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Suicide and the Pressures on Today's Youth

Community members share their thoughts on a string of local tragedies.

Within a recent span of 10 weeks, three young people from the Agoura Hills-Calabasas area took their own lives and another apparently died of alcohol poisoning.

On Aug. 24, the first day of school, Calabasas High School student at her father's Woodland Hills home.

On Oct. 26, the body of Agoura Hills' , 21, a student at Santa Barbara City College, was discovered at the bottom of Rindge Dam in Malibu, the victim of a suicide, according to deputies.

Four days after Feinberg's death, , 18, a backup quarterback for the Thousand Oaks High School football team and the son of former NFL quarterback Erik Kramer, was found dead at a friend's home in Agoura Hills, the apparent victim of alcohol poisoning, according to a statement issued by his school.

And on Halloween, Agoura High School senior , 17, committed suicide when he intentionally drove his car off Piuma Road near Cold Canyon Road and crashed, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies said.

Since the tragedies, several perspectives on why these youths took their own lives have emerged.

Nitzan Navick, 17, was Behar's girlfriend. At a community-wide forum for parents and teenagers held at the last week, Navick spoke with Patch about the pressures currently facing young people.

"Generally, high school is really rough on a lot of people," she said. "The years of expectations become unbearable for some kids. ... The competition to get into colleges, to do the best you can and get the best grades and have the most extra activities—it's so stressful. To make things even worse, especially in this area, you just got out of school, you have all this homework, you finish your homework, all right, what now?"

Navick said that to relieve stress and boredom, a lot of kids turn to drugs and drinking.

Larry Misel, principal of , told Patch that now more than ever, young people are expected to continue on to college after high school; consequently, the number of applications is increasing while the number of students being accepted is decreasing.

"Quite honestly, our resources get tighter and tighter every year, but the pressure to perform on the schools, as well as on the kids, continues to increase," he said.

In addition, colleges are accepting more and more admissions based on those who can pay the full tuition rather than on academic performace, said Misel. "So it becomes more of a financial decision," he said.

Stephanie Kirschner, a marriage and family counselor who lives in Agoura Hills and practices in Calabasas, told Patch she has seen many young people struggling with today's stresses in her practice.

"The desire to fit in socially and the pain that comes with not fitting in, academic pressures that are generated internally and also from parents and teachers, confusion about career choices, the struggle with separation from parents and identity formation; all of these things can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression in teens," she said. 

Kirschner emphasized the importance of dealing with stress in healthy ways.

"It's very important for parents to keep communication between them and their teens open, be a good listener and don't judge," she said. "If your children have difficulty talking openly about the things they are struggling with, it's important to find them another family member or trusted adult, therapist or clergy person for them to talk to."

Cyntia Naji, 17, a close friend of Behar's, offered troubled teens some heartfelt advice. "I would say consider everyone that loves you, and if you can't find that love, go on some anonymous website where you can talk to people without them knowing you, without that judgment. Call a number, talk to someone," she said.

Kirschner advises that parents should be aware of the following signs in adolescents who may be considering suicide:

  • A change in eating and sleeping habits
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and regular activities
  • Violent actions, rebellious behavior or running away
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Unusual neglect of personal appearance
  • Marked personality change
  • Persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating or a decline in the quality of schoolwork
  • Frequent complaints about physical symptoms, often related to emotions, such as stomachaches, headaches and fatigue
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Not tolerating praise or rewards
  • Talking or joking about committing suicide
  • Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out.”
  • Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying (“If I died, people might love me more”).
  • Writing stories and poems about death, dying or suicide.
  • Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for good
  • Seeking out weapons, pills or other ways to kill themselves

Here are some additional resources:

Suicide Prevention Center: 877-7CRISIS (877-727-4747)

Teen Line: 800-TLC-TEEN (800-852-8336)

Trevor Lifeline—For gay and questioning youths: 866-4UTREVOR (866-488-7386)

CT November 09, 2011 at 06:25 PM
The constant is that Agoura High School has a high suicide rate. Try to speak to a teacher or councilor or better yet, just try to speak to Principal Larry Misel. It is impossible to speak to these entitled self serving failures as educators. No wonder students have problems. Go private or home school to give your kid a chance at a better life. The state does fund approved home school.

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