Sunday, April 14, 2019 || By Michael Romain || OPINION || @maywoodnews
In its April 13 issue, the Wall Street Journal profiles Herriman, Utah — a suburb of roughly 35,000 people. Six high school students from Herriman died by suicide between June 2017 and May 2018.
“Suicide clusters, which involve multiple deaths in a small geographic area and time frame, hit roughly five U.S. communities each year,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “They almost always involve adolescents.”
In Maywood, there have been at least four suicides since November 2018 (not including one that possibly went unreported by Village Free Press, but that we haven’t yet confirmed). Three of those who died by suicide were 15-year-old Proviso East students.
In the United States, there are roughly 19,500 municipalities, according to the Census Bureau. So, the chances of a community getting hit by the phenomenon of suicide clustering is something like 0.03 percent, according to my back-of-napkin calculations.
Right now, Maywood is experiencing the statistical equivalent of a rare disease, but so far as I can tell, we have no equivalent of the fictional Dr. Gregory House — the ingenious, Sherlock Holmesian infectious disease specialist on the now-cancelled Fox TV show that bears its star’s name — to puzzle over this most tragically mysterious of public health afflictions.
“Though clusters account for only a fraction of youth suicides each year, they prompt deep examinations that single cases do not; residents ask, ‘Why here?’ the Journal reports.
“A suicide cluster in Palo Alto in 2014 and 2015 sparked an exploration of the academic pressure put on students in affluent communities,” the Journal adds. “In Ohio, doctors found that a sharp rise in youth suicides in 2016 went hand-in-hand with opioid overdoses.”
In Herriman, where most people are devout members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the church’s strict culture of conformity was examined as a possible source of anxiety for local teens.
Herriman High, for instance, bans odd hair colors and the LDS church forbids alcohol, tobacco, coffee, pornography and premarital sex, among other prohibitions, the Journal reports.
“After the fifth suicide, Kyndel Marcroft, a licensed clinical social worker in Herriman, began giving presentations at Mormon chapels in town about teen suicide and ‘toxic perfectionism,’” the article reads.
The Journal also cited the work of Anna Mueller, a University of Chicago sociologist who studied a wealthy area that has experienced “multiple suicide clusters.” Mueller’s work found that the wealthy, unnamed community she studied has “a homogenous culture, with ‘very rigid views of what’s good and what’s bad, what an ideal kid is and what a disappointing kid is,’ she said.”
Many of us justifiably want immediate action to stanch the collective bleeding, but we also need more people like Mueller and Marcroft helping us think about this local public health crisis in ways that are steeped in expert scrutiny and sober, studied examination of the facts on the ground — not myths or urban legends circulated on Facebook.
If you know someone at an area college, university or medical institution that can help us out, please forward them this SOS. We need all of the compassionate expertise we can get. VFP
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