A Reaction to the Open Letter

Recently, a concerned member of the community posted an open letter to Wayzata Public Schools and the surrounding community. While I understand what a terrible tragedy the community is faced with, I respectfully disagree with the stand she took against the District as a whole. With what she calls “more than average experience with suicide” it struck me as strange to blame the loss of these lives on the school district.
I do not think that it is fair to say that these deaths were caused by the atmosphere, competiveness or academic rigor of Wayzata High School. The truth is when people choose to take their own lives the aftermath is messy. It leaves many people confused, angry, and hurt. But even more, it leaves people wanting answers. They want to know why it happened and who is to blame.
“The tragedy is, people die from temporary feelings of helplessness—things we can help with.”*
I agree that these young people needed help that they didn’t get. But the truth is sometimes the signs are nearly possible to see. Sometimes there is a cry for help, and other times they avoid showing signs because they don’t want anyone to get in their way of what they have already decided. I do not offer a solution. That is not the purpose of this reply. I wish that everyone who was contemplating suicide knew of all the available resources and options and did not think of death as a permanent solution to temporary pain.
But can we blame solely the academically rigorous atmosphere for these deaths? Should we ignore all other factors that could have gone into the ultimate decisions of these teenagers?
“I wanted to let people know that it’s ok to have suicidal thoughts and feelings, and that in fact it is a very human experience. I also hoped to show people that through talking about it, and by having someone else listen, it is possible to overcome the darkness that overwhelms a person when they feel helpless. This is something that I learned from my exchange with Neil on the bridge six years ago, and a message that I’ve been trying to pass on to others.”
I will not say whether it was right or wrong for the teachers to not talk about the suicides in their classrooms. That is for you to decide. But if another student in the classroom was contemplating suicide and saw all the attention and sadness this person was receiving after death, in their mind, this might validate their feelings toward suicide. It’s sad, but to someone one in the mindset, it might be seen as a way to get people to see their pain.
“The feelings that drive people toward suicide can be treated… But, despite the numbers and the losses, suicide is a phenomenon we push away, we mystify, even—it must be said—romanticize, as if science cannot begin to confront its cause.”
These teachers, like many of us, are not experts in suicide, death, or grieving. They have been trained for many things, but they are not prepared to discuss death nor to lead people through the toughest of times. In a perfect world, there would be no suicide, everyone would know how to deal with sadness and death, and all schools would be able to combat issues of mental health problems before they arose in such tragic ways. But in reality, we need is to recognize that there is no one “thing” that we can blame for tragedies. There are many factors that shape everyone’s decisions. I do not want to see another life end in suicide, either. My heart goes out to all the families that have lost their loved ones in such a devastating way.
But while we are looking for someone to blame, please recognize that school is not the enemy. The teachers are not cruel human beings. The administration does not want to merely shrug this one off or put them under such stressful conditions that it leads to death. They are not killing these children. I know these deaths are confusing, but I think as a community, we should be focused on helping the families that lost loved ones, and doing our very best to make sure that if signs of suicide are shown they are taken very seriously.
Another Member of the community
If you or someone you know is considering suicide I encourage you to seek help because, and I cannot stress this enough, pain is temporary and death is permanent:
Styron wrote, “Depression’s saving grace (perhaps its only one) is that the illness seems to be self-limiting: Time is the real healer.” If you need someone to talk to, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-8255, which will connect you to a counsellor at a nearby crisis center.
*All italicized quotes were pulled from the article, “The Neglected Suicide Epidemic” by Emily Greenhouse. Read more here.