Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24 in the U.S. Each day there are an average of over 5400 suicide attempts by young people in grades 7-12. A New York Times article noted that young adolescents are as likely to die from suicide as from traffic accidents. This should inspire communities from all across the country to effectively address this problem.
The film Not Alone is the brainchild of Jacqueline Monetta, a teenager who decided to do something about the epidemic after she lost her best friend and five other students from her school to suicide in one year. As she notes, “After weeks of questioning what is behind teen suicide and why we weren’t talking with teens, I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed answers and I knew my community needed answers.”
She conceived the film and did the interviewing, asking nine teens to share their struggles with depression and suicide. The interviews are excellent. Monetta draws her interviewees into intimate conversations in which we learn about depression, anxiety, self-destructive acts, suicide attempts, and the challenge of getting help.
Each interviewee indicates that suicide can be prevented. The openness of the dialogues in the film, the accessibility of these kids, and their understanding of the problem grabbed and held me.
I’m concerned that when a wave of suicides hits a community we become invested in preventing it and then just let it go. Yet, as the San Francisco Chronicle wrote after Palo Alto High suicides in 2009, “Teen suicides are moving from cluster to epidemic.”
What happened in Palo Alto Has also happened in many communities across the U.S. I was particularly struck in viewing the film by the young woman who describes her wonderful home and parents, tons of friends, and great grades – but who had been depressed since early childhood. She feels guilty because she sees no reason to be depressed. Yet, four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.
The most frequent targets of the kids in the film are the middle school climate, social media bullying and other pressures, and the failure of parents and/or teachers to see their depression. Commenting on social media one young woman remarks, “Someone can say anything to you on social media and they won’t see you cry.”
Kids who are bullied are more than twice as likely to consider suicide. Middle school is the worst, with many of the teens indicating that this is where it started for them. This also reconfirms what concerns many of us about the social environment of many middle schools.
There is one student in the film who has been depressed since he was about five years old, without anyone noticing. Others talk about the pressures to look good and not having a supportive group.
Although there is some diversity represented in the film, the focus is on kids who are middle or upper middle class. While there are some differences across social classes and ethnic groups, these kids represent a major demographic in many communities.
This film is a great starting point for a discussion among parents, teachers, and students - a discussion that should take place in every community. As such, the film provides an excellent resource to enrich that discussion.
(A localized version of this posting was published in the Marin Independent Journal on October 9th as background for a showing of the film at the Mill Valley Film Festival.)
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