Third Teen Suicide In Newton: What Can You Say?

Newton South (Wikimedia Commons)

Newton South (Wikimedia Commons)

Tonight at the Newton South High School auditorium, school officials and mental health experts will try to offer some guidance on how to talk to children about suicide and how best to support kids and families reeling from the news of a third teen suicide in this community since the start of the school year.

Tonight’s gathering comes after reports that 17-year-old Roee Grutman, a popular Newton South junior, committed suicide earlier this month. (According to the state Executive Office of Public Safety & Security, Grutman’s death was a result of “asphyxia by hanging.”)

Grutman’s death follows two other suicides: Katherine Stack, a Newton South sophomore, took her own life in October, shortly after Karen Douglass, a Newton North senior, also committed suicide.

At a memorial service for Grutman last night, hundreds of classmates and family members gathered to remember the “bright, articulate, compassionate” young man, The Boston Globe reports:

“One after another, the speakers at Monday’s service told of a young man who lit up a room when he walked in, and despite his schedule busy with honors classes and sports, always had time for a friend.”

According to parents in the Newton South community, many children are still in shock (as are their parents and teachers) and struggling to comprehend the string of suicides in general, and in particular, the death of a boy who appeared to be so well-adjusted, socially connected and stable.

“I think the kids are beside themselves,” said Elizabeth Knoll, whose 17-year-old daughter, Anya Graubard, is also a Newton South junior and was friends with Roee. “My daughter was gray and pale and tightlipped for the last two days.” (Knoll says Anya gave her permission to be named here.)

Knoll said in Newton — where many kids have been classmates since the age of 4 — Grutman’s out-of-the-blue suicide is particularly excruciating. “No one among his family or friends…could see anything like this coming,” Knoll said. “It’s impossible to make any sense of it.”

Still, Knoll said, the kids are gathering together and trying to process these deaths in their own way.

“Anya’s been spending an enormous amount of time with her friends — who are Roee’s friends,” Knoll said. “We told her we feel heartsick about this and we will do anything we can to help, but ‘we’re not going to make you talk if you don’t want to.’ And she said ‘Thank you, I want to talk to my friends.’ Yesterday [before the memorial service] I heard voices in her room — a bunch of them congregated there — and I thought, ‘I’m not going to go break in.’ I felt they were up there linking arms and steeling themselves… sometimes the kids just need to talk with each other.”

Here’s some of the letter from Joel Stembridge, the principal at Newton South High School, sent to the community shortly after Grutman’s death:

Dear Newton South Community,

It is so difficult to write to you to share our experience over the last two days. I want you to know that our students and staff are taking care of each other, and that through our sadness there are lots of hugs and stories. Thank you once again to our community for embracing our school, from food to tissues to well wishes.

Roee was personable, engaging, bright, articulate, and compassionate. He was an excellent student, served as a class officer for the class of 2015, participated in athletics, and was a peer advisor for a freshman homeroom.

He was very connected to many adults in the building, and was not shy about engaging in long conversations. Roee’s family has shared with us that his death was by suicide. There were no indications to any of us – or to his family – that Roee was even contemplating suicide. There are no easy answers. It is simply beyond comprehension.

Roee’s death is also so deeply troubling as this is the third student suicide in Newton since the beginning of the school year. We are all extremely concerned about this, and are working with experts in the field to know how to proceed. This issue will be discussed further at the upcoming Tuesday, February 11th at 7:00 in the NSHS Auditorium.

I share this to encourage you to have a meaningful conversation with your children, and to remind them that no matter what they are going through, we (the adults in their life) can help them through it. That things will get better. That we love them, and will move heaven and earth to provide the support that they need…

While many of our students are still working through sadness and other emotions, we are continually struck by the resilience of our young people. It has been a difficult two days, to be sure, and it is also wonderful to witness teachers, staff and students supporting each other throughout the school.

This weekend, it would be helpful if there are opportunities for students to connect with other students in healthy ways, with adults near-by. We want to ask you to think about opening your home this weekend to students in order to create a safe place for kids to gather.

