Suicide’s Grim Tolls

November 01, 1989 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Five years ago, the newspapers and airwaves were filled with reports of suicide’s staggering toll on America’s youth: an average of 13 lives a day in the 15-to-24-year-old age group.

The grim toll of suicide remains high, but the media attention has all but disappeared. Drug use and its associated violence, as well as the spread of AIDS, has stolen the spotlight from teen suicide. And, indeed, the latest federal statistics show that homicide has replaced suicide as the second-leading cause of death (behind accidents) in the same age group. Suicide, however, remains “about neck and neck’’ with murder, according to researchers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which released a report on youth suicide in September, hopes to put the issue back on the front burner.

Completed two years ago but delayed by bureaucratic snarls, the Secretary’s Report on Youth Suicide concludes that teachers and other school personnel need special training by professionals to recognize suicidal behavior and respond appropriately.

Among the report’s major findings:

  • Young suicide victims are rarely mentally ill, though they often have a history of disordered behavior characterized by impulsiveness and aggression. This antisocial behavior is often aggravated by substance abuse.
  • Events that most often precipitate suicide include the breakup of a relationship, a recent arrest, and being the victim of an assault, beating, or rape.
  • Shooting is young victims’ preferred means of suicide, followed by hanging, overdosing on drugs, and jumping from high places.
  • Five times as many young males commit suicide as young females.

Hundreds of school districts offer programs in suicide prevention, either as a specific course or activity, or as part of a larger health curriculum. Five states have mandated such programs: California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Wisconsin.

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta published guidelines on how communities can respond to youth suicides and avoid the so-called “cluster’’ syndrome--copycat suicides that often occur after one young person takes his or her life.

But despite the flood of material available to educators on the subject, the lack of data on “what works,’' many say, has left school officials confused about what they can or should do.

The HHS report stresses that prevention activities should be included as part of a broader health program, not as a one-shot effort focused only on suicide. This is especially important in schools, the report says.

Diane Ryerson, director of the Adolescent Suicide Awareness Program in Bergen County, N.J., agrees. “If you educate the entire school community about the realities of adolescent selfdestructive behavior,’' she says, “they will have a much better chance of getting each student the help he or she needs.’'

A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 1989 edition of Teacher as Suicide’s Grim Tolls

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP