Teenage Suicide: Its Causes and Its Cure

by Harold Fite
Guardian of Truth - June 20, 1985

If the trend continues, 50,000 suicides will have occurred in this country by the end of 1985. Ten thousand of this number will be committed by young people between the ages of 15 and 34. Suicide is the second greatest killer among those between the ages of 13 and 19. The rate has tripled since 1955. From 1960 to 1980, suicides have increased 136 percent -- up 200 percent over the past 10 years. For every suicide that is successful, 50 fail in their attempt.

During September and October of 1984, six teenagers in the Clear Lake area (suburb of Houston, Texas) committed suicide. One month later, across the ship channel from Clear Lake, a 14-year-old girl killed herself by taking an overdose of antihistamines. In the latter part of 1983 and the first part of 1984, a similar epidemic occurred in Plano, Texas, where nine teenagers committed suicide. During the first two weeks of October 1984, four young people killed themselves in New York City. In January of 1985 an Arlington High School student took his life in his drama classroom. Why this senseless taking of life? With life's challenges and possibilities before them, and with dreams and aspirations, yet unfulfilled, why?

There are many contributing factors. Not all of the causes listed in this article are involved in every suicide, but one or more are involved in all the teenage suicides with which I am familiar. There can be other reasons for suicide than cited below. We do not intend to lay a burden of guilt on parents who have done all they could for their children.

Personal Loss

Experience of a personal loss can produce depression so as to cause one to despair of living. It may be the loss of a job; the loss of social standing in the community or school; the loss of a boyfriend or girlfriend; loss of confidence, self-esteem, or any number of things which may seem trivial and "kid stuff" to us older folk, but is of vital importance to the young person.

The 14-year-old girl who ended her life with antihistamines had been taken from her natural parents because of family problems and was living with foster parents. Her natural parents had moved to Florida without her. With the disruption of the family unit, the severing of family ties, and feeling alone, she calmly walked to the bathroom and swallowed 60 tablets of the allergy medicine Benadryl. She had experienced a personal loss.

Affluence

Affluence contributes to suicide. Countries in which teenage suicides are highest are noted for their affluence. On the surface, one would think teenagers having affluent parents, living in affluent neighborhoods, who eat well, dress smartly, and are supported in a generous measure would be happy and have a zest for life.

On the other hand, we would normally think that the impoverished are the ones who grow tired in their painful struggle for survival and prematurely exit through the door to death. But not so. The lowest rate of suicides is found in Egypt (0.3 percent per 100,000 population). It is not because life in Egypt is so desirable that so few want to leave it. The opposite is true. Sweden, however, takes care of its citizens from the womb to the tomb, yet has a suicide rate of 18.6 percent per 100,000 population.

A Lack of Challenges

When young people are given everything on a "silver platter," it deprives them of challenges essential to maturity. With no sacrifices to make, and no challenges to meet, life can be rather dull and boring. George S. Hendry, emeritus professor of theology at the Princeton Theological Seminary said, "If suicide is the loss of the will to live, the will to live requires the stimulus of resistance to strengthen it."

Back in the 1960s, young people began to act rebelliously and dress counter-culturally. They were trying to find their identity, asking themselves the question, "Who am I?" Many went out into the wilderness area and lived in tents; some built log cabins and began to dress like their forefathers. The challenge for primitive survival was exciting. Men carved objects out of wood, women sewed and did the things their grandmothers and great-grandmothers did. They were trying to get back to the soil, to their roots, and to feel good about themselves-to have some challenges in fife. The vast majority of these were from affluent families.

One reason why we have teenagers committing suicide is that there are no challenges for them. Everything comes too easily. If there are no challenges, life is not worth living.

When parents give their children everything they ask for, they are not doing them a favor. We must teach our children the work ethic, responsibility, and the meaning of sacrifice that they may have a challenge to call forth their abilities toward realization of the potential God has placed within them.

Unrealistic Expectations

The Syndrome of Happiness and Success is another factor in teenage suicides. The American people, by and large, are optimistic. Our politicians are dispensers of optimism. Electronic preachers continue to dangle the carrot of success and happiness before their hearers. Television commercials portray young people as carefree, happy, and successful. One could get the impression that "life is just a bowl of cherries" and we are to go tripping "tra-la-la-la-la" through life. It would seem that happiness is an instant thing, that all we have to do is push a button, and presto! We are happy. Many young people grow up with the idea that they have a divine right to happiness. When something comes along that destroys their happiness, it oftentimes destroys them. It may be a minor disappointment or set-back, but because of their conception of happiness, they can't handle it. They are not prepared to cope with the negative aspects of life. The Declaration of Independence gives us the right to pursue happiness, but doesn't guarantee it.

