A mother finds her 17 year old teenage son hanging from the rafters of their basement. To hear of this occurrence is not rare in society today. Every 90 minutes a teenager in this country commits suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds. The National suicide rate has increased 78% between 1952 and 1992. The rate for 15-19 year olds rose from two per 100,000 to 12. 9, more than 600 percent. (Special report, Killing the Pain, Rae Coulli) A 17 year old boy, Douglas Stewart, came home from school to find his mother lying on the sofa with a strained back.
Being concerned for her he rubbed her back briefly then put on some easy listening music. Douglas then proceeded downstairs to his bedroom. Two of his friends came to the door. His mother waited to see if he would return to answer it; minutes later she answered and then yelled for him to come up. When he did not come, she went downstairs to get him. That is when she found him strangled and her sons body dangling from the ceiling. This is a senseless tragic sight for a mother to endure.
The mortality rate from suicide in 1996 showed 9. er 100,000 for 15-19 year olds. This also shows boys are four times more likely to commit suicide then girls. However, girls are twice as likely to attempt suicide. (American 1996) It is imperative to reverse this trend and in doing so we need to understand the characteristics, behaviors and events associated with youth suicide. There are many risk factors associated with suicidal ideation and attempts. Risk factors include self-destructive behavior which may be related to life events, unfavourable home environments, or a genetic component.
Personality traits like aggression and hostility or feeling introverted or hopeless play a role in suicides. Loss of control, poor problem solving techniques, or rigid cognitive life styles are also characteristics of suicides. Similar traits are found in depressive behaviors. Teenagers may have been exposed to others who have had suicidal behaviors. Douglas Stewart, the 17 year old boy had previously rehearsed his hanging. Medical people had been summoned to his house two months before because he had tried to hang himself with a dogs choke chain using the stairway banister.
In the same area in Calgary between June and October of that year four teenage boys committed suicide. Their deaths questioned the United Nations statement that Canada was the best place to live yet is now rated third-highest in teenage suicide. Not a proud statistic. The overall national suicide rate increased 78% between 1952-1992. Menno Boldt, a sociologist at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta suggests that the right to die movement on behalf of the terminally ill patients may be sending the wrong message to teens.
Are teenagers in their immature minds ready to hear this controversy and understand Are there warning signs or suicidal symptoms Guidance councillors warn of verbal hints that teenagers say that should be taken seriously. Statements like I wont be a problem for you much longer, nothing matters, its no use, I wish I were dead, I cant take it anymore, nobody cares about me, I wish I were never born. These are potential suicide risk statements indicating impending destructive behavior. A suicide survey was taken in 1997 by an Oregon High School.
In this a statement was made that no less than 35% of Oregon attempters made prior attempts. Just like Douglas Stewart. A previous suicide attempt is the best predictor of future suicidal behavior. Without intervention, a failed suicide attempt may be followed by one that results in death. Douglas Stewart had previously attempted with a dog choke chain and after recovery his visits to the psychiatrist increased. He had previously been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and taking an anti-depressant. Douglas had a risk factor- a genetic component.
There are also warning signs for increased suicide risks. These factors include changes in behavior such as being prone to accidents, drug and alcohol abuse, physical violence towards self or animals, decreased appetite, withdrawal from family and friends, running away, low grades in school, unkept appearances, notes with suicidal contents, taking risks, purchasing weapons. Douglas Stewart had these changes in behavior. When they found him after using the dog chain his body had cigarette burns and slash marks.
There was evidence of drinking with the first attempt and his alcohol level at his death was . 04 a modest level but an indication he may have been trying to get away from something. Other warning signs are change in mood. This can be difficult during teenage years because while growing physically and mentally teenagers have dramatic changes in moods. Significant suicidal warning signs are expressions of hopelessness, impending doom, explosive rage, highs and lows, after periods of depression a sudden display of cheerfulness, crying spills, insomnia or too much sleep, a decline in self-respect.
Changes in thinking is a warning sign such as difficulty concentrating, concentrating on morbid or death things, hearing voices, seeing visions, expressing bizarre beliefs, irrational speech, and having a sudden interest or disinterest in religion. Living in a dysfunctional family due to separation or divorce, loss of an important relationship such as a friend or even a pet may also contribute to suicide. Another warning sign may be changes in life events such as with Douglas Stewart. He may have been influenced by other friends or teenagers that died due to suicide.
These warning signs are just possible indicators and need to be a piece of a very large puzzle. Going back to Douglas Stewart we find many warning signs and risks. He had a break up with his girlfriend. Their relationship was very positive in the sense she would make sure he took his medication and encourage him to stay in school. Douglas wrote poetry; What a pitiful state it is to simply exist, All hope for a better I have dismissed. All that I want is to leave this behind. Let go of the chains that you have on my mind, And let me exist.
Killing the Pain, Douglas Stewart)Is this an example of what Emile Durkhiem, a founder of sociology meant when he stated he felt suicide was not an individual act of desperation but a form of a psychological disorder that is strongly influenced by social forces called social solidarity Suicide is an action; it is not an illness. Suicide is the final act of a person experiencing severe pain and desperation, but what about those who are left behind to cope. The survivors are the relatives, friends, acquaintances and caregivers of a suicide victim- the bereaved.
