Preventing suicide a worthy goal

Studies show that more than half a million young people try to take their own lives each year. About 3,000 of them succeed, making suicide the third-leading cause of death among children and young adults between ages 10 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Earlier this month, President George W. Bush signed legislation to give $82 million toward stopping this devastating problem. It’s money well spent on preserving the future of our nation.

The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act will provide grant money during the next three years for colleges and intervention programs that work to identify mental problems in those as young as sixth grade. It’s unfortunate that the president would have to spend this money on children so young, but in today’s world, even middle schoolers stress about pressures to perform and feel accepted.

The Suicide Prevention Action Network, or SPAN, estimates that one person younger than 25 kills him or herself every two hours and 15 minutes. SPAN also says that one in 12 college students today has a suicide plan. Scary thought. Why are so many thinking about this fatal solution?

The Santa Clara Valley Youth Project in California identifies four tendencies that contribute to a suicide attempt.

Reason No. 1 is biological: depression due to a chemical imbalance, a physical or learning disability or a dependency on drugs or alcohol.

Reason No. 2 is emotional: feeling powerless, confusion about sexual orientation, stress and loneliness.

Reason No. 3 is intellectual: being a perfectionist, pressure to overachieve or an inability to communicate one’s feelings.

Reason No. 4 is social: lack of social skills, embarrassment in front of peers, being labeled as crazy, stupid or different.

These all seem valid, but these same issues have been around for years. The difference today is that 15 years ago, fewer teachers had to stand before a classroom and tell a group that their classmate won’t be coming back because she killed herself.

Everyone experiences some variation of these identifiers during adolescence. There’s always the older sibling who makes fun of you. There’s the bully on the school bus. There’s the crush who thinks you are the dorkiest person alive. It’s all a part of growing up. The problem now is that everyday problems have become so magnified that middle and high-school students would rather die than cry themselves to sleep one more night.

No parent wants to admit he or she didn’t know what was happening in his or her child’s life. If there’s a problem, parents still feel like the hero — the first line of defense when it comes to fixing things.

For a parent to find a suicide note from their child saying, “Dear Mom, I just didn’t know how to tell you how I felt,” those are the words that will haunt for life.

Phylicia Rashad, one of television’s most revered mothers as Claire Huxtable on the hit series The Cosby Show, has recently appeared in commercials on Nick@Nite during which she promotes family time and togetherness at the kitchen table. Those “How was your day?” moments come to life at the kitchen table. It’s sometimes the only place where people are quiet enough to listen — usually because they’re eating — and if the meal is good enough, people open up and talk.

President Bush’s approval of the $82 million will go a long way. But we must not wait for the government to intervene. Often assistance can come too late.

It’s time to go back to the basics. Go back to turning off the television during dinnertime, unplugging the X-box and letting all the phone calls go to voicemail, just for 45 minutes or so a few times a week. Time remains one of the greatest gifts anyone can give. Yours could be the one thing that saves a loved one’s life.

Kevin Graham is a former Oracle Editor in Chief.