Nov 222012

by Terry O’Neill

Amanda Todd’s suicide touched many in our community, and rightly so. If it’s true that the death of even one person represents a loss to all humanity, then the death of a young person such as Amanda amid such troubling circumstances might be seen as an even greater loss.

That being said, we must be careful in how we respond to this case. Yes, it should serve as a clarion call for greater awareness of the impact of cyber-bullying. On this point, and on the related issue of what can be done to stem the tide of cyber-bullying, everyone seems to agree.

At least as important, however, is the overall issue of youth suicide for whatever reason. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among teens after motor-vehicle accidents, according to this online source. Furthermore, this page from the Canadian Children’s Rights Council’s website has some important information about how common the phenomenon is and what can be done about it.

Interestingly, another page from the same site contains the following declaration: “Curriculum or school-based programs which focus on increasing awareness, risk identification and community resources are not effective, and may, in fact, stimulate imitative suicidal behavior…”

This statement leads directly to an event of some interest that took place in Vancouver earlier this week, and that was the provincial government’s Erase Bullying conference—the reporting of which tended to focus on the fact that officials with the Ministry of Education had not invited Amanda Todd’s mother to attend “over fears her presence might upset some of the event’s young speakers.”

I think the ministry made a good decision. Not to diminish the sadness associated with Amanda’s death, I am worried that there has been altogether too much publicity surrounding her suicide. Talk-show hosts, politicians, community leaders and legions of social-science experts have all weighed in, as is their right. But it is also their responsibility to weigh their statements and actions carefully, with their primary concern being the effect of those statements and actions on young people. The “contagion” aspect of suicide is real and everyone in a leadership position must recognize this.

My thoughts regarding this are also guided by something the great American essayist Peggy Noonan once noted when discussing unmarried mothers: “That which we celebrate, we encourage.”

With this in mind, I think we need to be cautious about this Sunday’s memorial and birthday tribute for Amanda. Yes, her family and friends have every right to mourn her passing. Nevertheless, such an event has the potential to add fuel to a fire which, I fear, has already grown far too hot.


RKRN recommends that you also visit the Canadian Psychiatric Association’s “Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicide.”

  One Response to “Terry O’Neill: Youth Suicide Calls for Careful Response”

  1. I agree with Mr. O’Neill about the risks of raising the temperature surrounding the Teen Suicide issue. More to the point however is he not doing exactly that by writing about it? Is he not one of the “Talk-show hosts, politicians, community leaders and legions of social-science experts”?

    I wonder what the alternative is. Would it be better to treat these situations as we did in days gone by. Simply allowing families to grieve privately does nothing to stop the spread of the root cause of teen suicide but it does prevent the media frenzy that has ensued over Amanda Todd’s. The popularity and friendship she so desperately sought in life, has somehow manifested itself in this cult-like hero worship. But then, by even writing this letter am I not also part of the problem?

    Thank you Mr. O’Neill.

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