Author: David Whitting
Emma Pangelinan’s room embodies everything that is pure and good about teenagers, yet the quiet in the air is so heavy it nearly brings you to your knees.
Two rows of hard-earned gleaming softball and soccer trophies testify to the past. A blue-and-gold UCLA pennant on the wall promises a wonderful future.
But the athletic, bright, always-helpful 13-year-old who slept in this room, who grew up in this home of faith and family, is gone forever.
After a perfect day on a perfect Sunday blasting softballs, sharing jokes with the girls on her travel team and window shopping with Dad, Emma disappeared on the evening of Jan. 21 and killed herself.
No note, no warning, no “13 Reasons Why” voice tape as portrayed on the recent Netflix suicide series.
Just the stop of a beating heart.
In the following three weeks in Orange County, at least three more teenagers who appeared to excel ended their lives.
How many other teens have taken or tried to take their lives in Southern California in the past few months is unknown. But what is known is that smart, successful, gifted teens are committing suicide in increasing numbers, and if certain things don’t change – and change quickly – many more young lives will be snuffed out.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in self-harm,” reports Dr. Michael Brant-Zawadzki, executive medical director of the Neurosciences Institute at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach. “Negative behaviors have steadily started to increase.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports suicide has become the third-leading cause of death for teens and that more than 4,600 young people – ages 10 to 24 – are lost each year.
Additionally, 157,000 youths between the ages of 10 and 24 are treated at emergency departments for self-inflicted injuries.
For many teens, suicide is no longer only about parents screaming at kids, drug addiction or bullying.
The factors causing some of these suicides as well as thousands of attempts are new, murky and very much 21st century.
They include lives lived in a digital world in which kids are measured by Instagram and Snapchat “likes,” a sense of overwhelming pressure coupled with fear of failure, and the belief that practice – and enough Internet research – can make you perfect.
But, of course, perfection is unattainable and failure is guaranteed.
“It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades,” writes Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of “Generation Me.”
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