Also, we wanted to be sure that you had information about what to do if someone you know needs additional support. The following community resources are available over the weekend:

• Riverside Emergency Services: (800) 529-5077

• Bridge Over Troubled Waters: (617) 423-9575

• “Samariteens” – Suicide Prevention Hotline: (800) 252-8336

• “Samariteens” – online chat: www.samaitanshope.org/im-here

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-TALK (8255)

• Newton Police Department: (617) 796-2101 or 911

For more professional advice, we turned to Drs. Steven Schlozman and Eugene Beresin, child and adolescent psychiatrists at Massachusetts General Hospital and directors of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds. They made these points:

• Although suicide clusters are documented in the research literature, they are in fact quite rare. According to the CDC, suicide clusters, while more common among adolescents, account for only about 1%-5% of adolescent age groups.

 

• Suicide clusters have varied definitions. The CDC defines these events as “a group of suicides or suicide attempts, or both, that occur closer together in time and space than would normally be expected in a given community.”

 

• Given the rarity of these events, it has been somewhat difficult to establish testable guidelines. Nevertheless, some strategies have shown in limited investigations to have been valuable in preventing further suicides.

1) Develop a community response plan

The principal of Newton South has begun to put together a plan that will assist the community and it is up to the leaders of the community and school system to help foster a plan outlined in his sincere and heartfelt letter.

2) Educational/psychological debriefings

This means having adults, including parents, teachers, counselors and peers discussing their reactions to the suicide, and promoting educational material in school and online so kids and their parents may understand something about why individuals take their lives and the impact of suicide on others. Parents and teachers can be helped to appreciate the risk factors, including depression, substance abuse, past attempts, personal losses, post-traumatic stress disorders and other psychiatric conditions.

3) Provide both individual and group counseling to affected peers

The principal has distributed material to the community for this. However, there can be no substitute for teachers, counselors and caregivers to encourage any teenager who is struggling emotionally to meet with a mental health professional for an evaluation and/or counseling. It is always useful to bring up conversations at home (see below for some tips for parents and teachers to open up discussion).

4) Screen high risk individuals

Many kids who have the psychiatric disorders noted above are at risk. The highest risk children tend to be Caucasian males who have attempted once or more in the past, who have depression or substance abuse. For girls, a past history of depression, substance abuse and previous attempts are also risk factors. It cannot be stressed enough that screening is best done by adults who have close relationships with teenagers. This may be parents, counselors, coaches, clergy, teachers or any adults who know the kids well. Further, kids who are worried about their friends should reach out to them and/or adults who may be able to see if they are struggling.

5) Responsible media reporting of suicide clusters

Kids tend to copy suicides within a two week period of an event, and the event in question may be a real suicide such as this one, a suicide of a celebrity, or even a fictional suicide from a television drama. There are clear guidelines for media reporting such events that prove helpful or harmful to the community. The Society for the Prevention of Suicide and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have posted clear guidelines for the effective reporting of suicides that would prevent copycat phenomena.

Tips for Parents, Teachers and others talking with teens:

1. Do not assume that your child understands or even knows about the details of the suicide. Use open ended questions such as: “What do you know about this event?” “How does it make you feel?” “Do you understand why someone would want to do this kind of thing?” “Have you ever thought about taking your life?”

2. Remember that most kids and adults think about dying, wishing they were dead or having such transient thoughts from time to time. This is normal, particularly in stressful times of loss. However, there is a BIG difference between the thought of dying, a wish to die, the intent to harm oneself, and a plan of action. If you think your child is thinking about suicide, do not be afraid to ask these questions. Many parents and caregivers worry that just asking will lead the child to commit suicide. That is not true, and there is no evidence in support of this fear, though it has in fact been studies. Asking never hurts. Not asking is likely more dangerous.

3. We all want to be supportive of the family who lost this wonderful young man. However, reaching out to the family may or may not be helpful to them. Some families long for community support; others choose to mourn privately. The key is to find someone very close with the family to let the community know how they wish others to respond to them.

4. Most kids want to help the family. Sending cards, notes, working on a memorial project is a way of not only helping the family who suffered such a loss, but a way of helping feel that we can make a difference for those who have known the young man.

5. Remember that younger kids, siblings, for example, have feelings about this as well. Parents should not forget to ask the younger ones in their family what they have heard, what concerns they have, what their fears are, in ways that children can understand the questions. Think developmentally.

