What Have You Learned About Teen Suicide?

Today I'm delighted to welcome Jane Mersky Leder to my blog. She's the author of Dead Serious: Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide--a book for teens, adults and educators. And she's here to explain how suicide has affected her, and what she has learned in many years of researching the topic.Thank you so much for joining us Jane, and I'll hand this over to you:

Jane Mersky Lederm author of Deadly Serious

I’m not a stranger to suicide. My mother’s first cousin took her own life, but the cause of her death was listed as an “accident.”
Three days before my wedding to my ex-husband, his aunt took her own life. Didn’t know whether or not to cancel the wedding. We went ahead.
My brother took his life on his 30th birthday. He stuck a hunting rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
And so began my journey to try to understand why 44,000 Americans—more than 5,000 of them teens—decide that life is not worth living. I wrote a book about teen suicide in the late ‘80s and now some three decades later have written ‘Dead Serious: Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide’. 

·         We can never know for sure why some people choose to end their lives. We can make educated guesses, read the research and talk to suicide survivors, but in the end, we are left with questions that will never be answered.
·         There is never just one reason why a young person takes their life. It’s not just the breakup with a boyfriend. Or just academic problems. Or alcohol or drug abuse. Or issues faced by LGBTQ teens. Nope, experts say it’s some six to 15 reasons why (not to be confused with the TV series 13 Reasons Why).
·         Talking about suicide does not make matters worse. What makes matters worse is not talking. That may sound counter-intuitive. But more than anything, someone struggling with suicidal thoughts wants someone to listen, to show that they care.
·         It is never your job to save someone from taking his or her life but to connect with a mental health professional who has the training and expertise to help someone who is considering suicide.
·         It is your job to break the code of silence if a friend, child or student tells you not to share his feelings. It is always better to have someone angry with you than not to have that person around at all.
·         Recognizing the warning signs of potential suicide is essential. This is not always easy with teens who can be moody and uncommunicative. Still, it’s important to be on the alert and to notice changes in behavior: eating, sleeping, social habits. And it’s crucial to plug into even more serious warning signs, like a teen giving away possessions, writing a will, crawling into a deep depression or severe anxiety, and an obsession with death.
·         There are many myths out there about suicide. One of the most prevalent is that when anyone talks about suicide they are just looking for attention. The truth is that most teens who take their own lives do talk about it. They make open threats that, sadly, are too often ignored.
·         The importance of a loyal friend—a connection—who will be there no matter what can make a big difference between a teen deciding to choose life instead of the alternative.

All excellent advice, particularly the reminder that it's better to have someone angry than not to have them around. Thank you so much Jane. And readers, please continue reading below for an excerpt from Jane's book which she is generously sharing with us.

Jane Mersky Leder was born in Detroit, Michigan. The "Motor City" and original home of Motown have driven her writing from the start. A "Baby Boomer" who came of age in the Sixties, Leder is fascinated by the complexities of relationships between generations, between genders, and between our personal and public personas.

Dead Serious, a book about teen suicide, was named a YASD Best Book for Young Adults. 

The second edition of Dead Serious (with a new subtitle): Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide, will be published on January 23, 2018, and will be available as both an ebook and paperback on major online book sites, at libraries, and at select bookstores.

The Sibling Connection: How Siblings Shape Our Lives, and Thanks For The Memories: Love, Sex, and World War II are among Leder’s other books.

Leder’s feature articles have appeared in numerous publications, including American Heritage, Psychology Today, and Woman’s Day.

She currently spends her time in Evanston, Illinois, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.



Thirty plus years after publishing the first edition of Dead Serious, this second completely revised and updated edition covers new ground: bullying, social media, LGBTQ teens, suicide prevention programs, and more. Scores of teens share their stories that are often filled with hurt, disappointment, shame--yet often hope. Written for teens, adults and educators, Dead Serious: Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide explores the current cultural and social landscape and how the pressure-filled lives of teens today can lead to anxiety, depression--suicide. Leder's own journey of discovery after her brother's suicide informs her goal of helping to prevent teen suicide by empowering teens who are suffering and teens who can serve as peer leaders and connectors to trusted adults. The skyrocketing number of teens who take their own lives makes Dead Serious: Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide more relevant and important than ever.