There are four major forces confronting the survivor- the question Why, the shame, guilt and the anger associated with losing a loved one. Why Why Why This is a small but powerful question and usually an unanswered question of conflicting theories. How much do our environmental influences play in the role of suicide How much does the mental disorder play Can we blame it on predisposing genetic or biochemical factors How much does the prevention and treatment role play in a suicide These complex questions are part of the grief period the survivors play over and over. Douglas Stewarts mother was the survivor.
She discovered Douglass poetry on the coffee table while he was alive. The mood of his poetry upset her and she had confronted him but he would rub it off by saying she wasnt reading it right. She saw it as a warning and she made sure his psychiatrist was aware of it. The psychiatrist implied she was getting too excited over it. She told her family doctor. Everyone was aware and he still died. Imagine what she was asking herself. A counsellor told me that the chances of a person taking his life in the heat of the moment are very slim, that Douglas likely planned his last day on earth.
She said that Douglas probably went to school, saw all of his friends and had a good day. He came home and I was here and he spoke to me. Then he put on his music that he liked and went downstairs and took his life, just like that. Pretty cold, clear cut and final but still no answer to that powerful question, Why. What was a mother to think. She had made sure he was in counselling, had him on medication, loved him, watched for warning signs and risk factors but still he died. Douglass mother reflected back to the poetry.
When her family doctor and the psychiatrist did not take it seriously maybe she should have become an hysterical parent and demanded he be institionalized. Shame and Guilt are strong survival forces to deal with. Years ago there was a stigma attached to suicides as been subjected to social contempt. People were badly treated by religious authorities and the general public. People were denied last rites, Survivors might receive criminal penalties and some were social outcasts. As years passed psychological theories blamed that suicides were caused by problems in a parent/child relationship.
Though this stigma has faded it still remains real. Dont you think Douglas Stewarts mother felt this Why didnt she demand more answers His unexpected death produced shock, numbness and denial. Anger takes over because someone is to blame. Douglas Stewarts mother may feel anger towards the doctors that did not take her sons poetry seriously. She may be angry because the preventive measures for suicide failed her son. Maybe he was having stress at school, during the holidays, or a relationship. Maybe he felt betrayed by society or the community. Suicide is a mystery.
When people die due to illness, old age, alcoholism, or homicide the survivors know what killed the deceased but with suicide the survivors do not have something specific to focus their feelings on. They become preoccupied with wondering how the suicide could happen. Theories about suicide do not provide answers. The mourning process is more difficult and lasts longer. They question their values. The survivors come from the same social economic and educational background. They show the same values and attitudes,. Survivors may question themselves about suicidal feelings.
They may become burdened with death and complex feelings of guilt. Guilt may help keep feelings of anger toward the deceased repressed. The repression of anger is due to society thinking that to think or speak ill of the dead is wrong. This theory may make the grieving process more difficult. Guilt may lead to denial and self-punishment. They may refuse to take up activities that normally gave them pleasure. Feeling pleasure may cause them to feel more guilty. How did Douglass mother come to grips with her guilt After 9 months of counselling she rationalized that she could not live her sons life.
He had decisions to make and if he made wrong ones then ultimately he would be held responsible for not getting the help he needed. Douglas Stewart lived in Calgary. In the article nobody knows why Canada has such a high teen suicide rate compared to other countries. Dr. Isaac Sakinofky, head of the suicide studies program at Torontos Clarke Institute of Psychiatry feels suicides may be attributed to two major things; one being the attitude in the country towards committing suicide and the other being the state of the economy. A hundred years ago
Emile Durkhiem stated that suicides are caused by a breakdown of social standards. People become overtaken by a sense of futility, lack of purpose, emotional emptiness, and despair. Sakinofky feels Canada and her teenagers are suffering from Durkhiems theory. Helping survivors cope can be done by allowing survivors to talk about it allow them to share feelings and thoughts. Support groups allow survivors to share their experiences and provide mutual support. Survivors should not be scared to speak the childs name as he was loved and important to them. Accept crying and a lot of emotional outbursts.
This will promote healing. Do not expect the grieving to be over too soon. People are sometimes afraid to talk because they are afraid of how other people may react. For this reason just offering to listen will help the survivor cope. They may have psychosomatic complaints, which are physical problems. This is usually brought on by emotional reactions. This is real and needs steps taken to remedy them. Keeping a daily diary of thoughts and feelings help almost like talking verbally to someone. Withdrawing to a room or isolating oneself from friends and family is only normal initially but harmful if taken to extreme.
Some survivors throw themselves into work or activities. This only delays dealing with grief. Grieving people think they are going crazy but in reality they are trying to react to a devastating blow. They need to be reminded that people are hurt for them but do not know what to say or how to say it. Silence does not mean they are blaming or thinking badly of them. Survivors need to release their feelings and resolve their questions. Reading literature on suicide and grief is recommanded. This may offer understanding and suggestions for coping. They may need to seek out a competent counsellor.
It is important to take care of oneself in order to help take care of the rest of the family. Alcohol and prescription drugs do not end the pain but merely mask it. These could lead to further withdrawal, loneliness and addiction. There are several hot lines for support groups and suicide prevention. Sometimes it is helpful to contact other survivors of a suicide. Community education is the key to prevention. Suicide prevention services are effective because the person doesnt necessarily want to die he just wants to stop living like this, to stop the suffering.