Why are so many of our children, teenagers, and young adults choosing suicide rather than life? Suicide seems to be especially rampant in the lives of Alaska Natives and Native Americans, but no family, community, or race seems to be immune to this awful plague. The epidemic is so horrible and wide-spread that I simply assume that suicide is the cause of death if no apparent reason is publicized.
A conference was held in recent months in Anchorage about the suicide epidemic in our rural villages. Heart-breaking testimonies about youthful suicides were given by representatives of many villages over a period of several days, and all seemed to be begging for help to solve the problem. Chickaloon Village seems to be the only village that is not plagued by the epidemic of suicides; leaders of this village think that helping tribal members to know their heritage and language and to build self-esteem is their answer. Chickaloon has active programs to help their tribal members develop marketable skills in order to be more self-reliant.
A recent article by Matt Volz of the Associated Press reported on the epidemic of suicides taking place on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana. He wrote, "On the Fort Peck reservation, five children killed themselves during the 2009-2010 school year at Poplar Middle School - enrollment about 160 - and 20 more of the 7th and 8th graders tried."
An emergency was declared by the village elders, and the U.S. Public Health Service sent mental health teams in to assist the reservation resources. The teams were there for ninety days, and no suicides were recorded during that period of time. Since October, two more teenagers have killed themselves and dozens of others have attempted suicide.
Volz reported that "Like many reservations, Fort Peck is struggling with high unemployment, estimated at 28 percent in 2008, and rampant substance abuse. Some 45 percent of the residents live below the poverty line, including half the children, according to tribal statistics.
"The problems of the reservation are pronounced in the schools. Poplar school officials told the federal health team that more than a third of middle-school students tested positive for sexually transmitted diseases, at least one-fifth of fifth graders drink alcohol weekly and 12 percent of high school girls are pregnant. The dropout rate is 40 percent.
"But despite those devastating numbers, there doesn’t appear to be a predictable pattern to the suicides. The victims were from broken homes and loving families, they were substance abusers and popular athletes."
As I look back over the years that my children were in high school, it seems that there was at least one suicide in the local high school every year. One year, the principle committed suicide, and another year a popular hockey player chose to end his life. Some years ago I helped with funeral arrangements for the daughter of friend. Last year the daughter of another friend killed herself. My own family suffered heartbreak when my nephew chose suicide rather than life in an awful divorce and child custody situation.
Children at the Fort Peck Middle School think that bullying and peer pressure were the prime reasons for their friends' deaths. Other people would cite the dismal economy as a reason for choosing suicide, and there were stories of many people jumping to their deaths during the Great Depression. Suicides happen in both broken and stable homes, in good and bad economies, among all ages, in most if not all races and ethnicities, and in both healthy and ill people. Suicide is often the choice of a young person who seems to have everything going for them, and there doesn't seem to be a predictable pattern.
I am no stranger to the idea of attempting to solve a problem by suicide because I contemplated the idea once. The situation happened so many years ago that I don't remember the particulars of the situation or even why I was entertaining such a thought. I do remember that my faith in God, my desire to please Him, and my love for my family caused me to get rid of the idea once and for all.
For some reason, too many of our youth commit suicide. Children of all ages are paying a huge price for what they appear to believe are insurmountable problems. Too many of our youth are choosing death over life, and we simply must find a way to help them to choose life!