Dear Homeschooling Parents: Let’s Talk About Suicide

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CC image courtesy of Flickr, Jared Keener.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Jared Keener.

The following is an excerpt from Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out’s upcoming free curriculum, Suicide Prevention 101 for Homeschoolers.

Suicide is a topic that makes many people uncomfortable.

We don’t want to think about our friends, family, and other loved ones feeling so full of despair and pain that ending their life seems like their only option. Suicide is a dark, frightening topic. It makes sense that we’d be scared to talk about it openly.

But we need to. We need to talk openly about suicide. Only when we shine a light on its darkness can we begin to understand those who struggle with it and how we can come alongside them — as family, friends, and community members — and help them through their dark times.

There are also a lot of misconceptions and myths about suicide that keep people from being willing to admit they struggle with suicidal thoughts. Many of these misconceptions and myths are directly related to ideas promoted in Christian homeschooling circles by respected homeschool leaders and teachers. These misconceptions and myths are rooted in a misunderstanding of the reality of mental illness and an unbiblical view of the human body as created by the Christian God. We need to face these misconceptions and myths face-on if Christian homeschooling communities are going to get better with expressing love and compassion to those who suffer from mental illnesses — especially when those illnesses, when left unchecked, can directly lead to suicide and suicidal attempts.

I am going to begin today’s discussion on suicide and suicidal thoughts by sharing four stories of young people who suffered from this ailment:

  • In 2013, a 17-year-old girl named Abigail went missing. Her parents initially believed she was kidnapped. Abigail was a bright young woman who volunteered regularly at a retirement home, played the piano, and sang in choir.[1] When her body was found days later, it was determined that she had taken her own life by ingesting a lethal amount of prescription drugs.[2]
  • In 2012, a young man named Luke wrote a suicide note to his family, stole his family’s car, drove off with neither a license nor a seatbelt, and had no plans to return home alive. The 17-year-old intentionally swerved his car onto oncoming traffic in an attempt to kill himself.[3]
  • Around the same time a young man named Matthew, who grew up in a home where Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles materials were used to learn anger management skills, decided he had had enough of his father’s lack of anger management. He realized he needed to move out of his parents’ house or else risk hurting his father. A couple days later, Matthew was found dead, having killed himself out of despair.[4]
  • In the early 2000’s, a young woman named Laney — just in her early teens — swallowed a bunch of pills along with vodka. She was sick of life and sick of having to pretend that she was a perfect model child. Laney was rushed to the emergency room where her stomach was pumped in a desperate attempt to save her life.[5]

All 4 of these individuals shared a common struggle with suicide. Abigail and Matthew were sadly successful in their attempts; Luke and Laney fortunately survived their attempts.

But what they also all have in common, and why I’m beginning today’s discussion with their stories, is that all of them were Christian homeschool kids.

Not only were Abigail, Luke, Daniel, and Laney Christian homeschool kids, they were kids homeschooled in Christian homes, surrounded by Christian peers, and nurtured by Christian teachers. Yet they all suffered from the darkness of depression. We may never know why exactly, but what we do know is that one can be a young Christian teen, seemingly on fire for Jesus, can do all the “right” Christian activities, be raised by Christian parents, be taught with the “right” Christian homeschool curriculums, and yet still suffer from depression and suicidal urges. We cannot ignore that fact. Nor can we sweep it under the rug. We need to acknowledge that one can “do everything right” and yet still suffer from the mental illness of depression and have to daily fight one of its potential consequences: the urge to end one’s life.

In 2014, Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out conducted a large-scale, national survey of alumni of the Christian homeschooling movement. Alumni from around the United States, as well as several foreign countries, took the survey. When asked if they ever struggled with suicidal thoughts, 43% — 1,602 out of the 3,703 respondents — said yes. And when asked if they ever attempted suicide, 8%, or nearly 1 in 10 respondents, said yes.[6]

Note that all 3,703 survey respondents grew up in Christian homes and the majority of them were homeschooled for most of their primary education years. Despite that background, 43% of them had to fight against suicidal urges.

This should be a wake-up call to Christian homeschooling communities to start facing the reality of mental illness head-on and to begin conversations — like the one we are having right now — about how we can better serve homeschool students (and their parents) who feel suicidal. We need to start having regular, annual meetings where we educate homeschooling parents and teachers about how to recognize depression, how to recognize the signs of suicidal urges, and how to respond to young people when they display those signs.

*****

Citations

[1] David Kenney and Morgan Carlson, KLTV 7, “Abigail Bonner remembered at memorial service,” 2013, link, accessed on March 10, 2015.

[2] Ruth Ingram, Clarion Ledger, “Madison grand jury: Abigail Bonner took her own life,” January 16, 2014, link, accessed on March 10, 2015.

[3] Sandra Phillips, Fox 5, “Teen who tried to commit suicide wants to inspire others,” November 6, 2013, link, accessed on May 10, 2015.

[4] Lana Hope, Homeschoolers Anonymous, “My Friend Is No Longer Alive To Tell His Story: Daniel’s Story,” May 10, 2013, link, accessed on March 10, 2015.

[5] Story from a personal friend; name changed.

[6] Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out, “Announcing the Results from HARO’s 2014 Survey of Homeschool Alumni,” December 2, 2014, link, accessed on March 10, 2015.


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Author: The HARO Team

 

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