Okay, So It’s A “Heavy” Topic for a Book

imagesOkay.  So, not everyone wants to read a “heavy” book about teen suicide.  I get that.  It is often much more comforting to build a fire, sit in a comfy chair, and read an entertaining book that sweeps you away from the miserable polar vortex that has descended on half of the country.

But there’s another vortex, if you will.  While it may not be entertaining, it’s damn important.  The rate of teen suicide has reached a 40-year high.  That’s serious stuff: dead serious.  (Hmmm . . . good title for a book.)

But all is not gloom and doom.  There is so much we can do to help break the cycle of teen suicide.  We can feel good about how we talk to friends and family.  We can be aware of the warning signs and make a move if we think there’s trouble up ahead.  We can line up some folks we trust who can connect with health professionals who know how to treat underlying problems like depression and/or anxiety disorder.  Hell, we can just be a good friend.

A marketing pro whom I respect read the 2nd edition of Dead Serious over the holidays.  (Yep, I snagged the title.)  Maybe not the best time to read anything heavier than A Christmas Carol or to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  (If only it were so.)  She thought the book was important and well done.  But her gut told her that this is a book that people would much prefer to buy online or check out from their local library.  She had a hard time envisioning readers walking up to the cashier at their local bookstore, smiling at the person behind the counter and plopping down their money for a book about suicide.  They’d feel uneasy.  Or maybe embarrassed.  You know, like the boy buying his first copy of Playboy or a young wife sheepishly purchasing a how-to about kinky sex.

Well, the marketing pro may be right.  I hope not, but what do I know?  I just write the books and hope that someone else can help sell them.

But then, I wonder, what accounts for the fact that the 1st edition of the book sold almost 90,000 copies some three decades ago?  There was no social media.  No online book sites.  No Twitter.  No Facebook.  No Instagram.  And no ebooks to be downloaded at the library.  Nope.  People either bought a book at a bookstore or librarians bought copies to fill their shelves.

Mind you, thirty years is a long time ago.  I’ve unearthed some of the yellowed accounting notices that I received from publishers back then.  All they reported was whether the book had been sold in the U.S. or Canada, how many copies, and the price per each.  And that was it.  Translation: I don’t have a clue who bought the book or what motivated them.  I didn’t receive any comments on my web site or customer reviews on Amazon.  I was in the dark and will forever be.

You could do me a big favor and help clear things up.  Walk right up to the bookstore cashier and, with a wide grin and charge card or cash in hand, tell her how long you’ve been waiting for a book like this one and how anxious you are to get home, stoke the fire, settle in to that cushy chair and have a good read.

 

5 Reasons Why I’m Publishing a 2nd Edition of Dead Serious, A Book First Published 30 Years Ago

Jane Leder, Author

2nd edition of Dead Serious

After 30 years, why write a 2nd edition of  Dead Serious, a book about teen suicide (Atheneum/Avon)?  Hasn’t the subject been thoroughly covered?  Aren’t the library shelves loaded with other books on the subject?  Aren’t online book sites like Amazon brimming with competing titles?

The answer is “No,” “No,” and “No.”

Reason #1:  Sure, there are many other books about teen suicide that have been written in the past three decades.  But there is always room for more.  After a dip in the number of teens taking their own lives, a 2015 National Center for Health Statistics study reported that the suicide rate among girls between the ages of 15 and 19 reached a 40-year high.  Between 2007 and 2015, the suicide rate for those girls doubled.  For young males, there was a 31 percent increase.  Those statistics alone are reasons for writing and publishing a 2nd edition.

Reason #2:  Home computers were laughably primitive when I wrote the 1st edition of Dead Serious.  Not until the mid-1980s when the first word processor was introduced did regular folks begin to see the real benefits of owning a home computer.  For most kids, it was the availability of games—albeit mere precursors of today’s games—that was the main attraction.  The World Wide Web wouldn’t be available until 1989.  The term “surfing the net” didn’t hit our lexicon until 1992.  Back in 1987, people actually communicated by making a phone call or writing a letter.  Unlike today where so much is done electronically (and, in some cases, anonymously), kids at the end of the 1980s talked face-to-face.  Their social skills were well honed.  They could “read” cues like facial expressions, body gestures, and tone of voice, whereas today’s teens are often stymied when they put down their electronic devises.

