Teen suicide in MN schools vexes parents, experts

High schools in Minnesota are in a difficult spot when it comes to the suicide of students. As we’ve written many times, they’re concerned that if they acknowledge that students kill themselves, it will lead other students to take their own lives, too. But if they don’t say anything, they mute a very real health threat to our children.

The effect on the families of the students is painful; they are often made to feel as if their children never existed if their deaths cannot be properly noted.

Penny Mueller, who writes at PennySueMueller.com, wants to talk about the problem following the deaths of two students in Wayzata.

“How many more lives are you going to allow to be sacrificed before you do something about the suicide epidemic that has swept through Wayzata High School, and, what are you going to do about it?” she asks in an open letter to administrators.

I’m not asking this question as a knee-jerk reaction to the 2 suicides within 4 weeks, nor as a knee-jerk reaction to 4 suicides within 2 years. I’m asking as a concerned community member and parent of 4 Wayzata Public Schools students who have been in the district from kindergarten through graduation.

I come to you as someone who has more than average experience with suicide. I am a registered nurse, a former school nurse to a major Minnesota High School, and someone who has first-hand experience with suicide within my own family. My daughter is a sophomore at Wayzata High School. One of my other daughters recently graduated with the class of 2014. Each of these girls have now had fellow classmates commit suicide.

Yesterday, yet another Wayzata High School student took his own life. How many more lives need to be lost before you address this?

Today, my daughter and her classmates wanted to talk about it in class. I am appalled at what happened next. Her teacher did not even ask them if they needed anything or if they needed to talk. No, instead, her teacher silenced them, shut down the conversation and refused to address it. Basically, as my daughter described it, it was a perfect summation and reflection of the clueless denial that the administration has and its refusal to address this life and death problem. Today I received an email from the Wayzata Public Schools with a link on how to talk to adolescents about death. Are you serious? A link? Two suicides within a month and that’s all you’re going to do to address this epidemic? You’re going to send out a link? There are lives at stake here. People are dying. Do you acknowledge that? Have you asked the question of WHY? Have you asked the question “What is it about Wayzata Public Schools that has created this culture?

Clearly there is a cultural defect within Wayzata schools that has enough influence and impact as to drive these young people to the point of such desperation to conclude that their only option is to end their own lives. If you are honest, you might be able to see it. I can.

I urge you to ask yourselves about the culture at Wayzata Public Schools and Wayzata High School in particular. Take a moment to consider the pressure these young people are under: the stress to succeed—-not just to succeed, but to excel at beyond a college level, AP classes, Honors programs, academic competency tests, college entrance exams, honor roll, honor society, scholarships, financial implications, awards, letters, metals, accolades.

Yes, Wayzata has high academic standards-the best in the State. Yes, Wayzata is a leader in athletics. BUT AT WHAT COST?

In addition to academic and athletic pressure, there is the entirely new phenomenon of social media, in which a student has absolutely NO WAY to escape. There is no way for a student to avoid it, because it is an ONLINE world now. Yet, what is the school’s answer? Yes, it hands out Ipads to every student….just in case they don’t have enough online time….just give them more inability to escape it. More pressure. More stress.

I’m urging you–you’ve got to change something. You’ve got to do something about the culture at Wayzata High School. You’ve got to affect change. You’ve got to relieve the pressure, reduce the stress, and for once, let these kids just be kids. Stop killing them. Please stop letting them die.


Penny Mueller

It’s hard to say whether there’s a particularly cultural-related element to the suicides. While it may seem like Wayzata is unique, it’s not. Suicides take place in many school districts; we just aren’t told about them.

A few years ago, in the wake of suicides in Woodbury and Mounds View, I talked to Dr. Dan Reidenberg of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) about the response to them.

(h/t: Jayne Solinger)