Actor Robin Williams was a major presence in the lives of many young people, from his roles in the family movies Aladdin and Jumanji, from his role as the alien for Ork on TV reruns of “Mork and Mindy” as well as many other films. His recent death is resulting in grief for all ages, which teachers and others working with youth might want to address. In addition, psychologists are concerned about a phenomenon known as “suicide contagion.”
While one cannot actually “catch” suicide, like a cold, additional deaths do tend to follow celebrity suicides, especially if reported in ways that glorify suicide as a release. There has been great criticism in recent days, for example, over the Academy of Motion Pictures’ use of an image from the movie Aladdin with the caption, “Genie, you’re free now.” In the wake of this death, adults are encouraged to discuss the struggles of depression and substance abuse, to help de-stigmatize mental illness, and to encourage young people in struggle to reach out.
Suicide remains the second leading cause of death for young people, with Native Americans and students of European descent at the highest risk. — Death by homicide among African American youth is a story for another day. — Lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning youth of any background are also at particularly high risk; half of transgender youth have seriously considered suicide.
Supporting young people of all gender identifications is essential to their well-being at any time. In addition, there are suicide prevention resources targeted to LGBTQ youth. Visit he Trevor Project. Youth Suicide Prevention LGBTQ Resources. See also Teaching Tolerance
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. There are text and TTY options for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.
“Reach Out,” a program originally launched in Australia, offers a variety of discussion forums and other resources.
Moreover, resilience education is a key factor in helping prevent suicide and in promoting mental health more generally. Last fall, Dr. Mary Alvord talked to the Education Town Hall about the importance of resilience in the face of uncertainty and stress – all too prevalent in the lives of school-age youth across this country. Psychologists define resilience as “the ability to adapt well to a adversity trauma tragedy, threats, and stress.” Dr. Alvord is co-author of a guide to helping children develop this attribute. The recommendations include:
- make connections
- maintain daily routine
- take a break
Adults can learn to model and teach these skills. Resilience is one factor that can help youth at-risk of suicide.
You can find the full APA Guide to Resilience.