Response to Georgia Tech “Suicide by Cop”

The death of Georgia Tech engineering major and Pride Alliance president, Scout Schultz, last week at the hands of police was tragic and unnecessary.  Family, friends, and schoolmates reported that Scout was loved, respected, admired, good-natured, smart, and well-grounded.  What can we learn from Scout’s succumbing to suicide by cop?  Who is at risk of overwhelming depression or anxiety and how do we keep them safe?

I have worked with children and adolescents who suffer with overwhelming anxiety and depression for years, many of whom consider self-harm or thoughts of suicide as a coping mechanism for their negative symptoms.  In every case, the client did not want to die.  They wanted the pain, exhaustion, sadness, racing thoughts, and lack of support to stop.  They wanted to feel “not crazy” and feel like someone understood them without judging them.

The National Institute of Mental Health reported that in 2015 suicide was the third leading cause of death for children aged 10-14 and the second leading cause of death for young adults aged 15-24 and for those aged 25-34.  These numbers are staggering and bring unimaginable grief to the families of those affected.  NIMH also reported for that same year that 12.5% of adolescents aged 12-17 had at least one major depressive episode in 12 months.  For ages 18-25, the prevelence was 10.3%.

In our small-town high school, we had four teen suicides last year.  By all accounts, each of the students were loved in a way similar to Scout.  They were involved, had friends, passions, and their faith.  But my guess is that they did not feel like they could talk about depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts.  Our society has relegated these conditions to “crazy” people, and just the mere thought of mentioning a suicidal thought to someone fills those effected with fear of incarceration, involuntary commitment, social isolation, or exposure to ridicule or misunderstanding from family, friends, or the church.

Through Scout, we can learn that suicide is a coping mechanism to deal with depression.  We can learn that we should talk about suicidal thoughts more openly and with less judgement.  We can learn to listen to those who are in pain and help them feel understood and accepted.  We can be a rest stop for those whose journey is difficult and fraught with darkness.

We can also acknowledge that suicide is major killer of our youth and it is preventable.  Lets start talking about depression, anxiety, suicide, and self-harm in much the same way that we talk about diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.  Lets see these mental health issues as preventable, treatable, and manageable.  Lets keep our young people safe by keeping our young people heard.