Minnesota’s suicide epidemic (5×8 – 4/19/11)

Minnesota has a problem, should drop-outs drive, struggles on both ends of stadium picture, the official state pipe band, and bicycle polo.


1) MINNESOTA HAS A PROBLEM

If schools weren’t so reluctant to reveal when students in Minnesota kill themselves, if obituaries replaced “died suddenly” with “committed suicide,” and if the news media didn’t believe that telling the story of a student’s suicide encourages others to kill themselves, we’d have to confront this reality: There’s an epidemic of young people’s suicides in Minnesota.

Two middle school students in Marshall killed themselves over the weekend. Haylee Fentress and Paige Moravetz, both 14, died by suicide, the school’s superintendent said yesterday, referring to them as “unexpected deaths.”

Two students in the New London-Spicer School District have killed themselves this month. The father of one spoke to WCCO.

Last month in Otter Tail County, two teens died in a murder-suicide.

“The best advice I can give you is it’s not a headline story; it’s not a front page story or above the fold,” Dr. Dan Reidenberg of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) told me last year when I wrote about the problem. “The story should be preventive and educational in approach.”

Here’s the interview I did with Dr. Reidenberg last spring.

2) SHOULD DROP-OUTS DRIVE?

Should a driver’s license be linked to school attendance? The Star Tribune reports today on a bill at the Legislature — so far, going nowhere — that would make high school dropouts ineligible for a driver’s license in Minnesota. On the surface, perhaps, a slam-dunk proposition, until one considers the what-ifs. What if a student drops out because he’s/she’s bullied? What if a breadwinner in the family dies and the kid has to go to work? One supporter says the bill gives the state leverage to keep kids in school longer. They have another piece of leverage, however. Another bill at the Capitol would raise the age at which kids can drop out of school from 16 to 18. That bill is also going nowhere.

South Carolina is also considering similar legislation. One difference: South Carolina — like many states in the South — are “dropout factories.” Almost half of its schools have fewer than 60 percents of students graduate. Minnesota ranks 43rd in the AP ranking.

3) STRUGGLES ON BOTH ENDS OF THE STADIUM PICTURE

The city of Los Angeles may be making it less than attractive for the Minnesota Vikings to move to a new stadium to be built there. A commission held its first meeting on the stadium plan yesterday and it appears the city will try to capture more revenue from the project than developers would like. That leaves less money for the stadium authority to pay off the debt on the stadium, which could tie the Vikings — err, an NFL team — to a 30 or more years lease, according to the Los Angeles Times. That could be a turn-off for a team, considering that Los Angeles hasn’t supported two NFL teams in the past.

Minnesota lawmakers are considering a bill of tax increases and public funding to build the team a stadium to keep it from moving to Los Angeles.

4) THE PIPES, THE PIPES

Minnesota has an official gemstone (Lake Superior Agate), grain (wild rice), apple (Honeycrisp), and muffin (blueberry), but the Minnesota Legislature may fill the obvious — almost too obvious for me to mention — shortage in our official officials. We don’t have an official pipe band. A legislator has filed a bill calling for an official pipe band and the fix is in on which one (how many are there?):

5) BIKE POLO

The Minnesota Daily provides today’s “if only I were younger moment,” with a photo slideshow on bike polo in Minneapolis, a poor man’s version of the horsey kind, Gear Junkie said in an article last year. How have I missed this?

TODAY’S QUESTION

Last year, two-thirds of students who earned bachelor’s degrees graduated in debt. And total student-loan debt surpassed total credit card debt for the first time. Today’s Question: When does a college education no longer seem worth the cost?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: The cultural context of the Middle East uprisings.

Second hour: Noah Webster might be known best for his dictionary, but a new biography details the key policy role that Webster played in the early days of the nation, and argues that he was responsible for America’s unity of language.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Nuclear engineer Arjun Makhijani answers questions about the Japanese nuclear power plant accident and the future of nuclear power in the US.

Second hour: Ted Turner and T. Boone Pickens at the National Press Club.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Cell phones and brain cancer.

Second hour: The road to foreclosure.