Monday, April 29, 2013

Honoring an Honors Student: Why Would He Kill Himself?

One of the first lessons I learned while training at the suicide prevention hotline is to never say, "But how could you want to kill yourself? Don't you see how much you have to live for?"
In Cincinnati, Ohio a student the La Salle High School shot himself in his first period classroom.

The controversial gun legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting has assured that the coverage on the incident has focused on issues around how the gun came into the student's possession and how he was able to bring it, loaded, to school. I will, therefore, leave that important question for others to decide.

Instead, I will ask who was he? Who was this unnamed student?

According to, he was an honors student with more than 80 hours of community service under his belt at a private school.

Read: Likely to get into college. Has future.

So, instead of asking how did this student manage to shoot a gun in a classroom, I will ask why would an honors student with a conceivably bright future attempt suicide? 

This question resonates more deeply with me because I feel like I have spoken with him dozens of times when taking calls on the suicide prevention hotline.

So often I speak with individuals for whom it is common to hear: "You have no idea how much others would give to have what you have." or "You have nothing to complain about." or "You don't know how good you have it."

The most frequent reaction I hear from people who take this to heart is, "You know what, it was a mistake calling. You have someone else who needs your help more."

These are people who go to Ivy League schools or who have been accepted to graduate school or who have amazing jobs or are beautiful or have the perfect husband or children.

Then I tell them the truth - that I want to talk with them. I'm here to help those who reach out for help, not to judge within minutes if they are close enough to Holocaust victims to deserve my time.

If they choose to tell me their story, I hear the same beginning to the story again and again. How the individual is tired of the mask they have to wear every day. They have to be the happy like the intelligent, successful person they are. And pretending all day makes them exhausted. 

But no matter what they have to face, the fact is that every one of them has something they are dealing with that legitimately grieves and/or tortures them. But they don't feel their pain is legitimate because there is this competition with some unknown horror.

And every time these end up being people who have been sexually abused over long periods of time, who have gone to treatment for their mental illness and have tried half a dozen medications with little relief, who have lost close family members, or struggle with horrific health conditions. These are people for whom, when I hear their stories, I want to get up and scream at the government for mismanaging their case or cry for how much difficulty they have had to endure or jump across the phone and protect from the bullies they have to face the next day. Or I wish that someone in their life would just stand up and show them that they are worthy to be loved.

But instead I have to hear their heartrending stories from a thousand miles away. I thank God if the individual has a friend or family member with whom they are allowed to be in pain. With whom they can talk about the very real issues they have had to face.

For those who have no one I feel like I a rope dangling to save someone who is falling fast, who may manage to cling to me or may not. 
So who was this boy? Honors student who couldn't see that he had the world underneath his feet? Or individual who was so haunted by something he couldn't even begin to consider that there was a future beyond it, nonetheless one that would offer him all his wildest dreams.

For more information on the La Salle High School suicide attempt see:|breaking|text|FRONTPAGE&nclick_check=1,0,1933386.story

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