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The Frugal Writer: We are NOT OK

It's time to stop being polite, and start being real.

This is a message that needs to be said.  I know it will be criticized, and anger and blame will be tossed around like a beach ball in Ocean City.  But it must be done.  You see, we are NOT OK.  Another senseless tragedy has seized our community.  And, yes, hold your breath, because I’m going to say the word:  Suicide.

Now, before you yell obscenities under your breath, threaten me with scandalous, biased and subjective reporting or click to another, more friendly story, read on.  Lives depend on it. 

It is gut-wrenching when I hear a mom friend confide in me that she is glad her son (a close friend of the victim) is meeting up with a group at a friend’s house.  She relates, “What do I tell him when he comes home?  That it’s going to be OK?  I don’t know anymore.”

She’s exactly right.  We are not OK.  The counselors can’t stop it.  Parents can’t stop it.  School administrators can’t stop it.  Not by themselves.  I’m not blaming anyone and I’m not trying to make people feel guilty.  But we all have a part to play in this.  We all need to roll up our sleeves and get busy changing things.  If collectively, we do not acknowledge what is going on, if we choose to continue to put our heads in the sand, suicide is going to keep happening.

The aftermath is not encouraging.  In the letter sent home to parents, Severna Park High School Principal Patrick Bathras mentions the death and the fact that there are counselors available.  However, there is no mention of suicide.  Even though there are local organizations such as and a 24-hour national hotline available to students and families, these are curiously omitted.  Perhaps it’s school policy so maybe his hands are tied.  But if we can’t even name the problem, how will we go about fixing it?

Unfortunately, in an attempt to be “respectful”, we lose the opportunity to talk openly about what to do and start healing.  An inquisitive middle schooler, a revered high school coach and a promising high school sophomore have all taken their lives in as many years, right here in Severna Park.  To coin a phrase from a popular 90’s MTV show, it’s “time to stop being polite, and start being real.”

When patients finally get a diagnosis for a perplexing condition, there may be grief and anxiety.  But, when the disease in named, there is relief, or at least, determination in the face of adversity. 

When more value is placed on how kids score on tests instead of being able to inspire them to learn, they just do what it takes to get by and pass the test.  When copious homework requirements compete with the need for sleep and sports, plagiarism and cheating start looking acceptable. 

We can have as many counseling sessions and inspirational speakers at our schools talking about “getting help” and how you’re “not alone” but this is all talk with no meaning.   It is a bandaid covering a cyst. 

With the mounting pressures of schoolwork, demanding extra-curricular activities and lives that run on a nonstop treadmills, our environment is the perfect breeding ground for suicide.  When top producers are receiving accolades, praises and compliments, who among them is going to stop and say, “I’m tired and I need a break?”

When our students are told, by our society’s standards, that sporting events are more important than family dinners or free time off on the weekend, who is going to speak up and say they’d rather have just a few hours to unwind from all the pressure?

Our students are told to be more responsible and learn to deal with competing interests, to get up and get to school before the trash is picked up and figure out how to fit 30 hours of activity in a 24 hour day.  Students and staff that want a break, state they need a change, or admit that they are tired, are classified as irresponsible, underachievers, selfish or unmotivated.

Who is going to stand up and say enough is enough under these circumstances?  We can say what we want about “getting help” and “not suffering in silence”, but the rules and expectations that we drum into our kids clearly say the opposite.  And they are hearing that message, the message that you should be able to “handle it all”, loud and clear.

As a parent of three young kids, I’m leading my own battle of independence from pressure.  We reserve Sundays for church and unscheduled free time (no organized sports!!) and leave at least one night a week open for unstructured activity.  But, how successful will I be at maintaining this stance when my kids are assaulted with the need to compete with others gunning for the same college admissions and the limited number of coveted jobs in respectable professions? 

I co-founded Start School Later because ensuring the health and safety of our students is the first line of defense to help them thrive in life.  Improving sleep fixes all kinds of problems, including apathy, obesity, juvenile diabetes, truancy, risky behaviors, addictive behaviors, depression and suicidal ideation.  It also places a priority on the well-being of our students over all other competing interests and expenses. 

