If you lived in a community with a “serious adolescent suicide problem,” would you want to know about it?
In September of 2016, which was just five months ago, a study titled “Adolescents under Pressure: A New Durkheimian Framework for Understanding Adolescent Suicide in a Cohesive Community” was published that hasn’t received much (if any) attention in this area, but perhaps it should. The authors of the study are two sociologists – Dr. Anna S. Mueller from the University of Chicago and Dr. Seth Abrutyn from the University of Memphis.
Due to confidentiality agreements with those that participated in the study, the community in the study is called, “Poplar Grove,” a pseudonym. “Poplar Grove” has a problem – a very tragic one.
According to the study, “The 19 suicide deaths that are the focus of this study occurred between 2000 and 2015, although the majority of our data focus on the period from 2005 to 2015. All of our focal suicide decedents were current students or recent graduates of Poplar Grove High School (PGHS), the only public high school in the community. PGHS is a large school with approximately 2,000 students and is widely recognized for its high-achieving student body; for example, it has been recognized as a “Blue Ribbon” school by the U.S. Department of Education. In the past 15 years, 16 current or former PGHS students died by suicide, and all but one was under the age of 25. The additional three suicides were youths/young adults who lived in the community but attended different, usually private, schools. This is significantly higher than what one would expect of a high school of this size given the national (and state) suicide rate for ages 15 to 24 (which was 11.0 in the United States in 2011 [Kochanek, Murphy, and Xu 2015]). Many of the suicide decedents had ties to each other as friends, romantic partners, neighbors, and classmates. Furthermore, some of the suicide deaths clustered together in a short period of time; we documented at least four suicide clusters. Collectively, these factors likely increase the trauma associated with the deaths, particularly for youths. Poplar Grove’s “problem” with suicide was widely acknowledged by community members and, perhaps more importantly, by mental health professionals working in the area.”
I recently interviewed a Severna Park couple who told me they were part of this study. Larry and Sherry Leikin lost their 16-year-old daughter, Ellie, to suicide and they want desperately to ensure no other families go through what they’ve been through. They told me they didn’t know their community had a problem before their daughter took her life. Here’s the interview –
Because of the concerning findings of the study and the possibility “Poplar Grove” is a local community, Donna Cole will be doing another 1430 Connection on the topic of adolescent suicide and prevention efforts being done in Severna Park – that show will air on February 17 on WNAV at 2 pm, just after the news. WNAV is also promoting an event being held in Severna Park on February 24. Dr. Anna S. Mueller, one of the study’s researchers/authors will be speaking. Information on that event is here – https://www.eventbrite.com/e/parenting-for-a-different-world-a-call-to-action-tickets-31489958313.