As teen suicide surges, school policies may be making things worse

At the Los Angeles Times, Sonja Sharp reports on youth suicide (particularly among girls), the risks of contagion, the role of social media, policies that aim to silence public displays of grief, and the harms of forced hospitalization: 

“For her 17th birthday, Jeramie Naya Vives Osorio’s family showered her with gifts: a dozen pink roses, a stack of Beard Papa‘s cream puffs, a Strawberry Sweet cake from the Korean bakery Tous les Jours and a small silver necklace from Tiffany.

Michelle Vives knew her middle daughter — Jer to her friends, Mia to her family — would never wear the necklace. But she wanted Mia to have it all the same. . . . 

Mia died in March — eight weeks shy of her 17th birthday and at the mathematical epicenter of a terrifying new statistic. 

This year, for the first time, the median age for teen suicide in Los Angeles County has dropped to 16 — the youngest ever.

Suicide has been a leading cause of death for young people for at least the last half-century. . . . [T]he age at which children kill themselves has been falling, while the ratio of girls to boys who die by suicide has climbed. In California, where teen suicide has been rising faster than in most states, the rate among Black and Asian youths is now higher than among white ones, according to California Department of Public Health data. . . . 

Grieving parents interviewed by The Times said involuntary detention was a last resort. The process was traumatic for their children and often prohibitively expensive for their families. Yet most could not access other help. This outcome is so common, the California Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission dubbed it the “fail first” model. . . . As systems of care have withered, an old superstition has taken root: that talking about suicide would cause people in crisis to kill themselves.

Just hours after her daughter’s death, Vives said, school officials and police showed up at her door, demanding to know when she planned to ‘go public’ about Mia’s suicide.

‘They were very concerned about it,’ Vives recalled. ‘[They] said to me, right now, we have all the other kids on our watch. If anything happens to the other kids, we’re liable, and you, the parents, are liable.’”

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