Peers

Peer pressure can tip the scales toward death. Young people can be cruel at times by what they say and, do. We all want to be accepted by our peers and many resort to drugs, alcohol, and sex in order to obtain it. When acceptance and approval is not forthcoming, many lose the desire to live.

A few years ago, a New Mexico high school student took his fife because he felt himself unliked by his peers. He was a good student and an excellent football player. When opposing players would hit him with cheap shots during a game to intimidate him, he took it as a sign of dislike. He felt that those in his own school did not accept him. Feeling unaccepted by his fellow students, he ended a precious life and a promising career.

Rushing Life

Growing up too fast becomes a burden too heavy to bear for many young people Parents don't allow their children to be children anymore. A young girl on television remarked, "Parents want us to act like adults, but treat us like children." Children are left alone too much, and forced to make decisions they are incapable of making. They dress like adults too early and date too soon. At an early age, they are placed in organized sports where the pressure to excel is tremendous. Boys can't get. together for a fun game of sandlot football or baseball. Now everything is organized and regimented, more for the fathers than the players. Often I have heard fathers berate their sons publicly for missing a ball or fouling up a play. There is the pressure of school work in trying to live up to the expectations of parents, the competitiveness of teenage America, etc.

Early in life a young person is under pressure, and it builds as he tries to fit the mold of conformity and reach the standards that others have set. Many young people live in the fast lane. By the time they finish high school, they have experienced cigarettes, booze, drugs, and sex, and are burned out. They have had it all. Then they begin to ask themselves, "Is this all there is?" "Where is that happiness I was promised?"

A Lack of Concern

Broken homes and unconcerned parents cause children to despair of living. Because of the high divorce rate, one out of every six children now under 18 lives with a single parent. That parent has to make a living, necessitating leaving the child alone for lengthy periods of time. Among the working mothers of our nation, however, 67 percent work outside the home because they choose to do so. Women work outside the home for a number of reasons:  social pressure, ambition, boredom, trauma of staying home, having something exciting to do, and to be "fulfilled."

Sixty-six percent of those polled felt that "parents should feel free to live their own lives even if it means spending less time with the children." Parents are shamelessly selfish, seeking their own satisfaction, unwilling to give up what they want, and doing it at the expense of their children for whom they are responsible.

From 2 to 6.5 million children come home from school to empty houses. Some estimate the number at 10 million. If this latter figure is correct, it would be a quarter of this nation's school population. Thirty-two million children have mothers working outside the home. The television has become the babysitter and the telephone the lifeline to the parents. Children suffer from lack of security. They are lonely, bored and scared. The Newark Fire Department reports that one out of every six calls involves children alone at home.

Telephone hot lines are springing up all over this country. "Phone Friend" in State College, PA averages 45 calls per week between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. Children are wanting help with homework, worried about mother being late, lonely, or wanting to know what to do about a sick dog, etc. "Kid's Line" in Chicago averages 500 calls per month.

It is a shame and a disgrace the way children are being abused and ignored. No wonder they see only death as the light at the end of the tunnel.

The Cure

The cure is in restoring the home as God would have it. All of the aforementioned causes of suicides are related to the home. These untimely deaths reflect the failure of parents to prepare their children for life. The majority of young people are not taught the true values of life nor the lessons to be learned from failure. When failures come, there is no one to look to for support. The parents are doing their own thing.

The family is the unit of society. It is the strength and the stability of the nation, and the critical center of social force. The home should be an atmosphere of love, interest, care, concern, sacrifice, trust and respect. The parents should provide their children with discipline, encouragement, praise, support and security.

"And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). We are not to dishearten our children without cause and purpose. "Bring(ing) them up" begins early and is continuous action (Proverbs 22:26). We "nurture" them by feeding them the Word of God (I Peter 2:2). We establish them and make straight paths for their feet by admonishing them (Deuteronomy 6:4-7). Our young people must be taught the meaning of life.

The Word and the home provide the cure for teenage suicides. The home as God would have it would obliterate these known causes and convince our young that life is worth living.