"Talking about suicide does not make matters worse. What makes matters worse is not talking."

Order Your Copy!


Author: Jane Mersky Leder
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 237
Genre: YA Self-Help


 “ I moved in middle school. Some girls started to bully me online. They called me a ‘monster.’ All my friends turned against me. I didn’t know what to do. I had to make all new friends.” —Haley, 17

Haley’s story is a common one. The girl who bullied her in middle school was considered the “queen.” She was the leader and had the power to call the shots. Because all of Haley’s friends wanted the “queen” to like them, they turned against Haley—afraid that maybe they’d be the next victim.

What Is Bullying, Anyway?
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance (as in Haley’s case.) The bullying is repeated, or can be repeated, over time. Making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose are all considered to be bullying.

One out of three teens said they have been bullied in the last thirty days. Bullying can lower a victim’s self-esteem, create a lot of anxiety, and affect academic performance, and it may lead to depression and body aches and pains. Ouch!

Myths and Facts About Bullying
MYTH: Most kids who bully are poor students, aren’t good at sports, and/or come from dysfunctional homes. FACT: Many bullies are the smart kids, the popular ones, the athletes, who have power.

“ They can pick out the kids that no one is going to rescue. The kids who bully are generally liked by adults. They know how to turn charm on and off. It is social suicide to go against this kind of bully for fear that, if you do, you might be the next victim.” — Dorothy Espelage, professor of psychology, University of Florida

Myth: Cyber bullying is worse than face-to-face bullying.
Fact : Nope. Face-to-face bullying is still more prevalent than online. However, bullying in school often spills over into social media after school. There is no place to run, no place to hide.

Myth: Bullying causes suicide.
Fact : We don’t know if bullying directly causes suicide-related behavior. We know that most youth who are involved in bullying do NOT think about/attempt/complete suicide.

Myth: There is nothing kids can do to stop bullying.
Fact : Wrong. Anti-bullying programs in schools can be effective. Kids need to help create an environment in which bullying is not tolerated and know what to say and do, if and when they witness a peer being bullied.

Myth: Bullying has no long-lasting effects.
Fact : Children and teens who are bullied have a greater risk of low self-esteem, poor grades, depression, and an increased risk of suicide. They are often less engaged in school, and their grades and test scores decline. As adults, victims of childhood
bullying suffer more than others from anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.

Myth: Bullying does not affect many children and youth.
Fact : Bullying in school affects between 18 to 31 percent of students. Cyber bullying victimizes between 7 to 15 percent. These estimates are even higher for some groups like LGBTQ teens and teens with disabilities.

Climbing the Social Ladder
Bullies are often described as the “coolest” kids, but they can be the most hurtful. The perpetrator (the person who bullies) is popular because she/he is powerful, has lots of friends and calls the shots when it comes to style, music, dating, and anything else that seems important. She/he wants to hold on to the position at the top of the social ladder and will do whatever it takes, whether or not that means mowing people over in the process—spreading gossip in school and via social media, convincing people you thought were friends to turn against you.

Why would these supposed friends do that? On the surface, it makes no sense. But  think about it: these “social strivers” are jockeying for a higher position on the social ladder. They may not reach the top but can get closer. The last thing they want is to find themselves on the bad side of the bully for fear that they might be the next victim.

In the past, the word bully evoked images of boys entangled in a physical fight. Girls were left out of the equation. But things have changed: today, there’s a lot of talk about girls and bullying. Girls don’t usually get into physical fights. Their bullying is all about feelings and relationships. Instead of punching someone out, girls can gossip, spread rumors, form cliques, and use social media to “take down” their target. It’s always been hurtful not be invited to a party or other event. It’s even worse now with invitations splashed all over Facebook and Instagram. And during the party there are
those selfies of people smiling and laughing and having the time of their lives. It’s like an unending TV commercial that screams fiesta, happiness, fun, possibly romance.

