person that 'things aren't so bad' because, in terms of their psychological reality things patently are. I agree, though, that suicide is just one of a number of possible responses to severe depression, and that the prevailing ideologies surrounding death in a society will influence how many people see it as an option. This accounts, in part, for the 'copycat' phenomenon. When people see another has chosen this path, it - morbid as this may seem - legitimises it as a means of ending the pain.
I guess, in your youth, you don't have the life experience to realise that, given time, things do fade in importance.
posted by RokkitNite at 6:46 AM on December 22, 2001


Re drug centricness- I sometimes wonder if this type of clinical drug promotion - "WebMD One Month Free Prozac Trial Offer!" - makes matters worse by making the drug solution so widely disseminated and easily accesible, that the harder, more complex, perhaps more critical human interaction solution is somehow avoided.
posted by Voyageman at 7:15 AM on December 22, 2001


"This is true. I'd just like to see it stop being so drug-centric."

Why? Don't you know that in many cases depression is caused by a physical disorder of the brain?

I know this from personal experience. I am a diagnosed bipolar type II. I spend a lot of money even with insurance in order to stay healthy. People in my shoes who go off their meds either wind up making total asses of themselves, wishing they were dead, or actually -eventually-dead.

Thank God for modern medicine. In the case of me and my fellow travellers it has saved a lot of lives.

unfortunately clinical depression and the various manifestations of bipolar disorder(there is more than one type)go undiagnosed a heartbreaking amount of the time......there are a lot of people who died by their own hand this year who if they had been diagnosed and treated for their brain disorder would be alive to be celebrating the holidays and a happy new year with the rest of us......
posted by bunnyfire at 8:30 AM on December 22, 2001


I'm with bunnyfire on this last point. Many severely depressed people simply have a chemical imbalance, usually seratonin, that simply will not allow them to feel good most of the time.

Also, this talk about substance abuse causing suicide is nonsense. Lack of satisfaction with life can cause either, or both. But one does not cause the other. This is something I know from personal experience. When I was growing up, I thought about killing myself all the time. The solace I found in alchohol and marijuana saved me from more drastic action on many occasions.

This idea of suicide being caused by suburban angsts, or improper parenting, is nonsense too. I grew up in a wealthy suburb in the 80s. And I can tell you, the whole point of being a teenager in that situation, especially for intelligent kids who were suffering angst about life and so on...the whole point was to not be superficial! That's how suburban kids "rebel"...just like anywhere else, you question the values around you. In fact, I'd say that the most emotionally stable kids I knew, the ones least likely to commit suicide, were the most superficial, non-critical thinkers, who did indeed absorb the values of their parents and their surroundings without a second thought.

And this crap about bad parenting...my parents, while not perfect, were loving and supportive. They provided but they tried not to spoil. And they certainly did NOT allow me to lead some kind of reckless, hedonistic existence. Yet, I often hated life, and I often thought about ending mine. I'm not saying I know why, exactly, but it wasn't because of the breakdown of the American dream. I think it's a common fantasy of American working-class people that growing up in the suburbs means growing up superficial and stupid. But just like everywhere else, there are different kinds of kids, and different kinds of parents, and the problems of one kid are not the problems of the kid next door.
posted by bingo at 9:31 AM on December 22, 2001


At least hysterical parents aren't blaming it all on Dungeons & Dragons any more, thank goodness. Or Satanic cults. That stopped about the time insurance companies stopped paying out for "ritual Satanic abuse," in the mid- to late 1980s. A remarkable coincidence.
posted by Allen Varney at 2:07 PM on December 22, 2001


"To be, or not to be, --that is the question..."
Hamlet, III.i
posted by johnnyace at 5:29 AM on December 23, 2001


"Depression stains a person's entire world. It is no good telling a suicidal person that 'things aren't so bad' because, in terms of their psychological reality things patently are."

Actually there is really no 'perfect thing' to say to a suicidal. Anything you say, the depressed person will twist around to suit their negative argument. You can take the gun or the hypo from their hand, or drag their ass out from the window. If they mean to do it they'll just find another way, or wait until you're not around. Listening to a suicidal helps more than saying 'things aren't so bad.' Let them feel the pulse of another human being. Remind them that they are worth listening to. Actual social interaction is an important part of a suicidal's recovery - it could never be emphasized enough. And I don't mean just superficial surface social interaction but deep significant communication. Those who choose to live, should be encouraged and reinforced positively. Those who choose to die shouldn't get a second thought. I wish a scientist would do some kind of series of experiments to see if increased social interaction and positive reinforcement over a long period of time somehow causes the body to increase its own seratonin levels.

