By Pamela Ginsberg
When three Long Island parents were asked what they felt the most prevalent high-school and college student problems were on the Island, it came as no surprise that pregnancy, underage drinking, and “lack of priorities” were immediately brought up.
“Kids in college today seem to be running around making decisions with no regards to the consequences, and the consequences are what make up your life,” said Marc Ganzer, a parent from Ronkonkoma of two SCCC students.
However, when the question was proposed to 3 college-aged people, they immediately mentioned marijuana, depression, and suicidal tendencies. The interviewees (Alyssa, who requested her last name be withheld, Tara Nudelman of Manorville, and Matt, who also asked to be first-name only) mutually defined “suicidal tendencies” as self-mutilation, attempts at hanging oneself, overdosing on pills, writing suicide letters, and withdrawing from relationships.
“I have seen so many of my friends back off of their friends, take off school for a semester for essentially no reason, and shut down emotionally,” said Stony Brook University Matt, 21. Matt has had 2 friends commit suicide in his time at the University.
Suicide is becoming a significant problem on Long Island. According to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services Community Health Assessment of 2010-2013, suicide rates have increased between 2003 and 2007 by 37%, with the actual number of suicides increasing from 75 to 102.
“Inside Long Island Suicide and Crisis Hotlines,” an article from the Long Island Press, states that suicides between 15 and 20-year-olds has tripled in Suffolk County between 2006 and 2007. According to the CDC (U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the national suicide count of 34,598 deaths in 2007 is the highest number since 1995.
Why are so many young people turning to suicide?
It just may be that the issues the Long Island parents interviewed see are examples of how young people act out due to all of the upkeep they need to do in their daily lives. Aside from the usual stressors of pressure to excel in school, family life, and looking for your own way, new occurrences such as cyber bullying are putting young people on edge. Peer acceptance at any age is important, and hurtful comments from this group can hurt that much more when a person is younger and unsure of where to fit in.
In West Islip on March 21, 2009, Alexis Pilkington, a seventeen-year-old, took her own life. It is thought that some of what contributed to her depressed state came in the form of disturbing comments on her http://www.formspring.me account. Even worse, after the suicide, hurtful comments continued to be posted on her Facebook page and other memorial sites, according to the CBS News website.
Indeed, the effects of cyber-bullying are becoming so extreme that fifteen states have passed laws making electronic communication intended to coerce, intimidate or harass a federal crime. USA Today claims that New York is in the process of writing two laws dealing with cyber-bullying in schools, including giving victims different methods of registering complaints.
As mentioned above, self-mutilation is also a way of acting out.
“Teens and college students have a lot of stuff going on and it’s hard to find a way to get control when everything is happening all at once. A lot of times, they shut down completely. So in a mix of need for control and the need to feel something, or anything, they hurt themselves. Pain releases endorphins and they feel a rush, like an alcoholic or someone addicted to heroin,” said Tara Nudelman, 20, a former SCCC student who has experienced cutting and depression.
The science referenced by Nudelman is correct. The book “Cutting: Understanding and Overcoming Self-Mutilation” by Steven Levenkron describes this reaction. When the body feels pain, endorphins (hormones) are sent out in order to fight anxiety, agitation, and depression. Presumably, this is so that the injured can pick themselves up, or fight back. However, the chemicals that are released can become addictive. Alissa, a “cutter’ in the interviewed group, described the act of cutting as a “rush to the head, like you’re getting a buzz off of a (alcoholic) beverage.”
Self-mutilation is not the only way suicidal tendencies come out, however. Rather than going so far as to begin hurting themselves, warning signs include talking about death and how other people are “better off without them,” diminished sexual interest, excessive weight gain or loss, sudden changes in appearance or personality, trouble keeping up with daily tasks and isolating themselves from friends. These warning signs and others can be viewed on the Long Island Crisis Center website.
Long Island has acknowledged that suicide is a mental ailment that needs to be treated with care and caution. There are many resources for people who may feel suicidal, even for those who are scared that people in their lives may be. The Suicide Prevention Committee of Long Island is an organization whose mission statement describes itself as “a consortium of Organizations and individuals dedicated to the prevention of suicide through public education and awareness.” Their work can be seen on the Office of Mental Health in the State of New York’s website, http://www.omh.state.ny.us.
Another important resource is the Long Island Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The organization holds events such as community walks and have links to groups for people grieving those who have committed suicide as well as support groups for people in need. Their website is http://www.afsp.org and it contains all of the dates and locations for events and groups. The next event in New York is being held from June 4-5, 2011 and is an overnight walk through Manhattan to literally “come out of the dark” of suicide and depression. More information about the walk is available at http://www.theovernight.org.
While suicide is becoming a prevalent issue on Long Island, it is important not to overlook the issues that provoke it. Being mindful of others, as well as yourself as an individual is a key in helping the numbers of suicides decrease. Don’t be afraid to reach out-you just might save a life.