With all this talk about power and climbing the social ladder, it should be noted that a popular girl who should, by all accounts, be the belle of the ball can be bullied too. Why? Well, because other girls are jealous and think she’s “too” swag, “too” smart, “too” high and mighty for her own good. So, the shoe fits on the other foot in this scenario, and the “too swag” girl gets the boot.

What We Know About Bullying and Suicide
Tragic stories about teens’ suicides linked in some ways to bullying are nothing new. National magazines and local newspapers are filled with them. So, what do the studies show? Bullying behavior and suicide-related behavior are closely connected. Translation: young people who’ve been bullied are more likely to report high levels of suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts than their peers who have not been bullied. However, what the experts don’t know is whether bullying directly causes suicide or suicidal behavior. Most young people who are involved in bullying do not consider or attempt suicide. But it is correct to say that bullying, along with other risk factors, increases the chance of suicide.

David’s Story
When David Beres was five, his family moved from Ohio to Michigan. As the new kid on the block, he was picked on by the other children. Some of the bigger kids threw pebbles at him. He would run home crying but stopped just before he walked in the
front door. He told his dad that he felt sorry for a child that others were picking on. He never said that he was that child.

When David started high school, he was bullied again. One upperclassman apparently said, “I’m going to kill you.” And another boy, the day before what was called “Nerd Day” at school, told David, “You don’t have to dress like a nerd tomorrow because
you are one.” Later the next day, David took his life. Police investigators listed “peer teasing” as one of the possible precipitating causes of his suicide. The word possible is important.

Remember: experts don’t know whether bullying directly causes suicide or suicidal behavior. What the experts don’t know is whether bullying directly causes
suicide or suicidal behavior. 

13 Reasons Why
The popular Netflix series 13 Reasons Why first aired in spring 2017, and it launched a national conversation about suicide. Teens have been glued to their TV or other devices to watch every episode about a girl named Hannah who, in effect, comes back from the grave with thirteen tapes she has left behind. Each tape focuses on a different classmate—some supposed friends—who, she says, factored into her suicide. But as many critics have written, it’s not possible to figure out exactly why someone takes her own life and to be able to guard against it happening to others. But, writes Mike Hale of the New York Times, the beleaguered school counselor may have it right when he tells Clay, one of the main characters, that you can “just never tell.”

Chat rooms and sites like Facebook have been ablaze with comments from teens and adults who have watched the show. Their opinions vary from those who love the show and feel it has important messages to those who found it disturbing and dangerous for vulnerable teens.

13 Reasons Why sent a hard message that people needed to hear. But a second season could be almost dangerous. I’m a recovering cutter and this show was a big trigger for me and I’m sure countless others. The suicide scene was so graphic, I couldn’t watch. While I think the message overall was good, I also think that people are too focused on the entertainment and revenge fantasy that they don’t see the big picture: suicide is ugly and never justified. Let the show remain as a harsh warning and not just another piece of entertainment. It is degrading.

This definitely was one of the darkest shows I’ve ever seen. I hope it opens kids’ eyes up about bullying and social media and how one screenshot of photos can ruin a person’s life.

I just finished the series and found it disturbingly emotional, raw and realistic. I’m at a loss for words.

Bullying can break someone’s heart, destroy someone’s reputation, break their spirit, and break their soul!

13 Reasons Why is an amazing show with a great message! The show inspired me to do public speaking at my school about the consequences of bullying. Because I’ve been bullied for 7 years at previous schools, and it sent me down a depression that lasted about 6 years and almost ended in suicide. After therapy I’ve come out stronger than ever, but sadly not everyone has that so I try to change that with telling people about my personal experiences and how we can work together and stop bullying!

Reactions to 13 Reasons Why from parents, teachers, and counselors have also been mixed. Some organizations, concerned about the effect the show can have on teens, have published guides for parents to use when they watch the program with their kids. Many counselors are upset about the way the school counselor is portrayed. Many therapists are afraid that, for kids who are in crisis, 13 Reasons Why could push them into the abyss. On the other hand, some posts by adults online strike a more favorable opinion.

