This week’s post is from a guest author! I love highlighting the ways that amazing and inspiring young people are attempting to change their world, and this week’s post comes from one of those phenomenal young people.
Rachel O’Grady is a junior at St. Ignatius College Prep, in Chicago, Il. She plays basketball, actively participates in Model United Nations and is attempting to gain 100 service hours by next June.
Two weeks ago, one of my friends texted me the following words: “Suicide scares the sh** out of me.” My immediate response: Well, of course it does. Taking your own life should scare you. One week later, we both received an email from our school, disclosing that one of the seniors had killed himself. Minutes after receiving the email, my friend texted me again “Remember what I said about suicide?” I went back to the email, and re-read it. It hung on my screen for nearly twenty minutes as I re-read the eerie, haunting truth, over and over again. Nearly shaking, and still crying, despite my lack of a close relationship with the student, I responded to my friend’s text: “But it’s real.”
Suicide isn’t something that teenagers can’t grasp. It’s all over the news and it’s become somewhat of a phenomenon on television and in popular culture. It’s not something foreign to many- most have heard of the “It Gets Better” videos, perhaps they know someone who has taken their own life, or maybe they’ve thought of the possibility themselves. It’s not an alien concept. It’s looked upon as cowardly, dumb, even immoral. It’s tragic, and as my friend so eloquently put, it’s scary.
Despite all of that, however, one of the leading causes of death in the modern teenage global community is suicide. Think about that for a moment. According to some sources, you are more likely to kill yourself than to be killed by another person. The leading cause of death for Lesbian and Gay teens is suicide. This birthed the infamous “It Gets Better” videos, featuring celebrities and normal folks professing to the millions that being gay is hard because of they way Lesbian and Gay teenagers are often treated – but it does get better. The verbal harassment that happens to 85% of LGBT students does end eventually. The physical abuse that happens to a whopping 40% of LGBT students does taper off.
The reality is, however, that the words stick. The bruises and scars may not fade, but this is the antithesis of a great high school or college experience. Not surprisingly, teens are still killing themselves. It obviously does not get better fast enough. How sad, desperate, or lonely do you have to be to want to take your own life? How unwanted, bullied, or depressed do you have to feel to change yours and others lives forever? Being a teen is hard. I don’t care if you’re a parent, a teacher, a mentor, anyone – you cannot deny being a teenager is tough work. We have eighty million things to worry about on any given day. Just school alone can yield a whole variety of stress, from the impossible homework to the sudden pop quiz or upcoming ominous test. On top of that, you have extra curriculars or a part time job, which include the pressure to perform every day. And then there’s college. The unavoidable, scary idea of ACT courses, graduating, leaving the place you grew up, and eventually being pushed into the “real world”, despite how prepared or not we are.
It’s a never ending cycle. Those things, in and of themselves, can make us feel hopeless, lost, or unwanted. It is hard enough to balance school with outside activities and the omnipotent fear of college looming in the distance. Yet, instead of being a support system for one another, we tend to lunge at our competitors throats, trying to be the best, instead of our personal best. Clearly, there’s an epidemic here. There is something wrong, there is a lack of support, a lack of love, and a lack of simple friendship in the teen community. And what is being done about it? There are videos, there are hotlines, there are support groups, but why does it need to get to that level? Why do teens need to be told that it gets better? Why do they have to be in a state of crisis in order to call the suicide hotline? Why do they have to seek out a support group to help them? That’s not fair. Why can’t we just be the change?
Plato has this famous quote that I discovered in the middle of my sophomore year.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Honestly, if there is one thing to take away from this article, it is that quote. I am simply calling each one of you to be kind. My mother has this written on a post-it in front of her desk, “Be kind, be kind, be kind.” Two simple words that could change someone’s life.
Right this moment, email/text/call a friend and tell them that they are AWESOME. It’s infectious!
Smile! Smile to strangers, smile to friends, family, pets, other people’s pets, the trees, the sidewalk, does not matter, just smile. Let your smile begin a wildfire of other smiles. I do not care if you are a teenager or a parent of one, or just an adult, or a grandparent or if you’re happy or sad or blue or peppy- who ever you are, how ever you feel, it is not too late. Smile and be kind.
However, that is not enough. It is not enough to just “be nice”. Fortunately, there is more you can do. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is doing some great work to help decrease the number of lives lost to suicides. In an effort to raise funds for research and prevention campaigns, AFSP is holding a series of “Out of the Darkness” walks. Money raised at these events goes to research to help better understand the causes of suicide, how to prevent it, as well as educational programs to help increase awareness about this tragic reality. You can find a walk near you by going to HERE!
If that doesn’t work for you, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always looking for volunteers at their crisis centers around the United States and is always accepting donations. Find your local crisis center or donate today! Beyond any of that, there are local organizations that would be more than happy to have your help. Simply by searching “Suicide Prevention” plus your area, a variety of ways you can get involved are presented. There is so much you can do to help, regardless of age, gender, location, or personality. I ask that you consider the possibility of changing people’s lives forever by changing the fate of one person. If that means something to you, I can only urge you to volunteer to help put an end to teen suicide.
There are only twelve trillion quotes I could put here about changing the world or helping others or being an inspiration, but I’d like to give a little shout out to the person who inspired me to write this piece and who lit the fire of smiling within me, Mr. Jamie Utt. In a speech I recently saw him present, he said that even though those “It Gets Better” videos are great, they are missing the point. “It needs to get better right now.”
We have the power to make it better, right now, and I believe we can make a difference. I encourage you to make a difference today, by smiling, or this week by donating to one of the many suicide prevention organizations, or this month by participating in an Out of the Darkness walk. You have the power to change a life. I urge you to go and make the world a better, happier place – Right Now.