USA TODAY recently published a disturbing story about the rise in the middle school suicide rate.
As the parent of a middle schooler, from a family that has suffered from depression and attempted suicide, I didn’t want to read this. I put the Sunday newspaper down, I picked it back up. I put it down. I finally read it. There’s no virtue in avoiding “negative” news if it means pretending it can’t happen to you.
What’s worrying kids
More importantly, I might have missed the one, precise question that I, like the grieving father in the story, would have regretted not asking should my child ever be in serious, emotional trouble.
The statistics to a parent of a middle schooler are a gut punch: The suicide rate among 10- to-14-year-olds doubled between 2007 and 2014. And for the first time, suicide surpassed the death rate from car crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2014 alone, 425 middle schoolers nationwide took their own lives.
The story lists possible reasons:
- Increased pressure to achieve academically.
- More economic uncertainty.
- Increase fear of terrorism.
- Social media, which allows for bullying 24/7.
The warning signs
I skimmed the teen suicide warning signs. I have them memorized. How could I not, given my family history? Among them: displays of distress, sense of hopelessness, change in appetite, sleep loss, lost interest in hobbies.
I kept reading. The heart of the story lies in the words of Tennessee father Clark Flatt.
His 16-year-old son loved football and got good grades. Until he didn’t. He told his dad he didn’t want to play football anymore on the front step of their home, three weeks before taking his own life.
Flatt, who founded the Jason Foundation to educate teachers about teen suicide, told USA TODAY that he as spoken with hundreds of kids who attempted suicide in the years since his son died. No one ever asked if they wanted to hurt themselves. Flatt never asked his own son that question.
“It’s tough to sit across from your son and ask if he’s thinking about hurting himself,” Flatt said. “If he says ‘yes,’ he’s put his life in your hands, and you need to know how to deal with it — don’t learn what you should do after the fact.”
Do you want to hurt yourself?
That’s the question parents don’t know and are afraid to ask.
Parents fear asking that question because it will plant an idea in their child’s head. I may have believed this too. I’m not sure. Now it seems such an obvious question.
I am sensitive to my 12-year-old daughter’s moods. I check in. We talk. I watch. At night, I wonder whether she’ll ever confront not being on this Earth anymore as other family members have. I can hardly breathe thinking about it. I don’t have any answers. I have some knowledge. And now one very powerful question.
Do you want to hurt yourself?
Like All the Moms?
Writer/curator for AlltheMoms.com. Mom to three girls. Married to a sports writer who travels a lot. This will be a good thing when I hit menopause at the same time his girls enter puberty. Weird fact: I’ve watched “The Young & the Restless” for 38 years and I feel no shame. Known to ramble about latest teen sci-fi/fantasy read.