The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a sobering report on October 17th finding that suicide among individuals aged 10 to 24 increased 56% from 2007 to 2017. Sadly this follows on the loss of far too many of the young people in our community. Too many of our own families have been cut to the core by the excruciating loss of their children, never to be whole again. Meanwhile, the debates continue as to what or who is to blame. Lack of mental health awareness or resources? Social media? Traditional media? The availability of weapons? Drugs? And while we debate and argue, more and more children continue to die by their own hands.
We need to begin to change this terrifying trajectory. I suggest we adopt a new perspective. We must understand that these are our children who are dying. Each and every one of them. We are the adults who surround them, who make the decisions every single day that shape their experience and their world. That is true if you are a parent, a teacher, a neighbor, or just another citizen in the same community. Our children are our future, they will pay for – and govern -- the society that supports us all as we age. It is time we took responsibility for that. All of us.
As a parent and a former college professor, the most important lesson I have learned is that children and students don't do what you say, they do what you do. What adults do – the way we conduct ourselves, how we treat others, the decisions we make about what we think is most important – shape the actions of the young people around us every single day. Children are a mirror, constantly reflecting us back to ourselves.
What does this mean in practical terms? A budget is a statement of values. No matter what we say we support, only the things we put resources towards and make sacrifices for have meaning. We say we support student mental health, but if we decide not to fund sufficient counseling and social work staff in our schools, what will our children see? If we choose to ignore the data, supported overwhelmingly by the medical community, that demonstrate that our county's school start times don't meet the physical and mental health needs of our children, what message are we sending to our children? What we are saying – and very clearly – is that these things really don't matter. Mental health is a nice thing to have if it doesn't inconvenience us or cost too much. Listen to – but feel free to ignore – what the doctor says, ignore what the parent says. Ignore what the adult says.
Another terribly sad thing happened on October 17th. We lost a remarkable leader of Maryland, and of our nation, with the passing of The Honorable Elijah Cummings. Representative Cummings had constantly and consistently reminded us that all that is going on in our communities, our country, and our world, is happening on our watch, and it is our responsibility to stand up and make the necessary changes. Our children are killing themselves on our watch. We must stop watching and make the commitment to do what we can to prevent more tragic losses.