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A reader writes … By Margaret Strahm

March 05, 2001

My family is not much different than anyone else's. We will occasionally read in the paper about a suicide. We'll feel sad for the victim, we'll shake our heads in puzzlement and sigh with our own shallow sympathies toward the family. We'll say a prayer or two and then we'll go on our way.

We'll do the same stuff we always did. Life will go on for us and soon we won't think any more about the latest suicide, the latest survivors of this treacherous deed, the many changes some unfortunate family has had to make. We certainly would never consider this an option for anyone in our family. That would be unthinkable!

We were a happy, well-adjusted family. Things like that wouldn't happen to us, not to our family. We were safe, we were immune. We were a good Christian family. We were wrong. On Sept. 21, 2000, our beloved son chose to end his life. We were awakened to a nightmare that doesn't end and we have no choice but to admit we are awake, our child is gone and we'll never see him again in this life.


Then began the research. The books came pouring in. We looked for answers in the Bible. The Internet connection's favorites tab began filling up with suicide Websites. Drugs, alcohol, firearms, depression and feelings of isolation, dark music, chemical imbalances, low serotonin levels in the brain, all of these are factors in this growing and seemingly unnatural epidemic in our nation.

Parents, the statistics for suicide are terrifying. It's all out there! There was even an article in this paper about the growing problem in rural areas not long before our son became a statistic. But we felt smugly safe in our cozy little life, so never considered that it might apply to us.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America reports there are more than 30,000 suicides in our country every year. According to a summary prepared for the American Association of Suicidology, that makes one suicide every 17 minutes in America.

Did you know there is an average of 30 suicides every month in San Diego County alone? Every month! Suicide is the eighth-leading cause of death in our country. Homicide ranks 13th! That means more Americans kill themselves than are killed by others! Suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescent males ages 15-24, the 13th for the old, the second leading cause of death among college students! They report for every completed suicide, there are 25 attempts! That means there are 5 million living Americans who have attempted to kill themselves.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention ran an awareness campaign last spring that U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher supported. The Ronald McDonald Foundation was its sponsor. The campaign's tag line was, "Suicide shouldn't be a secret," and its main goal was to encourage kids to tell an adult when they are aware of a friend's plans to commit suicide, that it's OK to break a friend's trust in this instance. Says one girl in the public service announcement, "Better a mad friend than a dead friend." Indeed!

The Child Abuse Prevention Council of Imperial County recently held open forums titled, "The Road to Wisdom: Understanding Teen Depression." Because the need is so great, these informative sessions were held in all our Imperial Valley cities and reached several hundred concerned parents and their children as well as many others, including teachers.

Since depression is so frequently a precursor of suicide, such insight would be highly beneficial to one in the position of helping a suicidal child. Unfortunately, many people who may have benefited from the well-formatted lessons were absent.

Our children need our help. Depression is not just a sad, lonely place to be, it kills.

We worry if our kids get the flu or need braces, if they've got acne or a sore throat. We worry when our children begin driving cars, about air bags, about seat belts. We worry about ditch bank parties, alcohol and drug abuse. We worry about their dates to prom, their messy rooms, their wardrobe and choice of hair color, but how many of us think about depression: About mental illness? About suicide?

According to the surgeon general, "In 1997 more teen-agers and young adults died from suicide than cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, strokes, lung disease — in essence, all natural causes combined. A youth suicide occurs once every two hours in our country, 12 times a day, 84 times a week … well over 4,000 times a year."

In Mr. Satcher's call to action to prevent suicide, he implores, "We want coaches, we want school teachers, we want hairdressers, we want people who interact with the community."

He adds, "It's going to take outreach, it's going to take training. It's going to take communities to realize it's got to be a priority."

Parents, talk to your children. It's too late for us. Our son is gone but this has to stop. Suicide shouldn't be a secret!

MARGARET STRAHM is a Holtville resident.

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