NOTE: This post discusses issues of suicide and self harm. If this may be triggering or upsetting for you, please feel free not to read any further. If you feel like you need help in this area then please contact a crisis line for assistance
OTHER NOTE: I AM FINE! This post is about stuff that happened at high school many (far too many!) years ago. While I am certainly no paragon of mental health, I am not in any kind of distress and am not contemplating any kind of self harm. I just feel like discussing some high school memories in my usual irreverent manner. Thank you for any concern, it is appreciated but I assure you quite unwarranted!
One particular year back in high school everyone suddenly seemed very concerned about suicide. I don’t know if there was a particular event that triggered this concern, I certainly can’t recall any of my fellow students attempting self harm, although to be fair it was not the kind of thing that would be openly discussed in the early 90s and I was not sufficiently connected to the school’s gossip network to pick up any rumours. Possibly it came down as a dictate from the Catholic Education Department, perhaps triggered by an incident at another school or as some kind of reaction to the rising popularity of Grunge music. In any case, without warning all our Religious Education classes suddenly switched to telling us why trying to kill ourselves would be considered a very bad move, both personally and spiritually.
Now, this in itself was no bad thing. No one could seriously suggest that trying to prevent teenagers from harming themselves is problematic. What puzzled my friends and I at the time however – and continues to puzzle me to this day – was the very strange way the anti-suicide message was presented. Whether this was due to the powers that be having to quickly come up with materials, some odd strictures of the Catholic church, or simply someone in an important position suffering from a chronic case of Dunning–Kruger is a mystery that will probably never be solved.
According to the information presented to us, teenagers attempted suicide for one of two reasons…
1: As an attention seeking strategy
2: As a means of revenge against people who (they feel) are mean to them
…and as such all the anti-suicide material we received was aimed at showing us how self-harm was an ineffective method for dealing with either problem.
For instance, in the first case, we could end up dead! Think about that! Our attempts at drawing attention to ourselves by taking a bottle full of pills, or cutting our wrists, or jumping in front of a train ran a very real risk of killing us! We didn’t want to end up DEAD did we? Of course not!
The second case was best illustrated by an anti-suicide video apparently obtained from the United States. It started with an angsty looking teen standing in a black void angrily making statements like “That’ll show them! They never appreciated me! Well now I’ve got the last laugh! Hah! They’re going to feel so bad now!” And then a deep voice, trying to sound – I seem to remember – like James Earl Jones but not quite succeeding, came out of the void and asked “Well what now?”. The teen, still seething with self-righteous anger, asked “What?”. The voice asked again “What will you do now?”. The teen looked shocked and stuttered “I… I don’t know…”.
While we considered the metaphysics of this, the video continued into a documentary about a second rank hair-metal-band who felt they had to do something about the ‘suicide problem’ among teens, so recorded a song called Don’t Say Suicide. They talked at length about how important the song was and how it would help prevent kids from self-harm – they even went into detail about how a teenager rang up a radio station and asked them to play his favourite song because he wanted to hear it before he killed himself, and the DJ played Don’t Say Suicide instead and the teen called up afterwards to say the song had changed his mind, and the band felt really great about that!
The tone of the piece was very strange. It seemed to veer between suicide prevention, a band-promo and a whole bunch of humble-bragging. At the end it cut back to the teenager in the black void, realising that he’d made a mistake and was now stuck in the black void forever. Whoops!
All of this education about why killing yourself was not a good way to get either attention or revenge was capped off with a reminder that suicide was a mortal sin, so if you did it you’d go to hell for all eternity – which is presumably that black void where not-James-Earl-Jones would question your choices until the end of time. So don’t do it kids!
The inanity of all this was best summed up by a friend of mine who sitting in art class after one of these R.E. sessions posed the question “What if you want to die just because you’re really tired?”. Our carefully administered regime of suicide-proofing provided no answer to this at all.
I guess out teachers did their best to address a difficult subject with the materials presented to them, but even at the time we students could see the inadequacies of the program. I sincerely hope that no student across the education system suffered because of them – although it’s almost certain that they did. And I presume that today’s schools recognise that self-harm and suicide are complex issues requiring more than sitting students down in front of a video of a hair metal band and threatening them with eternal damnation to solve.
(The friend who posed the question in art class is still with us, and turned out fine, just in case you were worried.)
When writing these kinds of posts I generally make it a practice to write down what I remember first, then check the actual historical details. As such I have now determined that contrary to my recollections, it was not an obscure hair-metal band that recorded Don’t Say Suicide but (apparently) well known Christian rock musician Rick Cua.
The song is simultaneously catchier and more religious that I remember, neither of which is surprising considering I only heard it once almost 30 years ago.