When students have a half day, teachers have to stay after school and attend class. Today, we had a suicide prevention workshop. A well-respected physician from Montefiore Medical Center came in and talked about suicide among adolescents. Certainly a grim but important topic.
A few highlights from today's lecture:
1. Suicide rates increase with age. There are virtually no suicides among children younger than 10 and very little among middle schoolers. The suicide rate begins to climb steadily from high school onwards. Senior citizens have the highest rate of suicide -- it's just not publicized because it's the 25th leading cause of death among the elderly. On the other hand, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States among those aged 15-24 (behind accidents and homicide).
2. Suicides can happen in waves. A single suicide can spark copycats throughout a community. Therefore, it's very important how leaders in the community handle these crises -- drawing lots of media and community attention may be unhealthy for others going through problems of their own.
3. Boys are four times more likely to succeed in a suicide attempt than girls. The common perception is that girls are more dramatic than boys and attempt suicide to not kill themselves but to draw attention. This, at best, is a partial truth. Rather, girls are much more likely to attempt suicide by digesting pills and boys are much more likely to use more violent and effective methods. It's much easier for a physician to save a patient who overdoses on drugs than it is to save a patient who shoots him/herself.
4. Girls are four times more likely to attempt suicide than boys. The risk factors leading to suicide among teens -- family disruption, substance/sexual abuse, gay/lesbian sexual orientation -- lead to feelings of powerlessness in our society. Girls, I believe, have less avenues to excise these feelings and are therefore more likely to act out on their own bodies (e.g., cutting, anorexia, bulimia, and suicide) than boys.
So, what do we do? The support system in the Bronx is woefully inadequate -- our speaker today acknowledged that the medical system here does "triage" -- since there are an overwhelming number of individuals who need help, doctors attend only to the worst cases. Really, it's up to the rest of us -- friends, family, teachers, etc. -- to look out for our own.