"I think it's a common fantasy of American working-class people that growing up in the suburbs means growing up superficial and stupid."

Perhaps, but it's based on fact. Growing up in the burbs causes one to be closed off to the outside world and sheltered. This leads one to a self-centered state of arrogance that can only be seen from the outside It's a gradual thing. "Things like Columbine or Oklahoma City never happen in my town" wherever that is. The fact that in recent years such things have begun occurring is a symptom that this illusion of security in gated communities is beginning to unravel. And there are young people who rebel from the superficial, but what they rebel to often becomes superficial. I cite the hippy movement. When it was in Haight Ashbury it had purpose. By the time the beads and tye-dyed shirts made their way to Anytown USA, it became superficial and lost its meaning. This happens all the time.

Even if a cow eats from the goat's grass, it ain't gonna be goat shit that comes out. It'll still be cow shit. By design, punk music was supposed to rebell against superficial mainstream BS, but suburbania just turned it mainstream. It became cool to wear black. So the goths were outed by their own short-lived popularity. See what I mean?

When everyone's being different the same way, it's not being different. And being different for different's sake is also superficial. But everybody's searching for something. They're trying to find the answer that works for them. They see someone else find their answer. They try that guy's answer for awhile, forgetting they have to look within. It's easier to be different the same way. Less people bitch at you. Improving the self becomes a choice and a hobby in suburbs, not a requirement for survival like in other parts of the world. One has to actively seek out the outside world when inside a gated community, because suburbs are uniquely designed to wall the outside world out. Or filter it so nothing dangerous comes in.

Why'd John Walker leave suburban America? He was looking for the answers to his own life. Unfortunately he thought he found it by listening to other people's wrong answers.

No smut on sale at the corner convenience store. No naughty cable channels cuz the kids might see. No prostitution or adult book stores within a twenty square radius of the schools. Prohibit all drug use and ignore the times when marijuana actually helps somebody. All that stuff is not allowed in the residential zone. Keep Out Of Reach Of Children. When we put locks on our doors and bars on our windows, are we keeping the convicts out or imprisoning ourselves?

What we Americans call civilized society is a gilded cage, intended to protect ourselves from the harms and dangers we as a society put before ourselves, but we end up boxing ourselves in. Maya Angelou once explained she knows why the caged bird sings. If a suburbanite thought about it long enough, they'd know why too. They built their own cage and locked themselves in, and they hold the key close to their hearts which is always the last place they look.

Some people can't handle the load of such a thought process, so they drown it out with the latest Britney Spears CD. And yes, this is the landscape backdrop upon which all those other "causes" for suicide exist. They're just more symptoms. The bottle or the big leap. It's all a matter of choice. Cigarettes or prozac. We each choose our own poison. I am disturbed by the tendency to medicate "brain disorders" with everything from prozac to alcohol, but there's times when it comes down to choosing slow gin or a revolver. It all comes down to individual choice. "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than have to have a frontal lobotomy." Well if black russians and frozen margaritas keep you from blowing your brains out, keep 'em comin'. Have a double. Buy the bar.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:08 AM on December 23, 2001


bunnyfire, bingo: I *was* clinically depressed. Now I'm not. I lead a happy, normal life. Did my brain disorder magically sort itself out? (I currently take no psychoactive drugs.)
Or, as I believe, did my life situation, and therefore my outlook on it, change? (found love, found things I enjoy doing)
Don't lecture me about 'seratonin' (sic). I've been there.
posted by darukaru at 8:52 AM on December 23, 2001


Well, darukaru, I am sincerely happy for you. If I do the same as you I will be fine ....for awhile....have you ever heard of kindling? that is what happens to untreated bipolars-it means we get worse and worse-and not just depression-it affects all our thought processes-in my case extreme anger and irritation(not all mania is happy)....also impulsivity-let us say I feel suicidal for five minutes-just long enough to swallow the pills or leap off the bridge or blow my brains out.....it won't matter then if ten minutes later i calm down a little.....