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  • Chris

    Living Is So Big is an organization that promotes Life Appreciation. They actively spread this around the globe, via their website “www.livingissobig.com” and visiting various locations around the United States. Schools, Universities, Businesses, etc. Anywhere that people are willing to listen to their take on appreciating life. They also offer life coaching, amongst other programs. Products are sold at the Living Is So Big Studio or online at “www.livingissobig.net” – Remember if you have a heart-beat, you have a purpose. They would love to speak at Newton South High School and/or any school in the area. It is time to spread the concept of Appreciating Life, and of having a more positive outlook. If you would like to contact this organization for further information please visit: “www.livingissobig.org/contact”

  • Twocents

    I am concerned that our society (and I don’t just mean parents and teachers, both overworked and under-compensated for their efforts, but our society as a whole, all of us combined) is producing a generation of youth transfixed by their own navels. Of course they are, we encourage them to be! They don’t see the suffering of the world around them, only their unique brand of suffering. And all this talk of chemical imbalance in the brain and no personal responsibility infuriates me. Research has shown that talk therapy changes brain chemistry as well as any drug, and this to me means we do have power over our own thoughts. When I heard the hushed “oh, so tragic” and the community depression hanging like a cloud, I was desperate to hear some anger, too, and not just at parents/ teachers/ drug pushers, but at the youths themselves. So let me be the voice of anger. I am not talking here of the tragic situation of a person who is in unmanageable pain due to some terrible, incurable disease, that is a different circumstance. But let me tell you, if you are a teen contemplating suicide for emotional reasons, what you are doing is not romantic, it is not self-sacrificing (just a waste of yourself), and it is not thoughtful. Your act is an act of extreme violence against the very people who love you and who put so much effort and time into your well-being, and whom you love so little, it seems. Maybe you enjoy the thought of your friends’ hurting after you? Oh, yes, they will hurt badly, but eventually they will get over it and lead normal, productive lives. Get a hold of yourself, look outside of yourself for a second and find some meaning in your life by helping others in need. There is plenty you can do to help, but I suggest you start at the menial jobs first, because these need to be done, too. And, oh, go visit some poor places in the world with your parents’ money and see how other people live and suffer and work through their suffering, before you make any more plans to die.

  • StillStandingNow

    I know I will be the only one to say this, but…Connecticut is STILL (in fact even more every year) a major hotbed for Lyme disease, a hidden culprit in many mental illnesses. Strep can also do this, and both can be eliminated IF a parent is able to find a doctor willing to help. Google “Saving Sammy Today Show” and “Under Our Skin”. It is many things, but there is no excuse for the lack of access to treatment in such a wealthy nation.

  • Guest

    I know I will be the only one to say this, but Connecticut is still more than ever, a major hotbed for Lyme disease, which is a grossly underestimated source of mental illness. Look it up. Just imagine. Surely not all cases, but SOME actually are due to strep or Lyme. Treatable, IF a parent can get a doctor to help (google “Saving Sammy Today Show”…or “Under Our Skin”.

  • donniethebrasco

    All of this attention to suicide perpetrators leads to more suicide.

  • bob higgs

    It’s environmental toxins as much as anything. Wait about 10 years before any experts say this.

  • Arthur Papas

    Nicely organized, Steve. Helping families recognize cardinal signs will also be very helpful. Arthur

  • aj

    My grandfather lied about his age, and fought in WWII at the age of 16. Put that into perspective. Kids these days can’t cope with anything. Do the students realize how many of their peers would love to be in a great town like Newton. Lots of kids are in poverty around America, and the privileged kids in Newton instead kill themselves??? I don’t get it.

    • Aleta Boddy

      In my own experience, feeling depressed and knowing you *shouldn’t* because you are privileged makes you want to commit suicide. Depression is a mental illness, often caused by a chemical imbalance, and you can’t just choose not to be depressed. If you don’t understand why you are depressed, it can make you feel even worse about yourself.

