There have been at least five teen suicides in Montgomery County in 2017, nearly doubling the number of suicides in both 2016 and 2015, according to WUSA9. Two of these deaths, those of Jordana Greenberg, a sophomore at Whitman, and Thomas Silva, a junior from Walter Johnson, occurred within one week of each other (November 27-December 2).
As of December 12, MCPS has neither released a formal statement nor sent a letter to the community. Meanwhile, platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook were flooded by posts memorializing the students and begging for change. Students even began petitions on change.org asking for increased mental health support in schools, one of which earned over 3,700 signatures.
While students managed to become activists and share their stances on mental illness within the community, MCPS remained silent, undermining the significance of suicide and ignoring the tragic effects of depression and other mental illnesses within its own schools. This undoubtedly reveals to suffering students that their anguish does not deserve a mere mention, and that their mental illnesses do not represent a serious issue to their school system.
Furthermore, the lack of an official statement stigmatizes mental illnesses in a world where society has just begun perceiving depression and anxiety as acceptable discussion topics, inhibiting mental health conversations between parents, students, and teachers. Despite directly facing two student suicides in such a brief time span, the fact that MCPS refuses to acknowledge these tragedies reveals its saddening and costly preference of avoiding controversial topics over discussing serious issues.
The lack of leadership and guidance from the Central Office of MCPS also has put its schools in a bind. Principals and school counselors have been left on their own to make decisions if and how to inform their own communities about these tragedies, or if they are even permitted to do it. If certain schools do send or email letters, there a strong possibility that the messaging and information will not be consistent from one school to the next. MCPS, in its silence, is creating a situation in which students and parents are left more confused.
In an age where information can be shared in seconds, schools and towns miles apart are more connected than ever. Some argue that because these tragedies occurred in the Bethesda area, only those schools should be releasing statements and offering support to students. While that argument may have been valid decades ago, it no longer applies in the 21st century. The widespread use of social media has only widened the scope of sadness felt in the wake of these tragedies.
There is never a clear way to move forward following tragedies, especially those involving our peers, but the answer is never to be silent. At a minimum, MCPS should ensure that students and parents are aware of resources such as www.BtheOne.com and www. sptsusa.org/parents. A brief message reminding students across the county that they are valued and have resources available to them can go a long way, in fact, it might even save a life.