Last time I was at the doctor's office, I was treated to the sight of a ten year old girl in full manic episode-they had to call the police to take her to the emergency room, that is how wacked out she was......I have no desire to get in that kind of shape, and I have no desire to get so depressed that I can't work, wind up losing my medical insurance(that both I and my husband depend on)and then truly wind up on Crap Creek with no paddle.

So if I were you I would be careful about telling people they are weak if they seek medical help for depression. I used to think that, and I lost a lot of years that I can never ever get back.
posted by bunnyfire at 11:15 AM on December 23, 2001


ZachsMind: Well, not surprisingly, I think almost everything you said there is flat wrong and in a way rather naive. Looking at some of the highlights:

Growing up in the burbs causes one to be closed off to the outside world and sheltered. This leads one to a self-centered state of arrogance that can only be seen from the outside It's a gradual thing. "Things like Columbine or Oklahoma City never happen in my town" wherever that is.

Absolute nonsense. Suburbs are not walled cities that the people inside are not allowed to leave. By definition, they have cities nearby. Teenagers leave. Your argument would make more sense applied to small farming communities in the middle of nowhere...those people are truly insulated. And, being from a suburb in the midwest very similar to the Columbine area, and not so far from Oklahoma City, I can tell you that yes, of course we were aware that such things could happen. After all, not only did we have good schools to teach us about the big bad world outside, but it was only half an hour away.

Maya Angelou once explained she knows why the caged bird sings. If a suburbanite thought about it long enough, they'd know why too. They built their own cage and locked themselves in, and they hold the key close to their hearts which is always the last place they look.

Dude. Along with Frampton Comes Alive, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is practically required consumption in the suburbs. And your use of "they" suggests again that you really don't know what you're talking about. Who is "they"? I grew up in the suburbs. I didn't build any cage, I didn't lock myself in. There was no cage. There was a nest, in which I was provided for until I took wing, and I left. And my father, who grew up in a working-class community in the city...he didn't lock himself in any cage either. He worked very hard so that he could have a career that paid enough so that he could spend his evenings and weekends in comfort and safety, have the kind of house he always wanted, and provide things for his kids he never had. And his job still took him back to a hospital in the inner city on a daily basis. Of course, he's just one example, but not really atypical. My point is that suburbs are part of the social ecosystem, if you will. They are not cages and they are not fishbowls either.

No smut on sale at the corner convenience store. No naughty cable channels cuz the kids might see. No prostitution or adult book stores within a twenty square radius of the schools. Prohibit all drug use and ignore the times when marijuana actually helps somebody. All that stuff is not allowed in the residential zone.

Magazine smut, of which I saw plenty in my little gilded cage, was a hot commodity that, like alcohol, you got from peers with older siblings. And I've never heard of a place where the legality of medicinal marijuana varied between the suburb and inner city. Doesn't that go according to state? Anyway, there are plenty of drugs in the suburbs, and not just marijuana. Of course. Suburban kids can afford drugs. They have the privacy to use them. They have the transportation to (gasp) leave the suburbs and buy them from the spooky non-suburban drug dealer (shudder). And believe me, we suburban kids spent plenty of time with naughty cable channels. I mean, we were so repressed from not having an adult bookstore near our schools that we had to do something, right?

When we put locks on our doors and bars on our windows, are we keeping the convicts out or imprisoning ourselves?

Actually, my friend, the houses with the locked doors and barred windows are in the cities, not the suburbs. Make sure you remember where you set the key down on the way in.

Cigarettes or prozac. We each choose our own poison.

One of those poisons ironically saved my life. Hint: It's the one that doesn't cause cancer.
posted by bingo at 11:30 AM on December 23, 2001


darukaru: I *was* clinically depressed. Now I'm not. I lead a happy, normal life. Did my brain disorder magically sort itself out? (I currently take no psychoactive drugs.)

I think you should consider that there are other possibilities between magic and restoring a chemical imbalance. People get depressed for different reasons. In your case, maybe you just needed better friends, or more fresh air, or exercise. Some people are like that. Others are not. I have a mental condition that makes life difficult for me, and it persists regardless of what environment I'm in or what I'm doing. It made school and work unnecessarily difficult, it impaired my social skills, and I certainly would have killed myself a long time ago if it weren't for psychoactive drugs. They may be overprescribed, but so are antibiotics. That doesn't mean a lot of people shouldn't still take them.
posted by bingo at 11:50 AM on December 23, 2001


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