  • rfra20

    My daughter is a senior at high school, and not to sound the classic “I don’t understand this new generation” line but I think there is a serious problem in society with basic communication and human interaction. I was amazed to discover that although young adults are “connected” in every way imaginable, the communication is almost exclusively inane chatter and they’re in reality very isolated and empty. As a society it seems we communicate less and less, and by communicate I mean talk about important issues in life, emotional well being, what’s really going on in the lives of people around us, good and bad. All this is simply covered up with “medication” (including a LOT of the prescription variety), moronic social media, txt messages, media hype etc. etc. leaving people and especially emotionally vulnerable young adults (a very insecure time in all our lives) in an emotional wasteland. I think re-thinking and prioritizing our communication would be an important first step which would at least make us aware of what’s going on in our lives and those around rather than just drown everything out with “noise”

  • David Margeson

    I suspect SSRI’s may be the cause of many teen suicides. SSRI’s can create a combination of side effects that reduce impulse control and cause severe agitation or restlessness that may become intolerable. impulsive behavior coupled with impaired cognitive functioning can be dangerous, often resulting I suicide. SSRI’s effect serotonin in the brain, serotonin is involved in feeling ‘good’, but flooding the brain with serotonin doesn’t mean you will be ‘happy’. If any improvement occurs it is most likely placebo effect and there is no proof that flooding the brain with serotonin cures depression any better than placebo. Often symptoms get worse or new problems arise. Doctors use the SSRI’s to get their ‘foot in the door’ so that they can then prescribe more, stronger, often addictive sedatives or powerful antipsychotic medication, previously reserved for those with extreme emotional/mental disorders like schizophrenia. It’s a conspiracy by the drug companies, part of their goal to have everyone on as many pills as possible, for life. It’s all about greed.
    **There are definitely MANY people/teens out there who need help, therapy and sometimes medication. I know very well about this first hand; I have bipolar disorder and anxiety. I was on SSRI’s for a long time and it was horrible. Eventually I was able to get off them and on to the right meds and I’m more stable than ever, not perfect, but I’m doin good. Basically: I’m NOT saying teens shouldn’t be medicated. I’m saying that SSRI’s are BS, a conspiracy and probably the cause of many suicides which could have been prevented**
    If you are depressed you should definitely seek help, there is no shame in wanting to live a happy life. There are so many routes you can take in order to treat mental health issues. It doesn’t HAVE to be drugs; there is a plethora of options from acupuncture to homeopathy or even prayer. But often medication is necessary and can be used in conjunction with other treatments. Also, I highly recommend speaking regularly to a counselor, therapist, or psychologist, possibly to work in conjunction with the doctor. Bottom line: you are NOT alone! Don’t be scared to ask for help if you think you need it. And if you do seek help in medication do your research and don’t be afraid to be totally honest with the doctor, if you don’t like the way something feels for one reason or another let them know.

  • donniethebrasco

    A failure in the schools leads to more money for the schools.

  • donniethebrasco

    You can’t look to the schools or the parents. It is probably George Bush’s fault.

  • RF

    Being a student, let me tell parents something; when your kid forgets to bring a toy for show and tell, don’t take an hour off work so you can go home and get them something to show class. If a kid doesn’t want to eat what you made for dinner, make sure they know that if they don’t like what you made, then they won’t eat at all. Maybe then 99 percent of our kids won’t have to deal with depression when times get a *little* tough and they aren’t used to not getting their way.

    • pgroot

      In the wake of this tragic course of events we should really try not to throw toxic blame around. It doesn’t give these young adults their lives back and it won’t prevent future other young adults from becoming trapped in the sinkhole that is depression until suicide seems like the only option. Claiming “just have a positive attitude” or “those aren’t real problems” are extremely toxic to people who’s brain has actually become incapable of feeling hope. There is no evidence that overbearing parents or “entitled-ness” leads to suicide. The only correlation would be that our brain is capable of synthesizing happiness when we are in rough situations we don’t feel we can control (like being in a poor family, or the death of a relative) whereas internalized problems, which we feel like we should be able to control, lead to unhappiness and are toxic to our psyche. Rather than silencing young adults because they don’t “have real problems” (depression is a real problem) we should encourage them to share their feelings when they risk becoming dangerous.

      • RF

        I am by no means saying that these recent three students took their lives over “little problems”. I’m just saying that many teens have been exposed (on websites specifically like tumblr and instagram) to the romanticizing of self-harm. Thus, many teens that I know assume that when a situation becomes a little bit tough to handle, that self-harm is the way to go. I am speaking on behalf of kids like that, NOT on behalf of Roee, Katie and Karen. What kind of person would I be if I were to sit here and put words into the mouths of three kids who recently took their lives? I wouldn’t be able to live with myself had I done that.

