Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a three-part series on teen suicide. Tomorrow’s story will examine causes of suicide among young people.
The events of July 11, 2011, replay in Holly’s mind like a bad dream from which she can never fully wake.
“I was hanging out with some old friends who definitely weren’t into the right things,” the Hendersonville High graduate told The Ville News recently. “Everyone that I was with was drinking, and I had in my mind exactly what I was going to do.”
Like so many young people, Holly had struggled with anxiety and depression. She had battled drug and alcohol abuse and had been through abusive relationships.
She felt desperate and alone, and it all came crashing down on her that July night when she was 21 years old.
“So I’m driving down New Hope Road, past Beech, and I was ready. I drove my car directly into a telephone pole, splitting it in half,” Holly remembered, her voice hushed and her words slow and deliberate, as though reliving the episode yet again.
When she regained consciousness, she was trapped and gasping for breath because of the airbags pressed against her. She had to kick the door open to escape the wreckage, and as she broke free, she had a moment of clarity.
“At that moment, everything became so clear what was really important in life,” she recalled.
Holly’s story is not as unusual as many might think. Statistics by the suicide prevention group The Jason Foundation and by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest a staggering problem facing young people:
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youngsters 10 to 14 and the second for young people 15 to 34.
More teenagers and young adults die from suicide each year than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combined.
Each day in the U.S., there are an average of over 5,240 suicide attempts by young people grades 7-12.
“Over the years we’ve done surveys, and over 20 percent of our students say they have thought about it but not acted upon it,” said Debbie Sheets, coordinator of HHS’ STARS (Students Taking a Right Stand) counseling program.
The numbers for young people appear to be part of an overall rise in suicide, which has surged to the highest level in the U.S. in nearly 30 years with increases in every age group except older adults. In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999, according to a study released last month by the National Center for Health Statistics.
Behind the statistics are teens like one HHS junior who spoke to The Ville News on condition of anonymity. She is among more than a dozen people interviewed for this series who have personal experience with suicide as a counselor, a family member or friend, or as a survivor.
“I felt so much hate for people and I felt that I was hated by everyone to the point where I just wanted to end it all,” she said. “I attempted suicide three times. Each time I told my mom I wanted to kill myself, she thought it was a joke. She said that I didn’t have real problems and that the one with real problems was her.”
Another HHS student, a senior, had a harrowing encounter on her birthday.
“I had just celebrated my 13th birthday. I was feeling really excited. I was ready to go to bed, ready to go to school the next day, and … um … I hear a blood-curdling scream come from my mom’s room. She had just gotten a call that my dad had committed suicide about an hour before.”
Even though this was five years ago, that night is never far from her thoughts.
“It’s been a really hard five years, to not have my dad around for prom and upcoming graduation and in the future my wedding, college graduation, all of that,” she said. “It’s just been a long journey of healing and grief and heartbrokenness.”
Statistically, males take their own lives at nearly four times the rate of females and represent 78 percent of all suicides, according to the CDC. However, females are more likely than males to have suicidal thoughts.
Firearms are the most commonly used method for men (57 percent) and poisoning the most common method for females (35 percent), the agency reports.
For Holly, surviving the car crash opened her eyes to the people who really cared about her, and she discovered it wasn’t her party friends. She underwent treatment and found comfort that she wasn’t as alone as she thought.
“I’m not crazy. People who struggle with this are not crazy. So many people have these thoughts,” she said.
And while Holly acknowledges still having bouts of depression, she finds peace in sharing her story.
“I feel that maybe this was the direction that my life was supposed to be in,” she said. “I got a second chance, and I think whenever you realize life is really precious and you only get one of them, then you really start to change the way you do things and the way you live each day.”
Story by Jensen Tabb, Anna Burke, Ashley Baez, Cleo Graham, Lindsey Glowacki and Kolby Hayes