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Suicide at Shasta High

On Thanksgiving Day, a 17-year-old local boy used a firearm to end his life because of a romantic disappointment.

Everyone's talking about it except the school and the media.

I know why the media are reluctant to write about the too-frequent teen suicides: in the interest of the family's privacy and to avoid copycat suicides. "No suicide stories" is the rule.

But everybody at the school -- therefore half the town -- knows what happened, how it happened, who the boy was, who the girl was, who the family is. And I've never believed the copycat theory.

We should be talking. Too much information isn't the problem. The problem is too much stigma. Despite everything we know about mental health issues, blame and guilt still loom large. And out of a goodhearted but erroneous notion that we're sparing the family, we ignore the story and perpetuate the stigma.

Suicide is a valid topic for community discussion, especially in Shasta County. Click here to read more about it. Death is important. That boy was important. His loss deserves our attention. His despair deserves our understanding. His family deserves our compassion and support.

I'm told the school hasn't mentioned it, even to discreetly offer counseling to those feeling adrift or distraught. Baffling. The signal is... what? "Least said, soonest mended"? "Pretend it didn't happen and maybe it will go away"? I hope I'm wrong. (I was mistaken; click here fore updated information.) And I realize schools have an overload of things to take care of. But a suicide is an opportunity for candid discussions about how temporary freakouts are ordinary human events and can be met with coping strategies rather than permanent solutions. Man, it is hard to be a teenager.

The only harder thing is being a parent. My heart breaks for his parents. I can't imagine how they feel. I can only imagine how I would feel: Devastated. Immobile. Blank.

Still, it is odd for the rest of us to receive it like a rumor, offhand and unofficial, as if it didn't happen -- or worse, as if it were a shameful secret. It isn't, it's just tragic. It deserves our respectful, official notice.

After days of going back and forth on this, I can't bring myself to publish the boy's name, either, without talking to the family first. But I will take the liberty of speaking for many when I say to them: We are so very sorry for your unutterable loss. The entire community grieves with you.

4 comments:

  1. Kelly, thank you for beautifully articulating what some of us were thinking.

    You are right that in this time of shock and grief for this young man’s family and peers, there is a valuable opportunity to have discussion and dialogue about suicide.

    When I was a junior at Enterprise High School (back in the stone age), two young men committed suicide within a week of each other. I remember that we had a lot of discussions. School administration was active in ensuring that students knew that counseling was available, and more importantly, teachers and administrators allowed students the opportunity to discuss their feelings, and express their grief.

    I hope that Shasta High will reconsider its stance. Given the electronic, Facebook era we live in, the school, as an institution, has an opportunity to become a relevant part of this and other important discussions, instead of marginalizing itself in the wake of of texting, posting, and other ‘chatter’ venues.

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  2. This is heart-breaking. How many young students are walking the halls of Shasta High today, carrying pain they cannot share? Grieving, with no outlet. I pray the parents find help as needed on their own, since the school isn't doing anything to help.

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  3. Gerrine PeckenpaughDecember 3, 2008 at 11:13 AM

    This is heartbreaking news for both students and parents. Shasta High should be offering on site counseling. Pretending that everything is O.K. doesn't work. Emotionally upset teens reflect their feelings with lower grades. Many years ago HELP, Inc. came to Sequoia Middle School to conduct a suicide awareness program. It was amazing to see the number of students who had already experienced a suicide in their family or were dealing with their own suicidal thoughts. Parents were supportive. The program was cancelled by the subsequent administration due to fear of negative public comment. It may help to know that outlets exist for those experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts. Please share the following information with everyone:
    National Helpline
    1-800-273-TALK
    Local Help Inc.
    225-5252
    For more information contact:
    Shasta Public Health-Katy Sellman
    229-8426

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  4. You were mistaken on more than one count. Your first sentence contained an erroneous statement, and you are adding to the pain of this family by fanning the flames of rumor. His suicide had nothing to do with a romantic disappointment. Anyone who attended his funeral heard the truth because it was addressed. I am sure those who didn't know this young man speculated as to his reasons to end his life and thus the rumor spread. You should have checked out all your facts before writing this article, and should not have relied on second hand information.
    What you are right on? That you can't imagine how this family feels. This young man was so loved and his suicide has left such raw pain. Please do not add to it. I would ask that you remove this particular blog and re-write it to address the issue that you intended it to be. I know you didn't mean to be thoughtless with your first rough draft, but it is thoughtless. Please. For the sake of his family.

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