Anne Arundel County has a huge homeschooling network, filled with people that are bucking the status quo and doing things by a new set of rules.  People seeking these paths of independence will strike out on their own and be marginalized or ignored by the mainstream members of our community. 

What about the people that don’t have the choice or ability to homeschool?  What about those that don’t have the fortitude to take a stand against Sunday sports?  What about those of us who don’t have the reserves it takes to change the rushing tide of unquestioned busyness.

The symptoms of a person who is contemplating suicide is strikingly similar to a person suffering from sleep deprivation.  It’s no wonder we can’t see the signs of suicide until it is much too late.  Let’s stop this dead-end treadmill to merely survive and slog through our days in a relentless stupor.  Let’s reexamine what is really important in our lives and establish realistic priorities and limits.  Let’s talk about really making it important to give our children and community members room to breathe.  Let’s make real, lasting changes and live it by example.

Maribel Ibrahim, The Frugal Writer, created www.StartSchoolLater.net and is a Co-Founder of Start School Later, a grassroots coalition dedicated to ensuring that the health, safety and equity of children are protected when determining school start times.  To get involved, visit Start School Later and join the effort to ensure that children do not start school before 8 a.m.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Dan Gvozden May 14, 2012 at 02:33 PM
When I created the Empty Seat PSA several years ago (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OT8lw1Rl-WM) we had the support of over 400 volunteers to make a strong message. This was a huge moment for the community to come together and make a stance. Instead, the school board fought us every step of the way over concerns that the PSA glamorized suicide by showing people standing around a grave. I'm sorry. People die and it hurts the community. To remove death from these commercials only hides the issue at hand. It shows the kids who already live in a world that popularizes consequence-free living that even something like killing yourself is without consequences. It is time that we stop hiding behind a false veneer that is the Severna Park gloss and accept that we are a deeply flawed community in need of healing. We aren't all the perfect representation of "The American Dream" and the minute we open up about that is the minute that we can begin to address the pain.
Michelle Lyon May 14, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Maribel, that was very well stated. I, too, thought that the letter that went home, making no mention of suicide was doing a disservice - to the community, to the kids and to the family that was devastated by this tragedy. Did the school system think that no one would know that it was a suicide? All the kids knew by 9:30, at least. I agree that something MUST be done. For my family, too, that means no organized sports on Sunday. It means family dinners more nights than not. I do have kids in high school and middle school and I continue to stand up against the madness and protect my time with my children. I only get them for 18 years and then they will be off making their own lives. It is my responsibility to give them all I can while they are still under my roof - and I don't mean money or physical things. I mean our relationship, their mental health and resiliency to weather whatever comes their way once I am not there every day to protect them.
Tara Fontz May 14, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Very well said!
Maribel Ibrahim May 14, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Thanks Dan, Michelle and Tara for your comments. For the record, Dan, I thought the video you directed was poignant and communicated a reality that is (suicide) and the hope that everyone can get when they get help. I blogged about Building LIfe in a previous blog, http://severnapark.patch.com/blog_posts/blog-the-frugal-writer-stop-look-and-listen, with the suicide of Coach McCandless. I can't even believe that it has happened again. In all of this, I am thrilled to announce that a new group has been established on Facebook call Teens Taking Action Against Suicide. http://www.facebook.com/groups/304079663006758/ In just a weekend, the group has grown to 3,900 members and is exploding. People from Severna Park and many other places are coming together here to start getting real. Kids are bearing their hearts and helping each other, and healing is beginning. If you are a teen, love a teen, or want to know how to reach out to teens, go to the page and see for yourself. Some of the posts will make you wince and cringe, and some will make you cry with hurt. NOW is the chance to listen, really listen to what our kids need and how we can all as a community start healing. Small groups are forming, plans for outreach are being made, students are reaching out to each other and healing is happening. Parents are needed to help support this group. Right now, the biggest thing they need is us to finally, really, start to listen.
