Disclaimer – This article addresses the topic of teen suicide and includes some sensitive information.
Evan Hyman was the class president of his high school. He was a solid student with lots of friends. He started an initiative in elementary school called “Cupcakes for a Cause” to raise awareness and money for hospice care after his father had passed away from brain cancer. He liked to go hiking and was active in his Temple Youth Group.
But on January 31, 2016, Evan committed suicide. He left no note and no signs that he was putting this thought into action.
Over 1,000 people attended his funeral in shock, despair, awe, grief, that this sixteen year old took his own life.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined as reported by the Jason Foundation, a nonprofit organization for the awareness and prevention of youth suicide. The organization also reports that four of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.
But what about the one who shows no clear warning signs? The one who was seemingly happy, gregarious, friendly, caring, family oriented and then hanged himself in his bedroom.
I recently read All the Bright Places, a young adult novel by Jennifer Niven (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015) about two teens who develop a friendship over suicidal thoughts. Both characters are battling inner demons and throughout the story the warning signs were like bread crumbs dropped along the pages insinuating what is to come. Yet, in the book there were no adults, parents, siblings, friends, teachers who were keen enough to help these two teens. The book ends tragically.
In a twitter book chat with the author I asked Ms. Niven why she did not have anyone help these two teens when it was clear that they were struggling with suicidal thoughts from the beginning of the novel. Her response to me was she receives hundreds of tweets and letters from teenagers telling her that they do not have an adult who cares or they can turn to. I was shocked by her response. I thought how can that be possible.
And two weeks later the news that Evan committed suicide rocked my community. His mom found him. The fire department had to come to the house and remove the body. I thought it was an accident. I told everyone there had to be a sign. Or it was a mistake. Why would this seemingly smart, popular, and all around good kid do something like this? How could no one not notice anything. His friends were as dumbfounded as I was, maybe even more so compounded by heartbreak and mourning.
The Youth Suicide Prevention Program lists the following signs that may indicate that someone is thinking of suicide:
- Talking or joking about suicide
- Current talk of suicide or making a plan
- Strong wish to die or a preoccupation with or romanticizing death
- Writing stories or poems about death, dying, or suicide
- Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury
- Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out.”
- Giving away prized possessions
- Signs of depression, such as moodiness, hopelessness, withdrawal
- Increased alcohol and/or other drug use
- Hinting at not being around in the future or saying good-bye
- Seeking out pills, firearms, or other ways to kill themselves
So, if a friend or child or sibling or student mentions suicide or shows one (even many) of the warning signs take it seriously. Get help immediately. Do not leave the person alone. At the same time, show the person you care by sharing your concerns and listening carefully to their feelings.
Maybe Evan’s suicide could have been prevented. Maybe there were signs that people missed or he hid his pain. We will never know. What we do know is the hole that he has left in so many by ending his life so unexpectedly is deep. Evan’s death has made me more aware and vocal about this “silent epidemic.”
For more information how to talk to a person with has suicidal thoughts and shows signs of depression and despair check out the resources below:
Helpguide.org — This non profit organization offers extensive information about ways to talk to a person about suicide or suicidal person as well additional preventative tips
The Jason Foundation — This organization is dedicated to the prevention of youth suicide through educational programs, an app, and informative information on its website.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1 (800) 273-8255
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call this number immediately.
A few Young Adult Novels That Address Suicide:
13 Reasons by by Jay Asher
Looking for Alaska by John Green
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
The Pact by Jodi Picoult
Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman