Glorifying Suicide

Recently, Michelle Carter was convicted in a Bristol County Massachusetts juvenile court of involuntary manslaughter in the suicide death of her boyfriend, Carter Roy III. Roy suffocated himself to death with carbon monoxide in his truck, during which time Carter urged him on through multiple texts, introduced into evidence by the prosecution.

One has to read all of Michelle Carter’s and Conrad Roy III’s texts to fully appreciate just how suggestible he was, and how hard she was pushing him to commit suicide. (I warn you — they are hard to read.) Contrary to the defense’s argument that Roy was determined to kill himself without Carter’s influence, it is painfully evident how deeply conflicted Roy was about it. In the days and weeks leading up to Roy’s suicide, Carter pushed, wheedled and cajoled him, made him promise he would do it, suggested methods and strategies to avoid being discovered, and told him his parents would “get over it.” When Roy got out of the truck in the middle of the actual attempt, Carter pressured him to get back in the truck where he would die. Carter’s conviction was predicated not only on the pressure she exerted upon Roy, but also the fact that she was aware of his attempt as it was happening and notified no one: not Roy’s parents, not the police, not 911.

Carter’s attorneys also claimed that she was suffering from mental health issues of her own. The judge found that unpersuasive. I’m not sure it provides any societal comfort, either.

Suicide attempts by young people have been a public concern in the United States for decades. The New York Times published an article in 1987, which revealed that teen suicide rates had tripled since 1950. In the later 1980s and throughout the 1990s, the youth suicide rate dropped, reaching a record low in 2000. But the number of suicides has begun to climb steadily since then, particularly among adolescent girls. And the age at which suicides are attempted is decreasing: The suicide rate among children aged 10 to 14 — middle school — doubled between 2007 and 2014. (Research also shows — perhaps surprisingly — that suicide in young people is not typically an impulsive decision, but rather thought out, planned and signaled in advance. If there is any good news here, it is that this offers hope for successful intervention.)

According to the Parent Resource Program at the Jason Foundation, suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for young people aged 10 to 24; more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease, combined.

Whatever the problem is, it’s clear we haven’t solved it. In the late 1980s, as now, experts wondered whether broken families, recreational drug use, the sexualization of childhood and excessive technology contributed to teen suicides. There’s been little improvement on those fronts in 30 years. And there was no internet in the 1980s, no social media and no cyberbullying.


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