Stuck

Why we can't (or won't) move on from bad jobs, bad relationships, and bad habits, and how we can all move ahead.

"Jump," They Jeer

Taunting suicidal peers: To some kids, it's cool.
Perched atop a high ledge on the verge of committing suicide, seventeen-year-old Shaun Dykes seemed -- for a second -- about to reconsider. Consoled by a policeman, Shaun turned away from the ledge and reached out. Suddenly a shout came from the street below. As this terrible scene unfolded in the English city of Derby last September 27, a crowd of youths had spent nearly an hour taunting the distraught Shaun, who suffered from depression and had recently parted ways with his boyfriend. Members of what the Daily Mail calls this "baying mob" had been steadily chanting, "Jump!" and "Get on with it!" Just as Shaun reached toward the policeman, someone down below hollered: "You're wasting taxpayers' money."

Abruptly Shaun said, "It's gone too far," shut his eyes and jumped. As was revealed at the inquest, which was held today, members of the crowd filmed and recorded the incident on their cell phones, later posting the footage at Facebook and YouTube.

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"Police officers were taken by surprise by the despicable people taunting Shaun," assistant deputy coroner Louise Pinder said at the inquest. "It's inconceivable that, whilst negotiators were talking with Shaun, these mindless people were behaving with such insensitivity and without any apparent concern for a human being's safety. The individuals who were taunting Shaun at that time, whose identities remain unknown, are responsible, at least in part, for his death."

We often hear of young suicidal people being egged on by their peers. One recent example occurred last November when nineteen-year-old Florida college student Abraham Biggs posted his plans on online forums, then live-streamed his deliberately lethal overdose. Investigators found that rather than rush to contact authorities, observers called Biggs derogatory names as they watched him on the webcam, first ingesting the drugs and then lying motionless in bed. As the hours rolled by, observers posted such messages as "Go ahead and do it" and "LOL" and "hahahah."

The brutality of such behavior is, as the coroner at Shaun Dykes' inquest put it, beyond belief. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-to-24-year-olds in the United States and the sixth leading cause among 5-to-14-year-olds, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Yet the very age when human beings are the most vulnerable to self-destructive thoughts -- wracked by peer pressure, hormones, home life, and inexperience -- is the exact same age at which human beings can appear the most callous. Mocking and jeering, cutting and cold -- or at least exquisitely indifferent -- to the anguish of others: That's a highly coveted and cultivated persona throughout much of youth culture. In part it's a form of self-defense, a shield against one's own personal pain. In part it's a way to look grown-up -- if being grown-up means being cynical and flip. Awareness programs such as classroom visits by speakers who have lost loved ones to suicide might go at least partway toward softening those extravagantly hard shells. Or would it?

This is, after all, the era of "sux 2 b u."

Anneli Rufus is the author of many books, including Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto and Stuck: Why We Can't (or Won't) Move On.

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