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  • A Conversation with Jane Mersky Leder: 'One out of five teens have thoughts of suicide'
A Conversation with Jane Mersky Leder: 'One out of five teens have thoughts of suicide'
Contributor

Jane Mersky Leder was born in Detroit, Michigan. The "Motor City" and original home of Motown have driven her writing from the start. A "Baby Boomer" who came of age in the Sixties, Leder is fascinated by the complexities of relationships between generations, between genders, and between our personal and public personas.

Dead Serious, a book about teen suicide, was named a YASD Best Book for Young Adults. 

The second edition of Dead Serious (with a new subtitle): Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide, will be published on January 23, 2018, and will be available as both an ebook and paperback on major online book sites, at libraries, and at select bookstores.
The Sibling Connection: How Siblings Shape Our Lives, and Thanks For The Memories: Love, Sex, and World War II are among Leder’s other books.

Leder’s feature articles have appeared in numerous publications, including American Heritage, Psychology Today, and Woman’s Day.
She currently spends her time in Evanston, Illinois, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Book Description:

Thirty plus years after publishing the first edition of Dead Serious, this second completely revised and updated edition covers new ground: bullying, social media, LGBTQ teens, suicide prevention programs, and more. Scores of teens share their stories that are often filled with hurt, disappointment, shame--yet often hope. Written for teens, adults and educators, Dead Serious: Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide explores the current cultural and social landscape and how the pressure-filled lives of teens today can lead to anxiety, depression--suicide. Leder's own journey of discovery after her brother's suicide informs her goal of helping to prevent teen suicide by empowering teens who are suffering and teens who can serve as peer leaders and connectors to trusted adults. The skyrocketing number of teens who take their own lives makes Dead Serious: Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide more relevant and important than ever.
"Talking about suicide does not make matters worse. What makes matters worse is not talking."

Interview:

Welcome to SheWrites, Jane. Can we begin by having you tell us why the subject of teen suicide for your new book, Dead Serious: Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide?

Jane: I wrote the 1st edition of Dead Serious 30 years ago as a way to work through the suicide of my brother.  I didn’t tell my own story.  But through the stories of others who had lost a  loved one to suicide, I was able to begin to shed light on my brother’s death, warning signs, myths and strategies to help begin to heal.  Here it is 30 years later and, after reading an article about the increase in suicides of kids in middle school, I felt compelled to pick up where I left off. 

The social and culture landscape has changed so dramatically in three decades and the subject of suicide required a fresh investigation. There was no internet, no social media, no cell phones, no discussion about gender and sexuality, no suicide prevention programs, few support groups—the list continues.  And subjects like LGBTQ teens, bullying, and school suicide prevention programs that work needed to be explored.

Your book touches on the subject of bullying. What’s your solution to dealing with bullying to prevent teen suicide?

Jane: What we know is that bullying and suicide-related behavior are closely related.  But the experts don’t know if bullying directly causes thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.  It is correct to say that involvement in bullying, along with many other risk factors, increases the chance that a young person will think about suicide.

And it’s important to note that most teens who are bullied or are the ones who bully do not take their own lives.

Hanging anti-bullying posters in school hallways or an assembly are not particularly effective in curbing bullying.  Discussions about why kids don’t step in to protect a peer who is being bullied are one component of a successful program.  Suggesting that kids put themselves in the shoes of those that bully can lead to a better understanding.  Has he been bullied at home?  Is there a history of drug or alcohol in his family?  Does he have a stake in school with at least one good friend?

When it comes right down to it, the most successful anti-bullying programs focus on that old adage “treat others how you would like to be treated.”  It sounds obvious.  But to tell the truth, given all the reasons why young people want to climb up or stay at the top of the social ladder, it’s not as easy as it sounds.  What does kindness really mean?  Civility?  Speaking up?  Taking action?  Answering these questions can be very effective.

What can we teach teens about social media?

Jane: Social media can be a way of communicating with friends, finding a sense of community.  On the other hand, it can be a destructive means of bullying and isolation.  The rub:  even for teens who have been ostracized, bombarded with hurtful tweets, posts and photos, it is virtually impossible for them to cancel their accounts, turn off their cell phones and disengage. The need to know what others are saying and doing trumps the pain. 

The key to using social media responsibly involves compassion and kindness—as I said the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  It involves the strength to call out someone who uses social media to taunt, to turn one teen or group of teens against others.  It requires taking a step from beyond the curtain of anonymity and facing the effects of how you use social media.  Bullying in person or on social media is about power and finding a place on the social ladder.  Someone on top or near the top can just as easily take a tumble.

What did you learn after writing the book?

I learned that teens are resilient but that they live in what some have called “The Age of Anxiety” and face stressors that their parents and many young adults didn’t face:  extreme academic pressure, social media, a life affected by violence, polarization at home and abroad, coupled with all the changes that teens experience during adolescence.  As a result, a CDC study reported that 1 out of 5 teens had severe problems with self-esteem, feelings of failure, alienation, loneliness, lack of confidence, and thoughts of suicide.

 

I learned the importance of training peer mentors who can serve as connectors to trusted adults.  I gained a much better understanding of the additional obstacles LGBTQ face.  I understand more than before that is never a person’s job to save another person but it is his job to break the code of silence when a friend is in trouble.  

 

What’s next for you?

Jane: What’s next for me is publicity for the book and then a vacation.  After that, I’m not sure.  I have an idea for a potential book and/or long essay.  All I’ll say about that is, like the majority of the rest of my writing, I would focus on relationships—what makes them tick, what compromises them, and how, in the end, it’s the connections we have that make all of the difference.

 

 

 

 

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