        At the same time, this is why suicide is very tricky. Say you have depression. You have been on edge for a while about committing suicide. Someone else in your community has recently just committed suicide, and you sign on the internet to see what people are saying.

        Comments such as “you are in a better place now”, circle your mind. Wouldn’t you believe that was true? Wouldn’t you want to be in that place, wouldn’t you want everyone to miss you and remember your name and know everyone cared about you?

        But it’s not like we AREN’T going to support these kids and their families. It’s the right thing to do, and is completely understandable.

        Now, PLEASE believe me. I am NOT speaking on behalf of these three teens that have recently lost their lives. If I were to sit here and assume that they had committed suicide over nothing, then what would I be worth?

        What I am trying to say is that we cannot sugar-coat this topic anymore; beating around the bush is making us numb to the fact that if we don’t talk about all of the possible solutions that more lives will be lost. There are many possibilities; parenting, social interactions, school performance and loss of a loved one come to mind.

        I love all of my peers (like I said, I am a student), and if anything ever happened to one of them, I would be in shock.

        I dealt with depression throughout middle school, and it really does change you. I have no doubt that when these kids took their own lives that they were not themselves at the moment. Trust me; when I went through depression, I went through phases that seemingly came out of nowhere. That’s why this is such a hard thing to tackle, because these phases that I went through came completely out of the blue.

        So I completely sympathize with those struggling with depression. I just wish depression would stop being used amongst other teens around me as such a loose-term. Sorry if I offended anyone by my comment; I did not mean to be insensitive and I hope you understand that.

  • Harry Watson

    As a recently graduated at NNHS, I know how tough it can be. The bar is set really high and kids are under a lot of pressure. If you suspect your child is under any stress, do whatever you can to help their stress, because high honors and popularity are nowhere near as valuable as human life. I urge those who have any issues whether they be anxiety or depression to reach out. There are groups in Newton that will help you, groups like “Riverside Community Care” and “Samariteens”. I have experience with both and they are non-profit and life saving.

    • Lawrence

      It much tougher in the Asian countries. But you don’t see suicide like this. What is different is that the women with the eating disorder, instead of working on her self-esteem and confidence, she was probably given anti-depressants and a host of other drugs from naive parents who listen to their Dr. and who are too busy to be informed or take the time to TALK to their kids. That’s the difference. We are ALL under pressure. That fact alone does not explain it. The common link is that they were all on these drugs.

      • arusticat

        No suicides in Asian countries? – I believe that they call teen suicide in Japan an epidemic.

      • Mars

        Actually, Suicide is rampant here in Asia. Korea, China and Japan are all in the top 10 most suicidal countries. The US is #33. Think about that for a bit.

  • Lawrence

    A far as I am concerned the parents and teachers who are so shocked are to blame. They are the ones who drugged their kids up with these dangerous medications. Well-intentioned perhaps but ill-informed and without any common sense. if they take the time to read the literature.

    This is a consistent story. Drug as many kids as we can, even when not needed and then be so surprised at these unfortunate events.

    Massachusetts even had a program called Teen Screen in which kids were lured with movie tickets to take a test to see if they could possibly be stuck with a label which lead to a diagnosis so they would quality for these dangerous drugs. Do your homework and dion’t always listen to your Dr.

    Does anyone know why Teen Screen was eliminated? READ about it and be informed before we lose another life.

    • Aleta Boddy

      I am confused why you keep repeating something there is actually no evidence for. We don’t know that any of these teens were on medications, and I’m guessing they weren’t, if their parents were so shocked. I was clinically depressed throughout my high school years and fantasized about killing myself often. The only way I got out of it was by taking anti-depressants.

  • Lawrence

    Oh, come on folks. Haven’t you heard? Aren’t you informed? It’s the antipsychotics these kids are taking that’s likely the reason. WHY is no one doing an investigation on this?

    It’s because the ones who prescribed these drugs don’t want to be sued. There are volumes of research demonstrating a causal relationship between anti-psychotic drugs that Drs are pushing on people, especially kids who don’t even need it and suicidal and homicidal thoughts.

