A great deal of scientific and social endeavour is expended on preventing suicide. Few losses evoke emotions in others as much as a person’s death by their own hand.
A person’s suicide evokes predictable questions: Why did they not confide in someone? Why did they not ask for help? Why did their feel so alone?
The suicide of a young person is especially poignant.
Twenty-five years ago there was a spike in media attention on the purported role of music in suicide among teens. Much speculation centred on the possible contribution of heavy metal music to teen suicide.
Against this backdrop of media interest, a small group of researchers in Adelaide, South Australia, were studying the role of music preference as an indicator of vulnerability to suicide among teens. This research, which was published in 1993 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, could not and did not allocate a causative role to certain music preferences in teen suicidal behaviour. Rather, what the research showed was that teens who acknowledged unconventional music preferences, such as teenage girls who acknowledged a preference for hard rock and heavy metal music, were more likely to also acknowledge having engaged in suicidal behaviour than those with more conventional preferences.
Certain types of music do not necessarily cause teens to resort to suicide. Rather, music preference may be seen to reflect how connected an individual feels to mainstream interests, ideals and values. Connection to the mainstream plays an important role in regulating emotions and behaviours. When a teen feels disconnected from the mainstream they are at-risk of feeling isolated and alone and of resorting to unconventional behaviours that are not socially-sanctioned to resolve personal difficulties. They may even form new groups or subcultures with other lonely, isolated and disenfranchised individuals, where the behaviour of the new group is not regulated by conventional ideals and standards of behaviour.
Such is what occurs with suicide.
Suicide among teens can be prevented.
Suicide among teens can be prevented by all of us taking active steps to connect with those who are lonely and isolated; by taking the time to engage with them and see the world through their eyes; to communicate understanding of their experiences – their thoughts, their feelings, their interests.
Only then will they feel understood.
Only then will they feel like a valid person.
Only then will they feel connected to something bigger than themselves.
Only then will they confide in others.
Only then will they ask for help.
Only then will they no longer feel alone.