‘Make Changes’

Here are the last words of Patrick Turner, aged 16:

“So much pressure is placed on the students to do well that I couldn’t do it anymore. There is never a moment to brake. Finals have pressured me immensely, along with a lot of other people. I want you to know that my parents were not the reason for this.”

“A lot of kids make mistakes. One slip up makes a kid feel like the smallest person in the world. You are looked at as a loser if you don’t go to college or if you get a certain GPA or test score. All anyone talks about is how great they are or how great their kid is. It’s all about how great I am. It’s never about the other kid. The kid who maybe does not play a sport, have a 4.0 GPA, but displays great character. People don’t understand how to be selfless.”

“Playing baseball gave me the most joy that I ever had. Baseball was a daily relaxing time where I could just go out and have fun with my friends. Thanks for giving me the opportunity. Live and play everyday like it’s your last because you never know when you will be done forever. Thanks to all for the memories.”

After writing down these thoughts, just over one year ago, the high-school sophomore walked onto an empty baseball diamond in his hometown of Newport Beach, California in the middle of the night, and took his own life.

Paul Hovitz. co-chair of CB1’s Youth and Education Committee

His death is part of an ongoing national epidemic of teen suicide, related to stress. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, and causes more than 4,000 deaths each year, according the the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which documents that rates of suicide among Americans aged ten to 17 skyrocketed by 70 percent between 2006 and 2016.

But these numbers tell only part of the story. The CDC also notes that a recent survey of high school students across the United States found that 16 percent of respondents seriously had considered suicide, while 13 percent reported formulating a plan, and eight percent recalled attempting to take their own lives in the preceding 12 months.

A separate, 2017 survey published by the American Psychological Association found that American teenagers now, on average, report higher stress levels than adults, with the most common causes cited as school (more than 80 percent), and worries about being admitted to a good college or deciding on a career path after high school (more than 60 percent).

Nor is New York immune to this plague. As recently as 2014, ten students in New York City public schools took their own lives over the course of seven weeks. And these concerns are particularly resonant in Lower Manhattan, where a large cohort of local teenagers attend high-performing, academically competitive secondary schools, at which rigorous curricula reflect the lofty ambitions of the families behind the students. But such aspiration is closely associated with chronic anxiety among the children for whom expectations run so high.

Against this backdrop, local leaders are demanding that more resources be allocated for teenage mental health. In December, Community Board 1 (CB1) enacted a resolution calling upon the City’s Department of Education (DOE) to fund, “at least one social worker for every 100 students.”

At CB1’s December 19 meeting, Paul Hovitz, who co-chairs that panel’s Youth and Education Committee (and also serves as CB1’s vice chairman), explained, “we need more money for mental health for kids at Stuyvesant High School, and actually in all our high schools, because suicide rates are crazy.”

This measure followed an earlier resolution by the Community Education Council (CEC) for District 2 (the school zone that includes Lower Manhattan), which noted that, “eight percent of New York City high school students have attempted suicide and 13,000 students

report feeling depressed,” and warned, “New York City teachers and administrators have not received basic training on identifying and escalating issues related to student mental health.”

The DOE has yet to take action on the measures passed by CB1 and the CEC. In the meantime, perhaps the best that any of us can do is to be guided by Patrick Turner’s parting words of advice: “Be nice to everyone, and most importantly be inclusive. If there is a kid out there who is alone, it never hurts to sit with them or ask them how they’re doing.” The young man who would not see his 17th birthday then closed his farewell with this plea: “I hope you will understand what I’m trying to convey to you. The stress put on me has led me to this point. Make changes.”
Matthew Fenton

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