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.