It’s heartbreaking when anyone decides life is too painful to bear. The suicide of a young person is especially agonizing for those left behind; just when it seems, at least from the outside, that life could take you anywhere and make you anything you want to be, suicide slams every window and locks every door.
Last Saturday, young Riley Garrigus, a sophomore at Smith-Cotton High School, took her own life. This has been a tragedy for her family, friends, her classmates and our community.
We don’t know what was on their minds before they decided to end it all, and no speculation will bring it back. There are no answers in suicide; it’s just a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
But too many young people suffering from depression mistakenly see suicide as the only way to stop the pain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the No. 3 cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24.
Riley is the third student at Smith-Cotton High School to die of suicide in the past 16 months. Many members of this community took it upon themselves to lay blame for this scourge on bullying and point fingers at the teachers, counselors and administrators of the Sedalia School District 200. They acted out with angry, hurtful words and a couple hundred parents, students and citizens marched on the high school. Perhaps they thought of this as sending a message that they’re tired of being bullied. Whether it did or it didn’t, the fact is we may never know why these students chose this way out.
It’s easy to blame the school district or “bullies” for this. Fomenting anger and acting with mob mentality does exactly the wrong thing. It does not unite us, or help us through the grieving process. Anger doesn’t examine the complex problems that cause such depression. Anger doesn’t unite us as a community, it divides. We all saw this happen before our eyes at the national level during the 2016 presidential election. This is a time where we all must reflect on our actions and act with compassion and unite to find a solution.
Suicide is painful. I speak from experience. This scourge attacked my own family last summer when my brother-in-law, who was more like a brother, took his own life. Nobody knows why. There were no signs. He had a successful business, a happy marriage, three beautiful, successful daughters and a loving family. I can tell you this has caused untold grief and pain for those he left behind and the wounds are still fresh nearly a year later. The one good thing about this, if there is such a thing, is that it has brought my family closer.
When a depressed teen reaches out, don’t try to minimize their pain, but listen to what they have to say. Take their feelings seriously.
It’s OK to stay quiet and supportive. It’s not OK to give them the silent treatment. It’s OK to empathize and relate a story about how you had similar thoughts. It’s not OK to minimize their experience and tell them to get over it. It’s OK to say you don’t know what to say or do. It’s not OK to assume they’ll figure it out on their own.
One thing you can tell them is that it gets better, which is almost always true. That can be hard to believe when you don’t have the experience or perspective to see beyond the current crisis. And it’s harder still for sensitive teens who’ve noticed that, for many of their elders, growing up hasn’t seemed to stop the pain.
Very few people peak in high school, no matter how you measure it. And even if you’re the one who really does know everything at 15, the one who isn’t at all awkward at 16, the one who still hasn’t sold out at 17, chances are you haven’t yet figured out how to deal with the rest of humanity. You might never figure it out, but if you can learn to live and let live, you’ll be ahead of the curve.
Meanwhile, here’s advice for anyone, of any age, struggling with depression: Find positive ways to channel those feelings. Read. Write. Draw. Play. Pray. Watch great movies. Listen to music. Make your own music. Snuggle with a kitten. Walk a dog. Chase sunsets. Volunteer to help people with problems you can’t fathom.
Talk to people you love. Talk to a professional. And if you don’t know who else to talk to, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK.