• Public Condolences •
BY ANNE SOBLE
The News has received several letters to the editor about the recent reported suicides in the surrounding area. Some letters deal with what Malibu students may be experiencing; others conjecture about causality in specific cases; and a few address prevention of suicide in general.
Not everyone will agree with my decision not to print these letters because the writers criticize parents of the suicides, blame academic pressures, or attribute an array of issues from gender identity to personality disorders to these losses, even though not one of the writers says they personally knew the individuals, or know their families.
This does not mean that suicide, particularly teen or youth suicide, is not an important topic for public discussion. But shouldn't human decency and respect for the grieving families and friends preclude speculation about those they have lost? Social discourse can deal with the relevant issues without pointing fingers.
My own perspective is that no one can really know the final thoughts that result in an individual taking their own life unless they have been clearly stated in a final note, text or video; and even then there may be subconscious elements that remain undisclosed. To conjecture is not only an invasion of privacy, it can be cruel.
The propensity of teen and young adult suicides to have a clustering effect among friends and peer groups mandates that all families be especially alert, whether their children knew those who have taken their lives, or have heard about them. Few are the young people who do not have to face disappointment, rejection, failure, or any of the possible provocations for someone in an already vulnerable state. Most, however, develop coping mechanisms and are able to handle life's difficult turns.
Postulation about why others cannot or choose not to cope by those who have never met them, however well meaning that might be, or however extensive the proponent's professional background, may be grounded in personal biases and have the effect of rubbing salt in the already raw and gaping wounds of those left behind.
Perhaps the most fitting response to such tragedies at this point is to offer condolences for the losses. Families and friends should be allowed to go through the grieving process and be given the time and the space to address these losses in their own ways.
When they are ready, some of the family members and friends may wish to participate in the kinds of open discussions that should be ongoing in every community, not only to pinpoint specific concerns, such as school pressures, conformity issues, and personality and mental health factors, but to foster an atmosphere where every young person knows there is someone with whom they can share thoughts and feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, isolation, fear, anger and despondency.
There are no easy formulae. The issues that foster consideration of self-destruction are as unique as an individual's DNA. The need for all of us to try to be sensitive to the fact that someone may be floundering, and reach out and try to respond to what are most often silent cries, is one of the most important things one human being can do for another.