Andrea Slowikowski May 14, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Maribel, thank you. You have said something many of us parents of kids, who have graduated from SPHS, have said for years. We are a community capable of achieving great things when we come together. There is no blame here. Only caring and a need to help our kids. Not until we admit there is a problem can we begin to make a change. My heart goes out to all the families that have lost a child in recent years.
Therese Tuley May 14, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Thank you so much, Maribel. I do hope parents, teachers, school board members and school administrators in your area as well as mine (Fairfax County,VA) read this (I'm considering sending it to my school board members). As Chair of SLEEP (Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal) a grassroots organization, we too, are advocating for and lobbying our school system to move to healthy and balanced start times for all of our students. Last month, our school board passed a resolution to set a goal to start high schools after 8:00. It's only a goal, but it's a start in the right direction. I have a lot of confidence that this new school board will truly engage the community in devising the right schedule that will allow for a healthy balance for academics, sports and other extracurriculars and sleep.
Christine Joyce May 14, 2012 at 11:41 PM
Maribel, I am so glad someone put into word what I was thinking. I have a sophomore at the high school and needed to spend time speaking with him about how sad the whole situation is and that there is help out there for everyone. I was very disappointed with the extremely vague letter home which skated around the issue of suicide. It offered no suggestions except extra counslors would be available for resources to those who want to let their kids know if you need to talk to a professional here are the numbers. I am sure the letter is a form letter from the county, but it needs to be more forcoming and honest. We have a sit down family dinner every night except Friday and Saturday even if we have to tweak it to accommodate sports. Good old fashion family values, a sensible work load, and down time is what everyone needs. Thank you for your post. I hope it makes it to the county level. Christine
Thanks May 15, 2012 at 01:07 AM
Here are some links about a former SPHS student that might be helpful: 1) http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1999-01-06/news/9901061062_1_bay-bridge-severna-park-whitbread-round What is so remarkable about the above article is that is says, if you scroll down the page, that IN THE BALTIMORE AREA, [IN 1999] SUICIDES ARE RARE. What does that mean about how things have changed since then?? 2) http://articles.latimes.com/1999/dec/03/news/cl-40928 3) http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2011-03-10/news/bs-md-ar-suicide-prevention-program-20110308_1_suicide-attempt-depression-parents 4) http://brandicare.com/
Thanks May 15, 2012 at 03:39 AM
I am concerned about people saying that suicide victims have at last found peace-- even though I understand the need to find some trace comfort in the hope that, away from difficult circumstances, a victim of suicide found rest and a place to smile down at survivors. I am afraid that thinking will validate suicide as a viable option to others who wish to deliver a message or get away. Many hold as a religious truth that suicide victims DO NOT meet with relief when they pass on. It may be that God will ultimately grant mercy and comfort to the young and mentally ill who make such a tragic decision, especially if he's asked. Out of love and honor for our latest-- and hopefully last-- victim, let us pray often and long for her peaceful rest, and that our current and future youth realize that seeking help for inner distress is just like searching the field for someone to pass the ball to. Let's also give a break to the closest survivors-- while we should be spurred into community reflection and enrichment out of concern of what MIGHT move one of our kids beyond bad moods to contemplation of suicide, none of us can say that such resolve taken earlier might have saved our latest victim.
john jeka May 15, 2012 at 01:26 PM
I agree that the issue of suicide is important to discuss in the open within our families. But we must also recognize the enormous pressure kids are feeling from the society at large. It is not without irony that the discussion above of a recent teenage suicide, these days often accompanied by an eating disorder, is framed by ads from weight watchers with the attendant images of sexualized women. It is important to notice and discuss the damage of these images with our children, which are being fed to us everyday.
Karen May 15, 2012 at 02:12 PM
