Suicides in clusters

Teen Suicide: Becoming Almost ‘Commonplace,’ Reports State Act Is Like A Contagion

Across the United States, teen suicide has become a more frequent tragic reality that is occurring at higher rates. In El Paso County, the youngest person to die by suicide this year was merely 13. Dr. Leon Kelly, one of the region’s county deputy chief medical examiners, shared how tragic the statistics are and the lack of control adults seem to have over the epidemic.

“[Even] for a job that’s generally pretty tragic, it’s disheartening. You feel powerless. You feel like, Another one? Another day, another kid. It’s hard.”

Although sociologists have stated that people who have strong bonds are less likely to kill themselves, new research and studies share that sometimes the opposite is true. Experts state that at times, one person’s suicidal behavior can motivate the same tendencies in another which can thereby lead to more deaths.

Research conducted over decades proves that a range of emotions and behaviors can be contagious. Some of these include simply yawning and moodiness. Such studies also indicate that young people are most susceptible to this as they obsess over fashions and fads, trends, and tend to copy behaviors of peers like smoking, drinking, drug abuse, and even suicide.

Newsweek shares specific details about the studies.

“Using a statistical formula typically applied to tracking outbreaks of diseases, researchers at Columbia University and other institutions confirmed in 1990 that suicide is contagious and can be transmitted between people. Contagion spreads either directly, by knowing a suicide victim, or indirectly, by learning of a suicide through word-of-mouth or the media. Those same researchers found that people ages 15 to 19 are two to four times more prone to suicide contagion than people in other age groups. The way it spreads can be so similar to that of diseases that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has sometimes gone into a region to investigate spikes in suicides.”

As of mid-October, the total for teen suicides in El Passo County is 13, which is one short of the total for the entirety of 2015. Douglas County, a neighboring county, had a similar crisis only a few years ago. News of classmates’ suicides no longer fazes students in the region. Gracie Packard, a high school junior shares on the subject.

“It’s become almost commonplace. Because it doesn’t happen once every four years. It happens four times in a month, sometimes.”

Experts and analysts refer to these spikes of suicides as “clusters.” A cluster is termed as such when an unusually high number of people in an area kill themselves, or attempt to, in a short period of time. The clusters are known to happen where people more frequently socialize, such as military units, high schools, and psych hospitals.

Madelyn Gould, an expert who made the discovery as to suicide and contagious tendencies, said that such clusters make up between 1 and 5 percent of teen suicides and that it is vital that they are understood as they “represent a class of suicides that may be particularly preventable.”

It’s reported that it is not just young people that are facing a suicide epidemic. The suicide rate across the nation in all demographics is said to be at a 30-year high. However, more than three times as many teens are killing themselves now than in the 1950s. Most suicides are not those associated with contagion reports or copycats, yet some areas in addition to those discovered in Colorado Springs are reporting similar cases of cluster suicides in teen populations.

In one heartbreaking case, involving the daughter of Lucrecia Sjoerdsma, her mother was sure that her daughter’s seemingly jovial demeanor and the fact that she was always smiling meant she was a content teen. The 15-year-old used white strips to keep her teeth white, which caused her to smile all the more and she was known as a goofy and kind kid. She would sense when others were down and would do what she could to cheer them up. She liked to hike and rock climb and spoke frequently about her future.

Riley, however, knew of at least two other classmates who had killed themselves, and officials began to believe they were witnessing a copycat effect. The contagion took hold and Riley followed suit. The publication shares the details about the case.

“Riley was staying at her father’s house one night when she downed a small bottle of whiskey, then sent out a series of troubling texts and Snapchat messages. ‘I’m sorry it had to be me,’ she wrote to one friend. Then she slipped on a blue Patagonia fleece and snuck out the basement window, carrying her father’s gun.”

The next morning, the teen was found in the woods behind her father’s house. She had shot herself in the head. Only nine days later, another classmate of Riley’s committed suicide. Five students from a school of 1,180 died by suicide between late 2015 and the summer of 2016, which is a rate almost 49 times the yearly national average for kids their age.

[Feature Image by David Silverman/Getty Images]

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