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Why a teenager with their whole life ahead of them would commit suicide is a question that haunts communities all over the country — Los Alamos is no exception.
And though, according to the New Mexico Department of Health, Los Alamos County has one of the lowest suicide rates in the state, residents still experience grief every time a young person decides to take his or her own life.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide not only affects the family of the deceased, but it also affects the health of others in the community, causing shock, anger, guilt and depression.
There is no single cause of suicide, but the most common are depression, mental illness, alcohol, or drug abuse, a history of previous suicide attempts, a family history of suicides, or a stressful life event or loss.
It’s the third-leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds in the United States and the second cause of death among this young age group in New Mexico.
Boys are more likely than girls to die from suicide. In addition, females are more likely to report attempting suicide than boys.
According to TeenHelp, teens who survive suicide attempts say that they tried to kill themselves because they were trying to escape a situation that seemed impossible to deal with or were experiencing overwhelming feelings of rejection, guilt, anger or sadness.
In 2005, Florida State University Distinguished Research Professor Dr. Thomas Joiner, proposed a theory as to why someone would take their own life. He explains in the American Psychological Association June 2009 article, the interpersonal psychological theory of suicidal behavior. Joiner believes suicidal behavior has three components: perceived burdensomeness, thwarted belonging or social alienation and the capability for a suicide.
According to the CDC and the APA, suicide has many warning signs, some of which include talking about death or suicide saying things like “nobody cares about me,” or “I can’t take it anymore,” talking about wanting to go away, withdrawing from friends and family, withdrawing from favorite hobbies and activities, complaining of physical pains such as headaches, stomachaches or fatigue, talking about feeling guilty for something, giving away possessions, having trouble concentrating, are just a few.
Though the methods of teen suicide are as varied as the reasons, the top three methods among teens include firearm (45 percent), suffocation (40 percent) and poisoning (8 percent).
Most people are not comfortable talking about suicide, but Los Alamos High School Principal Sandy Warnock, feels that suicide is a topic that should be discussed.
“You talk about it, you don’t hide it. You don’t avoid the conversation and research shows it doesn’t put the idea (of committing suicide) into someone’s head,” she said. Warnock also said she and the high school staff have been advised about the signs to look for with regards to suicidal behavior.
For students, suicide is addressed in the health and physical education classes in the lower grades.
Warnock stressed, “The high school counselors are available for students to talk to if they are having an issue with suicide or have a friend who has thoughts of suicide. Students can go to any adult on campus.”
Faculty members aren’t the only ones that feel suicide is worth talking about.
Last week, Sept. 16-20, was Suicide Prevention Week at LAHS. Senior Elizabeth Hjelvik co-chaired the planning committee and organized the event with Faith Glasco and the support of Warnock.
“Needless to say, there is a problem in Los Alamos with suicide and I don’t think this community should suffer from that tragedy anymore,” Hjelvik said.
The activities for the week emphasized the underlying theme “that life isn’t something you want to throw away, to be kind to people and to reach out,” Hjelvik said. On Monday, bracelets were given away. Tuesday was Random Acts of Kindness day, during which cards with compliments on them, accompanied by a carnation, were handed out throughout the day. The week concluded with national guest speaker and author Ross Szabo, who addressed mental health.