Suicide education necessary to prevent further deaths

September 9, 2009 — by Christine Bancroft

“There was no way out.”

Since May 5, three students have killed themselves on Caltrain tracks. They all were from Henry M. Gunn High School. They stepped in front of an oncoming train in a public place. The first was a 17-year-old male who committed suicide on the tracks on May 5. In June, another student was killed the same way. On Aug. 21, the Friday before Gunn's school year commenced, a 13-year-old girl took her own life after leaving a suicide note.

Most of us can't comprehend suicide. But according to sophomore Akash Kar, who founded and directs the student-run nonprofit organization called Crisis Education and Support, there can be a number of reasons. “It is not caused by one major trigger, but many events bottled up. The snowball effect. And one thing will eventually blow it over the top and cause the suicide,” Kar said.

The CrisisES website states that the best way to prevent suicide is education. Unfortunately, there never seems to be any suicide prevention education until after something has already happened. Grief counselors and psychiatrists don’t appear on campuses until something terrible has happened.

According to the American Association of Suicidology, 1 in 7 people reported suicidal thoughts or behavior in 2008. It is the third leading cause of preventable death in people aged 15 to 24.

A person who is considering suicide is considered to be in a crisis situation. A crisis, as defined by the state of California, is “a situation where a person is an immediate danger to themselves or others.” But in an immediate crisis situation, many people do not know what to do or where to go.

“At that point,” Kar said. “A person has to call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You can’t call the lifeline or talk to a therapist.”

An emergency situation, however, can most always be averted by people and associations whose jobs are simply "to help". Counselors, parents, doctors and mental health specialists can alleviate pressures before they reach a breaking point. Before it gets to be a crisis, there are many people and associations who can help.

Saratoga High School is, in many ways, comparable to Gunn High. The schools are both academically competitive and are comprised by students by similar socioeconomic backgrounds. Students at Gunn are the same age, they have the same worries. Every day, they are reminded of the loss of their fellow classmates.

Schools need to do something to create a coherent and effective suicide education program. Suicide has a certain stigma attached to it that makes some afraid to seek help because they are ashamed or scared. Counselors or doctors are viewed as authority figures, and the idea of speaking to a stranger about such personal and potentially embarrassing topics is intimidating. Students feel trapped and alone and don't see anyone to talk to because they don't know their options. With proper counseling, lives could be saved. Schools can't wait until after tragedy strikes to take action.

Suicide education should not be directed to students alone. Parents have to know that suicide is a serious part of reality. It is imperative for parents to understand how to speak to their students or how to deal with crises. An annual mandatory suicide prevention session should be held in order to educate the students, so they can understand the risks and statistics.

The free and anonymous number for the Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-TALK. Students should know that there is always a way out. Sometimes it’s just hard to find it.

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