Troubling Youth Statistics

The percentage leaps off the page. According to a Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted this past February among Island students from seventh through twelfth grades, twelve per cent of the high school students said they had attempted suicide in the previous twelve months.

That’s a startling number in itself. It looms even larger when compared to the response to the same question in three similar Vineyard surveys between two thousand and two thousand five: five per cent.

The February survey also showed that eleven per cent of seventh and eighth graders had attempted suicide in the past twelve months, up slightly from the previous surveys.

The question is, how accurate are the survey numbers?

Dr. Timothy Tsai, director of emergency services at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, has his doubts. The twelve per cent, which translates into about a hundred junior and high school students, doesn’t seem to square with the experience of the emergency room, where about sixteen people aged nineteen and younger were admitted for attempted suicide over the past year and half, or with the number of people transferred to psychiatric facilities.

But Dr. Tsai also acknowledges that attempted suicides may instead be listed in the emergency room as drug overdoses or self-inflicted injuries.

What is clear is that the mental health and possible desperation of Vineyard youths is an area calling for more detailed observation and a greater readiness to offer help and support.

In the words of Vineyard psychiatrist Charles Silberstein, “What a hard time young people have on this Island.” Michael McCarthy, guidance director at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, is not surprised by the survey results. “Kids are having thoughts and feelings in that area,” he said.

The high school last year began a peer outreach program that educates students on depression and thoughts about suicide. “They learn that those are legitimate feelings, but that they’re feelings you need to talk about with someone,” Mr. McCarthy said.

Of the dark feelings and emotions of Vineyard youths, probably few result in a trip to the emergency room. But that doesn’t negate the possibility that desperation is rising among young Islanders. Be ready to listen, to care, to treat their concerns and feelings with the seriousness they deserve.