I saw your video and appreciated it, as well as the other links posted here. I find myself frustrated that the school board seems so disinclined to take any real action, other than offering to have extra counselors on hand for a few days. My experience is that when a tragedy like this happens, many are so stunned by it that they do not have the words to speak about it in the immediate aftermath. Intervention offered within the school and through community resources needs to understand this, and to provide many options for kids and parents to receive education and support. For what it's worth, there is no one 'answer' to this issue- as much as we'd like to believe that starting school later for teens, or having regular family dinners, or no sports on Sunday (a choice to be respected, but not the right one for many of us) would solve this. However, I do believe that children and adults can be taught more about the reality of anxiety and depression, and to look out for each other while looking out for themselves. Dan, please post your PSA to that Facebook page referenced below if you have not already done so. My heart and prayers go out to all affected by this loss.
Bernice Giles May 15, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Excellent video. Sharing it with my teens so they can forward it on to their friends. I didn't find it strong, I found it real. Thanks!
steve anstett May 15, 2012 at 06:07 PM
It is easy to point at the school system and say that they don't do enough, but i think that is an unfair conclusion. SPHS started STAR week as a response to these struggles that our kids are dealing with, and the entire school dedicates a week to this program. Our counseling center had parent programs dealing with many of these topics during weekday evenings but the lack of attendance made them obsolete. Our county has set up a group coordinating efforts between many departments and the community. It is called YSA (I think "Youth Suicide Awareness") and they have been responsible for training school staff in QPR, which is a Suicide Prevention Program http://www.qprinstitute.com/ among other projects. I am not part of the group, so i can't speak on their behalf, only know what i know through periodic email updates. This is a complicated issue, and i believe one that our school administration and staff take very seriously. I agree with Dan (who is so talented, as evidenced by the quality of the video and the message) that we do gloss over our flaws and to the extent we can peel a bit of the skin off the onion, we will all be better off. I just wanted to check in and point out that the county and our school in particular is being proactive, using the best information possible, and is very focused on this issue.
David Lee May 15, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Hi All, First, regarding the letter SPHS sent home, I can understand why it was written the way it was. There is a time and place to get the whole story out, but I really don't think the letter announcing to their friends and community that someone has died is necessarily the right venue to also announce that it was by their own hand. If I were the principal I wouldn't want to go hanging a devastated family's personal issues out for the whole world to see, at least not at that time. That being said, I agree with the comments about how much pressure kids are under, and that this problem needs to be discussed. Obviously I have no idea what was going on in this young lady's life, but there are some real problems in our community that we must deal with. The biggest I think is that we are too afraid to let our kids fail at anything, to the point of never letting them stand on their own two feet. Go look at a school science fair sometime - how many of those projects were actually done by the student? How many pinewood derby cars were actually built by the Cub Scout? I can tell you, not many. We keep holding them up, buying their success, rigging their sports teams so they always win, etc, etc. This has to stop. We need to realize that, if we let them fall down sometimes, but are there to pick them up, pretty soon they will be able to pick themselves up, then to run without falling down. David
Maribel Ibrahim May 15, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Karen, Bernice, Andrea, Steve Anstett, Therese, Thanks, john jeka and David Lee, thank you for keeping this conversation going. I want to make sure and clarify that my aim is not to finger point at any one group. Our problem is an overly complex one and the only way to relieve the extreme amount of pressure our kids are under is to reevaluate how we all - parents, school administrators, sports programs and the rest of the community - work together to set boundaries and appropriate limits when it comes to establishing requirements and expectations in each area of demand. Start School Later was established with this premise in mind. A national boundary needs to be set on when schools can start so that the health and safety of students are protected against the conflicting demands of budget cuts, sports requirements, school requirements, homework, etc. The Race To Nowhere movie addresses the pressures experienced in our performance driven society and how it is running our children and our communities into the ground. We need to bring everyone (school administrators, parents, sports organizations, local businesses and others together to the table so that we can come up with real solutions together. Throwing out resources (counselors and therapists) after a tragedy has happened is much like throwing a life preserver to the victims of the Titanic. The counseling is needed, but a plan to reform how this community operates is really what is required.
