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.

Psych 101: Seeing Ourselves in Every Disorder

Car alarm going off.

Car alarm going off.

I count the number of times a car alarm goes off.  The information is mine alone: I never share it.

Phone ringing.

Phone ringing.

When the phone rings and either I can’t pick up immediately or see an unfamiliar number and choose not to pick up, I count the number of rings.  It gives me satisfaction that, even after the ringing has stopped, I can still hear it before the sound dissipates into thin air.

When the church bells in San Miguel de Allende peel at all times day or night, I wait until the peeling has stopped, replay the bongs in my ear and am both amused and proud when I repeat the number.

Church bells ringing.

Church bells ringing.

I am emboldened by my counting, by the repetition.  It feels as if I have a talent or power that most people don’t have.  And the counting gives me security, a sense that I’m control—even it’s control over clicks and rings and peels.

I’ve never shared this “habit” with anyone.  It hasn’t seemed important.  It’s just what I do.

But the other day after repeating my weekly dance and yoga classes to myself for the umpteenth time, I wondered whether I have a problem.

And there is the repetition of the number of Weight Watchers points I’ve accumulated in a day, even though I haven’t been on a Weight Watchers diet for several years.

And that’s exactly the point: Do I have a classifiable disorder?  Am I candidate for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?  Should I see a therapist?

I’ve done some research.  It would seem that I am not—at least, not in the conventional sense— a person with OCD.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the repeated thoughts, urges or mental images cause anxiety.  Okay, sometimes I wonder why I do all the counting and whether or not I’m sane.

Still, my obsession doesn’t include fear of germs or taboo thoughts about sex or religion (Although I did get rather testy when my dance included namaste at the beginning of class before we had anyone and anything to thank, to bless.)

BUT I guess my counting is an attempt to have things symmetrical, though the numbers are often odd.

And I suppose my repeated counting is a compulsion.

Now the NIMH makes it clear that everyone double checks things sometimes but that a person with OCD, among other symptoms, spends at least one hour a day on these thoughts or behaviors and experiences significant problems in their daily life due to their compulsions.

I don’t wash my hands every five or ten minutes.  I don’t wear gloves everywhere I go as a protection against germs.  I don’t hop over every line in the sidewalk, fearful that if I step on one, something bad will happen.

So, am I just like a student in a Psych 101 class who thinks she has every disorder under the sun? Because there’s no doubt that I’ve walked around with a dark cloud hanging over me.  (Depressive)  Or that I’ve had my manic episodes.  (Self-explanatory)  Or on occasion,  I’ve looked in the mirror but don’t feel a connection between me and my own image.  (Dissociative identity)

Or am I a “normal,” imperfect human with a bevy of harmless quirks that are weird but harmless?

Oh, wait . . . There goes the phone.  One ring, two rings, three . . .







Teen Suicide


Jane M. Leder Books


Yep, I know:  It’s a dicey subject that most folks don’t want to discuss.

I get it:  We’d all rather go on our merry way and not have to think about depression, drugs, conflict, teen suicide.

But most of us have been touched by a young person taking his/her own life.

My brother killed himself.

My high school boyfriend’s son hanged himself.

The brother of a woman I met last week end lost his battle with drugs.

My response to my brother’s death was to write a book.  I was (am) a writer, after all.  Expressing my feelings on paper (now on a computer) was the only way I knew to work through the guilt, emotional pain, anger, and the unanswered questions.  Oh, those unanswerable questions.  The truth is I’ll never get over the grief of losing a brother, my closest sibling.  But I can quit blaming myself for what I did or didn’t do.  And I can acknowledge that there are many things I’ll never know about why my brother stuck a hunting rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Suicide among youth between the ages of ten and twenty-four remains the third leading cause of death. And significantly more young people attempt suicide than those who die.  Often, a combination of factors such as drug and/or alcohol abuse, depression, parenting problems, an inability to resolve conflicts, lack of friends, the death of a close friend or relative contribute to teen suicide.  Often, parents and friends confess that they had no idea their son/daughter/friend was suicidal.  There were, they say, no warning signs.

Maybe we have to look more closely.  Maybe we have to hone our conflict resolution skills.  Maybe we all need to be vigilant and pay attention to warming signs that can be as seemingly insignificant as a change in someone’s eating habits, a slip in grades, a sudden lack of interest in friends or activities that used to be so important.  Family relationships are also key.  The way families solve problems impacts how we all learn to fight fair, settle disagreements, and move on.

Let’s listen and pay attention.