    Drs are pushing it on everyone who wakes up in a bad mood, or who does not conform. They even force adults to take them against their will. See here this chilling account:

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/01/31/woman-held-in-psych-ward-testifies/5089405/

    Even Michael Moore, stated how an investigation into what role these dangerous narcotics may have had in the Columbine and other shootings. Most of the perpetrators of these school and mall shootings WERE on these dangerous drugs, but to date no one had the courage to at least question this or do an investigation.

  • AlisonO

    I am a parent of a child who attempted suicide. In my child’s case I believe the high school atmosphere in our nearby “high achieving” town was toxic: the stress, emphasis on mainstream achievement, expectations, cliques, etc. We were also unable to find suitable, affordable mental health care. But each situation is different. Discussing the issue is a good start, providing more mental health care options for juveniles (ages at which so many issues crop up) should go hand-in-hand.

    • Lawrence

      Alson, just one question. It sounds like you were searching for mental health care. What drugs was your child prescribed at the time he was attempting suicide?

  • Ann
  • DaveH79

    I’m amazed parents are shocked that teens in their community are falling to the number three killer of teens today — suicide. It’s been that way for decades, so it’s not exactly “new.”

    It’s not going to change until society starts offering teens resources they can actually use — and want to use — to help themselves. Parents can help be a part of the solution by funding such resources in their community and state.

  • MCB

    “According to parents in the Newton South community, many children are still in shock (as are their parents and teachers) and struggling to comprehend the string of suicides in general, and in particular, the death of a boy who appeared to be so well-adjusted, socially connected and stable.”

    This is the crux of the problem. Why are parents and teachers shocked? Why are they struggling to comprehend? No one from age 16 – 19 (or age 16 – 25 for that matter) should be, or should be expected to be, or should be revered for being “so well-adjusted, socially connected and stable”. What an unnatainable bar to set for such a sensative, vulnerable age. What pressure.

    • Browne

      I agree with you here. I spent my teenage years in Newton being praised for how well adjusted I was (despite my tumultuous home life), but these people, although good intentioned, we encouraging me to further suppress some serious mental health issues. This front eventually broke down, and I ended up spending a chunk of time over in Belmont at McLean. Hearing about these suicides is hard because I was there both emotionally and physically not too long ago, and I still have little insight into how the atmosphere in Newton could change to help support students with mental health issues.

      Although the academic, extracurricular and social expectations in Newton were too much for me and probably others, I don’t think it’s fair to extrapolate this to every case. Everyone has a vivid mental life and suicidality does not discriminate based on class, race, or any other life circumstances.

  • Rosie Bauder

    These young adults didn’t “commit” anything; they are owed the proper terminology of dying by suicide, or completing suicide.

    • TJtruthandjustice

      Huh?

    • DaveH79

      Agreed. Rachel, please read the media guidelines for reporting on suicide (http://www.sprc.org/sites/sprc.org/files/library/sreporting.pdf ). A person “commits” a murder. They generally don’t commit a cancer. Please be respectful of the deceased in the future.

      • Oliver Wendell Holmes

        Thanks for the PC lessons you two. I suspect it’s parental dweebs like you two, that these kids were suffering from.

        • DaveH79

          I’m sorry, but being respectful of the dead is “PC” now? Wow, okay.

        • waraji

          Are you a “Politically Correct” detector?

          • Oliver Wendell Holmes

            No, but thanks for joining the discussion …… idiot

      • Lawrence

        Well last I knew, taking ones own life is a crime. So, I guess committing suicide surely fits.
        Cancer happens to someone not of their own free will. Suicide is an act that anyone of us can choose to do.
        Enough of your left-wing fake terminology. Tell it like it is.

        • arusticat

          A crime? punishable by what?

          Mental illness can take a life in a manner no different than cancer. Just because mental illness involves thought disorders, they are not dabbled in, they are not chosen.

        • DaveH79

          You do understand suicide is a symptom of clinical depression, right? (I mean, I hope I’m not having to try to educate this basic fact from the Dark Ages…) And that nobody “asks” for depression any more they ask for cancer…

    • Twocents

      They are owed nothing in my book, but I can settle with “perform” instead of “commit”.