The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

Suicide Among the Young: How to Try to Prevent It

This is a very well written and informed letter to the editor of the NY Times.

I agree that stress and school stressors cause depression and anxiety for our young people, but suicide is not the logical response to those stressors.  We need to reduce the stigma of mental illness and encourage our youth to seek professional help in dealing with the symptoms.  College age is the time when symptoms of underlying mental health issues first present; this is the time to seek help instead of denying the existence of a problem.

Suicide is not the answer for these young people, but at the time I fear it is the only one they could see.  My heart goes out to their families and friends, as well as to all of us because the loss of their potential affects every one of us.


Published: March 24, 2010

To the Editor:

Re “After Three Suspected Suicides, a Shaken Cornell Reaches Out” (front page, March 17):

Suicide is a tragedy, made worse when occurring in youth. Many university campuses, not only Cornell, are beleaguered by this excruciatingly painful problem. After all, they have our youth and promise in their classes, seminars and dormitories.

The continuing neglect of the major cause of suicide among youth is shocking. The bulk of coverage in the media largely misses it. It is not only about stress, long winter nights, school challenges or failures, loneliness or social isolation. After all, most people who face these stressors do not kill themselves.

Thus, although stress might precipitate it, it is about mental illness, most commonly mood and substance abuse disorders. Until we as a country face the challenge of reaching our youth and providing high-quality mental health services, until we can reduce the stigma of seeking help for psychiatric conditions, we are crippled in our efforts to stem this scourge.

Our future is our youth. We are duty-bound to reach them and maximize the likelihood not only of their survival but also of their success.

Maria A. Oquendo
New York, March 17, 2010

The writer is a professor of clinical psychiatry and vice chairwoman for education in the department of psychiatry at Columbia University.

Please click here to read all the editorial responses

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