Mom3SP May 16, 2012 at 02:43 AM
I've heard that many SP kids go away to college & flail in the face of sub-A grades without hovering-parents to do research, drive over with forgotten items, and negotiate better grades. I think we try to impose our own shoulda-couldas on our kids rather than let them make their own scheduling decisions and pursue their own interests. We want them to craft a resume so they can get a full ride somewhere great. We want them to be popular, and cool. We want to brag at the in-laws' dinner party. But you know, some of the policies and philosophies in this village of ours are beyond parents' authority. School coaches insist on sports before life balance. The going wisdom had been to ace many AP courses. Plus (connecting to something John Jeka said) I think that some dances &costumes of recent years in the wonderful Rock N Roll Revivals are unnecessarily sexual, with adverse effects possible on younger audience members as well HS girls who do or can't participate in the show. Let's not just talk (thank you, Maribel for starting the conversation.) Let's individually and as a community reflect and change for the better. And let it be said again: none of this conversation of healing is in judgement of the bereaved family. Considering what Steve A said, what's next?
Mike May 20, 2012 at 03:54 PM
A school counselor should meet the minimal qualifications of a LCSW MSW. Any other person will not provide the correct therapy or understanding needed for any given situation. Oh, btw, it takes more than one or two sessions to resolve one’s differences. I don’t know what the answer is, maybe throwing the celli away, limited access to the internet and just plain old fashion care and love. What the bible said? Hmmm? There’s a problem stemming from the Broadneck peninsula through Severna Park into Pasadena. It’s time the community quit sweeping everything under the rug and face the truth. In the last three month, there have been two successful suicides in the Severna Park community. It’s time to pull together before we lose any others. I know what I need to do as a resident, hopefully others will follow
Maribel Ibrahim May 22, 2012 at 03:34 AM
Please check out this free movie screening of To Save a Life, in Broadneck. For details, visit http://broadneck.patch.com/events/to-save-a-life-movie-screening It's too important to get the word out and be an agent of real change here in Severna Park.
Leslie Hunt May 23, 2012 at 02:40 AM
Check this out: http://joshafoundation.org/ started by Lauren Anderson, 25, of Northern VA. who lost her teen brother to suicide. Her note reads: “PLEASE let anyone know they can get in touch with me about getting involved with the Foundation. They can email me here directly and/or visit our website www.joshafoundation.org. Another helpful thing is to pass along my mom's blog http://rememberingjosh.blogspot.com/
Thanks May 24, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Found this resource that might be informative. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/promoting-hope-preventing-suicide
Mom3SP June 04, 2012 at 02:54 PM
"You're stupid.." "No, you're stupid." Sounds like a playground retort exchange, and it also sounds like the responses to political blogs on Patch by the hundreds. Hundreds!! of posts are spent on cyber-smackdowns but only a few talk about what can be done to make our kids well-balanced people who make it all the way to old age. Our county employees post here that attempts to hold public forums on suicide prevention have been poorly attended-- we can't go because we are too busy shuttling our kids to the next star-making activity!!-- and so they make decisions on their own and then we say, "why doesn't somebody tell the county blahblah..." Meanwhile, THOUSANDS of kids are signing up to http://www.facebook.com/groups/304079663006758/-- which I can't access because I am a facebook objector. Where are their parents in this conversation? on Patch? in our local town halls on the matter? Our kids may need more sleep, but we parents NEED TO WAKE UP!
Maribel Ibrahim July 08, 2012 at 06:39 AM
Mom of 3, thank you for sharing your insights. As a result of the Facebook group, Teens Taking Action Against Suicide, support groups are being formed and connections are being made. Our community needs to band together to ensure that our kids can be honest and speak up about what they are dealing with. I'm thrilled to mention that a live support group has been started, called Live Out Loud. You can find more information about the group on their Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/liveoutloudsevernapark For those of you that don't use Facebook, you can contact the group via email, at liveoutloudsevernapark@gmail.com Here's a note I wanted to share from their Facebook page: We are excited to announce that on Sunday, July 8th, from 7:30 to 9:00 pm, Live Out Loud will be hosting its first meeting at the Severna Park Community Center!

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