When the folks at Davidson Middle School removed the photo of Tyler Nichols, an eighth-grader who killed himself in March, from the school yearbook their intentions were good enough. Suicide is tough on kids. Why should they have to face evidence that it exists in their school?
Because stopping suicide isn't as simple as erasing one of its victims from the yearbook. It isn't as easy as pretending it doesn't exist.
One in 12 teens has tried to commit suicide. One in six has considered it. And the suicide rate for teenagers sits at around 7.8 percent.
So what's the answer? Surely it isn't in erasing all evidence of the existence of kids who have committed suicide.
Families in the Michigan school district are reportedly outraged, their kids heartbroken that Tyler was simply deleted from the yearbook even though he was alive when school photos were taken. As his mom, Ann Nichols, said:
It's almost like they want to forget he existed, and that makes me sad.
Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't be easier if we could forget. It's been 11 years since a childhood friend threw himself off a bridge in our hometown. I still wake up some mornings having dreamed of him, feeling like maybe the dream is the reality and he is still alive.
It would be easier not to have to remember all over again that he is gone.
But not real.
The reality of suicide is that the hurt never fully goes away. You never stop missing the person who is gone, never stop grieving.
This is what kids need to know about suicide. They need to know that it isn't just about them, that it affects everyone they know. The more they're made to face that, the more ammunition we have in the war against kids taking their own lives.
By taking a photo out of the yearbook, administrators may have meant to help kids with the grieving process. Instead they've taken away a powerful message in the fight against suicide. They've once again made a complicated but necessary discussion taboo.
But it can't be taboo to talk about suicide, not if we want to prevent it. We need to talk about it, to show kids what, exactly, suicide does to a community.
It hurts a community. It hurts kids. It hurts everyone.
And pretending it doesn't is not going to help anyone.
Would you prefer your kid's school keep the photos of kids who have committed suicide in the yearbook or remove them?
Image via LibAmanda/Flickr