I just found out one of my niece’s friends committed suicide.
It’s the second friend she’s lost to suicide in about a year. My niece is only 23 years old. Why, at a time when young people should be excited about their future, are they choosing to leave this world instead?
I don’t know what happened in this particular case.
What I do know is it’s far too common an occurrence.
I can’t help but wonder if all the pressure we’re putting on young people to conform and succeed has something to do with it.
Five years ago when I wrote Breaking The Spell, I did some research on this topic. I was saddened to learn the statistics on teen suicide. Below is an excerpt from my book.
Is the Pressure to Succeed Killing Our Teenagers?
“Forty-four percent of teens feel strong pressure to succeed in school, no matter the cost.”
~2006 Junior Achievement Teen Ethics Poll
According to the fourth annual Teen Ethics Poll released by Junior Achievement, 44 percent of teens say they feel either a lot of pressure or overwhelming pressure to succeed in school, no matter the cost. Also, more girls than boys feel this burden. The vast majority (81 percent) of those who feel this pressure to succeed don’t expect it to go away; they believe it will remain the same or get worse when they enter the workforce. Sadly, more than one in ten students also think they must cheat to be successful.
But if you’re concerned that cheating is the most unfortunate downside of all this pressure, consider this: according to the Centers For Disease Control, suicide is the third leading cause of death among fifteen- to twenty-four-year-olds, accounting for 12 percent of all deaths annually. In 2007, 14.5 percent of US high school students reported they had seriously considered attempting suicide, while 6.9 percent reported they had actually attempted it one or more times.
I regularly do pet therapy visits on high school and college campuses.
The students are extremely grateful to be able to take a break from their lives and just sit with the dogs. We enjoy the visits and are happy to be of service, but at the same time, the fact that we’re needed says a lot. And, while we used to only visit during finals, we are getting more and more requests to visit more often.
High schools and colleges are well aware of the ongoing stress on their students. In fact, I read last year that college counselors now deal more with depression and other mental health issues than they do with academic issues.
I wonder when we’re going to realize all the pressure we’re putting on kids is backfiring.
I wonder when we’ll figure out everyone might be better off if instead of all the focus on getting into a good college (which often starts before kids even enter high school), we focus on teaching kids how to make the most of the moment, and grow up to be happy and responsible adults. Whether they go to college or choose another path, the goal ought to be finding a way to contribute to society and live a fulfilling life, whatever that looks like for them. The predetermined path so many young people are on today, is not necessarily serving them all well.
Breaking The Mold.
Some of the most well-adjusted, “successful” (and I use that term cautiously), young people I know are totally rewriting the rules on career and life. Choosing to cobble together several careers or jobs based on what they enjoy doing. Spending their money on travel and adventures instead of keeping up with the Joneses. These young people get it, and are perhaps wise beyond their young years. Yet they’re often seen as rebels because they’re bucking the traditional system. But it’s a system that’s broken, sadly, like much of our world these days.
My kids are 24 and 27 years old.
They both went through some pretty rough patches in high school and college. Depression, anxiety, self doubt, and yes, even suicidal ideations. Thankfully, they both weathered their respective storms and seem to have found their groove. I thank God every day they found their way through the darkness.
The question remains, Why are so many young people lost in this darkness?
I think we all have to consider this question long and hard, and ponder what contribution we may be making to this situation. Ask ourselves what needs to change, and how we can help instigate that change.
Young people are the future of our world.
They have the power to change our world (and it could certainly use some change and fresh thinking!) with their independent thinking and creativity. But creativity is stifled when you try to put it into a box and say it has to look a certain way. It only blossoms when given the space and freedom to find itself. And that is exactly what we need to allow today’s youth to do.
We need to nurture them and support them in finding their way. It’s not about protecting them, or helicopter parenting, or even getting them into the best schools. It’s about being there for them. Giving them the space to explore, fall down, make mistakes, not feel the need to be perfect, or even fit in. Forget the predetermined path. Throw out the mold of what success is supposed to look like. Let them find their own way. Let them find themselves. Let them be themselves. And simply love them through it all.
My heart goes out to my niece.
I never lost a friend at such a young age, and, I can’t even imagine losing two, at their own hands much less. It breaks my heart to imagine how a young person in the prime of life could feel so lost that suicide seems the best choice.
I think it’s time we all step back and take a good hard look at the pressure we’re putting on our kids.
Before it’s too late.