It happens every few months. A deranged person enters a school and starts shooting people. For a few days, maybe weeks, the old gun debate emerges. As President Obama said recently, “this has become routine.”
We live our lives in fear of terrorists and strangers gunning our children down. We put elementary school students through lock-down drills and coach teens on how to evacuate malls and movie theaters.
Yet, we don’t talk as much about the person holding a gun that is far more likely to shoot our children dead: our children themselves.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-24 year old’s, and third for children aged 10-14. Firearms are used in nearly 85% of these cases. In fact, self-inflicted gun deaths outnumber homicides 2-to-1.
Gun control is one issue. Mental health is another. Here is one instance where the two intertwine.
The World Health Organization has declared tomorrow, October 10th World Mental Health Day. One of their global imperatives is suicide prevention and, in this, one of their key messages is that communities play a critical role.
Here in North Carolina, 1 in 10 middle schoolers has attempted suicide.
We have to come together as a community to prevent this. However, this is more than just helping identify the signs that someone may need help. We need to be asking the questions of our ourselves and our society that are creating an environment where our young people see death as a preferable option to the lives they are leading, and our laws that make it ever easier to carry out.
In a recently released study on suicide trends among children under the age of twelve, researchers note that incidences among black males have nearly doubled! This is deplorable.
Additionally, Trans* teens are disproportionately affected by self-inflicted injury and suicide. Over 40% of gender non-conforming youth have attempted suicide. This does not indicate higher rates of mental illness– rather a social ill that allows the bullying, stigmas, and abuse to continue.
North Carolina lawmakers have issued a call-to-action, but what does that really mean? Educating emergency responders, health care professionals and school faculty is not enough.
Yes, we need to be aware of, and sensitive to, mental illnesses. Support services and continuation of care are important and necessary. Understand why people are driven to suicide, and what you can do to help. Dismantle the systems that allow for the outside-in destruction of our young people through marginalization and discrimination.
Work to reform the laws that permit wide distribution of dangerous weapons. Ask how you can be a part of crafting and enacting common-sense gun laws that protect our state’s children.
There will be another school shooting, but before that- there will be another 42 youth suicides this week alone.
How many more have to die before we start taking notice?
To learn more about prevention efforts in your area, contact: NC Suicide Prevention Resource Center.