EDITORIAL: Response to teen suicides heightens awareness

2014-04-15T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Response to teen suicides heightens awareness nwitimes.com
April 15, 2014 12:00 am  • 

More than 200 Lake Central High School students brought a sharp focus on suicides March 31 with their sit-in at the school, staged to protest school officials not speaking out to the student body about the suicide of a former student. A few days afterward, a second teen — this one a classmate — died of suicide.

Those two deaths are part of a horrifying trend everyone should be aware of.

Since 2009, suicide has been the second-leading cause of death for Hoosiers ages 15 to 24, according to the Indiana Youth Institute.

Indiana also has the nation's highest rate of high school students who have contemplated suicide — 11 percent — and the second-highest rate of students who have attempted suicide. That's according to a 43-state survey.

Those numbers — and especially the stories of the young people behind those numbers — are tragic.

Larry Doss, whose son Michael's March 27 suicide prompted the Lake Central sit-in, said he was disappointed in the way school administrators handed the sit-in.

"The students just wanted him to be respected like other students who died were respected, whether they were in school at the time or had graduated," Doss said.

Michael, 18, left Lake Central in February and moved to Lafayette.

The death of a student, by any means, calls for compassion. But the situation is complicated when suicide is the cause of death because others who might be considering that option must be considered.

"If there is a suicide, we make an announcement of the death without referencing the word suicide," said Steve Tripenfeldas, assistant superintendent at School Town of Munster. "We don't want a contagion effect or a copycat."

All teachers and administrators must complete training in preventing and deterring child suicides to be licensed, said Indiana Department of Education spokesman Daniel Altman.

Carmen McCollum's story on Sunday dealt with how schools handle suicides and suicide prevention. It is very unfortunate that so few local school superintendents — including at Lake Central — were willing to address that subject with her. Failing to address the subject isn't making it go away.

School officials don't have to announce the cause of death, for fear it might lead to copycat suicides, but acknowledge the death with a moment of silence and make grief counselors available.

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