Friday, October 9, 2009

Youths urge more discussion about suicide

By Martha Irvine • ASSOCIATED PRESS • October 9, 2009 CHICAGO — The topic of suicide makes many people squirm. It's something we've been told we're not supposed to talk about. If you speak it, someone might do it. But there's a growing conversation about suicide that's happening on college campuses, in high school auditoriums and online — even among youth some might think are too young to consider suicide. The hope is that a public discussion between young people and the teachers and counselors who work with them could inspire peers in distress to get help. "It's kind of like the sex talk with your children. I think that we should have that talk," says Brittany Langstaff, a 14-year-old ninth-grader in Georgetown, Ontario. She's on the girls editorial board of New Moon Girl Media, a magazine with an online site aimed at teen and "tween" girls that recently took on the topic of suicide. Nancy Gruver, New Moon's Minnesota-based founder and CEO, knew that addressing suicide with this age group might raise a few eyebrows. "This should not be taboo. It should be talked about because it is something that affects kids in this age range," Gruver says. In a Centers for Disease Control survey of high school students from 2007, the most recent federal data of its kind, researchers found that 16 percent had seriously considered suicide in the months preceding the survey. Similarly, a University of Minnesota study released this year found that nearly 15 percent of teens think they're going to die young, leading many to attempt suicide, use drugs and engage in other unsafe behaviors. Bryce Mackie, a 21-year-old student at Columbia College in Chicago, knows all about that. In high school, he made a film about his own experience with bipolar disorder and suicidal thoughts. He first showed the film to his parents and teachers and ended up getting help, and now speaks to other young people across the country about his experience. "I'll have seven or eight kids after a speech come up to me and, for most of them, this is the first time they've talked about it," says Mackie, whose film Eternal High has won awards for helping destigmatize mental illness. "They had no clue that anyone else felt that way," he adds. "And even if they did, their teachers weren't talking about it. Their friends weren't talking about it." Some in the mental health field credit Dr. David Satcher, a former U.S. surgeon general, for setting the stage for more openness in his 2001 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. Now some states, among them California, New Jersey and Tennessee, require a strategy for suicide prevention in schools.

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