So while I wouldn’t recommend this series, I do think it’s important for parents to honestly and openly discuss the troubling challenges it portrays. More importantly, our teens need to know that there is always hope and help. The Netflix show has sparked a lot of conversations about bullying and abuse, but we also need to improve communication between teens and the adults who can actually help them.

I just can’t bring myself to watch it. I already see kids in my elementary school every day who I worry about. I hear horror stories of the bullying going on in middle school. I’m sure HS is just as bad. Couple the bullying with mental illness & it’s scary to see where it leads.

If any of you have Netflix and preteens or high schoolers, I highly recommend the series: 13 Reasons Why. It absolutely depicts the everyday bullying, drama and aftermath that some of our kids go though.

Whether you or someone you know “loves” the series and the potential lessons about how bullying can cut deeply, bullying is never the sole reason why Hannah or anyone else ends her life. Just as important, no one gets to seek revenge by “returning” from the grave. The tapes are a convenient vehicle for a fictional TV show (and the book by the same name on which the show was based) but not realistic. The graphic portrayal of the suicide itself, along with the rape scenes, have prompted many to forcefully object—better to tell, not show.

Witnessing Bullying
There are many studies that show how students who witness bullying could become as distressed, if not more so, than the victims themselves. Sounds crazy, right? If you’ve ever watched someone being bullied, you probably have felt fear that you might be next, anger that the abuse is happening, helplessness, or guilt because you could or would not do anything to stop it. The end result: witnesses of bullying are more prone to anxiety, depression, and/or helplessness.  (To be accurate, there are researchers who do not believe that those who witness bullying are just as likely to have long-lasting consequences. Brain imaging shows a stress response to witnessing bullying, but that stress response goes away quickly.)

So, why not stand up and be counted? Why not do what you can to stop the bullying? You probably have or have heard some answers.
“I feel more comfortable being a member of a crowd.
You know, ‘Go along to get along.’”
“Ah, the whole thing is just a joke. It’s not that serious.”
“You know what? He/she had it coming.”
“If I snitch, everyone will start bullying me.”
“And what if I don’t join in? Or actually try to break things
up? I might be pushed together with the victims—the nerds,
the disabled, the LGBTQ crowd.”

Bethanne’s Story
BETHANNE: So I was homeschooled from kindergarten to third grade, and then in fourth grade, I started public school. And I mean it was fine for the first few months like no one really knew me. No one really bullied me. And I was definitely the tomboy. I wore like sneakers and jeans and a T-shirt every day and didn’t wear makeup and didn’t follow the crowd.
INTERVIEWER: How did the bullying start?
BETHANNE: This girl started calling me a tomboy and telling me that no one liked me. She said I was a fake, not a real person, who wanted to be like all the boys.
INTERVIEWER: This was before social media, right?
BETHANNE: Right. It was all verbal and in school and behind my back. But this girl turned my friends against me. I felt really unsafe in school. I grew up with two older brothers. We were always playing outside.
INTERVIEWER: So, do you think the bullying was some kind of gender thing?
BETHANNE: All I heard was the word tomboy.
INTERVIEWER: So how did you feel when this girl bullied you?
BETHANNE: I felt really alone . . . like I didn’t have anyone except for one of my best guy friends who stuck with me through it all. But it was really rough because all these people that I thought were my friends . . . they took her side. I felt really insecure. This girl taunted me to my face during school and during recess. I think she did it a few times at lunch too.
INTERVIEWER: Would you describe her as popular, smart, someone with a lot of friends? You know, what some people call a “Queen Bee.”
BETHANNE: No. She was just bigger than most girls in the class. I think she felt insecure and tried to make me feel the same way.
INTERVIEWER: How did things end?
BETHANNE: I moved. My parents got a divorce, and I went with my mother and one of my siblings to another state. I never saw the girl who bullied me again!

Even though Bethanne was in fourth grade and will be a junior in high school, the bullying is still fresh. She’s forgotten some of the details but not many. Whether or not she’ll carry this experience with her into adulthood remains to be seen. If the studies are accurate, she will.


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