By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
To end her life, she could stop eating, or overdose on medication.
“I understood what I could do,” she said. “I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this. This is stupid.’”
Suicide and Stephanie Reid, 15, ended with flirtation. Tragically, a striking number of New Mexican teens go further.
Among 40 states that participated in a 2005 youth behavior survey, New Mexico ranked third among states for prevalence of attempted suicide.
Nearly 30 percent of New Mexico students indicated they had persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and roughly 20 percent had seriously considered suicide.
New Mexico ranked highest in students who attempted suicide that resulted in an injury treated by a doctor or nurse.
The rate for injury from attempted teen suicide in New Mexico — at about 5 percent — was 1.5 times higher than any other state surveyed, according to results published in October 2006 by the New Mexico Department of Health, which administers the Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey in grades nine through 12.
For Reid, a student of Marshall Junior High School, poetry is an escape from depression that descends from stress at school and home.
“I feel like I mess up constantly,” she explained. “Or I feel underappreciated at school — whether it’s people I don’t know or my friends — sometimes I feel like we are drifting apart.”
Reid wrote her first poem recently.
“I was feeling really bad — worthless,” said Reid, a conscientious student who wears oversized T-shirts and wire-rimmed glasses.
“No one notices me,” a line of her poetry reads. “They can’t see the pain in my eyes,” it continues.
In Clovis Municipal Schools, data about students such as Reid is limited.
Last year marked the first Clovis Schools participated in the YRRS survey.
In Curry County, survey results show depression and suicide rates are on par with the state.
In the last decade, there have been no suicides among Clovis Schools students, according to Clovis Schools psychologist John Collins. But each week, at least a couple students are assessed for risk of suicide, he said.
“Clovis Schools are doing a great job (with suicide prevention),” Collins said. “But certainly, we have lots and lots of kids that need our help.
“There is probably nothing more serious than someone dying. It’s a life-and-death matter,” Collins said.
According to Reid’s classmates, feelings of sadness and hopelessness are common among students. Such feelings afflict New Mexico girls more than boys, according to YRRS results.
Two years ago, Camille Sprague, a ninth-grader at Marshall, was deeply depressed.
“I hated the world,” Sprague said. “Everyone,” she continued, “my family, my friends, my teachers.”
To vent, she cut herself, she said. Slowly, she began to invest in school and relationships. Now, she feels better, like a different person, she said.
Students said sources of depression in Clovis are manifold. Pressure to do well in school, rigorous courses, family problems, critical peers, boredom and gangs are some sources, they said.
“Clovis is boring,” said Clovis ninth-grader Amanda Gomez. “That’s the key factor.”
“Some people criticize you for everything,” Clovis ninth-grader Amanda Robles said.
Experts believe the high suicide rate in New Mexico is linked to poverty in the state, but they also agree with students — sources are manifold.
“There are a number of issues affecting our young people — substance abuse, issues around dysfunctional families and stigmas around mental health. Many students are not comfortable seeking treatment because there is this whole stigma attached,” said Yolanda Cordova, school health director for the New Mexico Department of Health.
Curbing teen suicide and depression in the state is a top priority of the Department, according to Cordova.
Several suicide prevention and intervention programs have been launched with funds from a federal grant issued in 2005. A suicide prevention hotline has been created and marketed aggressively, along with peer-led programs, Cordova said. Also, the number of school-based health centers in the state has doubled to 68.
“We don’t want to top lists for suicide. We want to top lists because we have happy, productive, young people,” Cordova said.