Reason #3:  There were no cell phones.  No texting.  No social media.  A site like Facebook didn’t launch until 2004.  Before then, problems like bullying were confined to school or to the neighborhood.  Home was a safe zone.  Bullying stopped at the front door.  Once inside, victims didn’t have to worry about nasty text messages, Facebook postings, Instagram photos, tweets on Twitter—the list goes on.  (Sure, teens today can shut down all social media and turn off their cell phones.  Fat chance!)

Reason #4:  Back in 1987, gay teens (and adults) were in the proverbial “closet.”  Talk about gender and sexual identity in schools—everywhere, for that matter—was too risky.  It was illegal and, in some states, a crime to marry someone of the same sex.  In 1996, President Clinton signed the “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.  And nowhere on TV or in the movies could LGBTQ teens (Acronyms that have been expanding more recently) see images of themselves.  There were no role models.  They had to go it alone.

Reason #5:  As with issues of gender and sexuality, talking about sexual abuse, self-harming and suicide was taboo.  Only now, are we seeing a groundswell of women who are sharing their stories of sexual abuse.  And with a TV series like “13 Reasons Why” (a series with which I have a lot of problems,) the topic of teen suicide is, some would say, encouraging a national discussion.  But the stigma that hovers over suicide has not abated.  Many suicides are officially ruled as “accidents.”

So, why did I write a 2nd edition of Dead Serious (with a new subtitle: Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide)?  Let me count the ways.

8 THINGS I HAVE LEARNED ABOUT TEEN SUICIDE

8 THINGS I HAVE LEARNED ABOUT TEEN SUICIDE

I’m not a stranger to suicide. My mother’s first cousin took her own life, but the cause of her death was listed as an “accident.”

Three days before my wedding to my ex-husband, his aunt took her own life.  Didn’t know whether or not to cancel the wedding.  We went ahead.

My brother took his life on his thirtieth birthday. He stuck a hunting rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

And so began my journey to try to understand why 44,000 Americans—more than 5,000 of them teens—decide that life is not worth living. I wrote a book about teen suicide in the late 80s and now some three decades later have written Dead Serious: Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide.

 

      8 THINGS I HAVE LEARNED ABOUT TEEN SUICIDE

  1. We can never know for sure why someone chooses to end his life. We can make educated guesses, read the research, talk to suicide survivors. In the end, we are left with questions that will never be answered.
  2. There is never just one reason why a young person takes her life. It’s not just the breakup with a boyfriend. Or just academic problems. Or alcohol or drug abuse. Or issues faced by LGBTQ teens. Nope, experts say it’s some six to fifteen reasons why. (Not to be confused with the TV series “13 Reasons Why”).
  3. Talking about suicide does not make matters worse. What makes matters worse is not That may sound counterintuitive. But more than anything someone struggling with suicidal thoughts wants someone to listen, to show that they care.
  4. It is never your job to save someone from taking his/her life but to connect with a mental health professional who has the training and expertise to help someone who is considering suicide.
  5. It is your job to break the code of silence if a friend or child or student tells you not to share his feelings. It is always better to have someone angry with you than not to have that person around at all.
  6. Recognizing the warning signs of potential suicide is essential. This is not always easy with teens who can be moody and uncommunicative. Still, it’s important to be on the alert and to notice changes in behavior: eating, sleeping, social habits. And it’s crucial to plug into even more serious warning signs like a teen giving away his possessions, writing a will, crawling into a deep depression or severe anxiety, and an obsession with death.
  7. There are many myths out there about suicide. One of the most prevalent is that when a teen (anyone) talks about suicide they are just looking for attention. The truth is that most teens who take their own lives do talk about it. They make open threats that, sadly, are too often ignored.

 

Myth: Once a teen decides to take her own life, no one can stop her.

Truth: Even the most hopelessly suicidal person has mixed feelings about death. With help, even that person can be stopped and coaxed toward life.

Myth: Once a teen tries to kill herself, the pain and shame will keep her from trying again.

Truth: Of every five people who take their own lives, four have made one or more previous attempts. And of all teens who attempt suicide, one in three tries again.

  1. The importance of a loyal friend—a connection—who will be there no matter what can make a big difference between a teen deciding to choose life instead of the alternative.

 

“Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have

to do is call, Lord, I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,

you’ve got a friend. You’ve got a friend.”

“You’ve Got A Friend”—James Taylor