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Paris Jackson: The Wrong Thing to Say to a Teenager Who Is Suicidal

June 11, 2013

We were distressed to read about Paris Jackson’s hospitalization last week after what is being officially called a suicide attempt. The daughter of an extraordinarily talented and self-destructive father, we can imagine that Paris might be in a very precarious situation emotionally. But she is also a 15-year-old girl not unlike the thousands of other 15-year-old girls from the most ordinary families in the world who make suicide attempts every year. Teenage girls experience very volatile emotions, and they lack the skills and experience to put them in perspective—a risky combination.

In Paris’s case, fortunately, her suicidal behavior didn’t result in her death. But it did result in an outpouring of the worst possible responses from gossip sites pretending to be news outlets. Coverage at TMZ, for instance, reads like a list of what not to do when a teenager expresses suicidal feelings or behavior. (The ellipses, by the way, are theirs.)

Law enforcement sources familiar with the situation tell TMZ … based on the information the L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. has gathered … “She wanted attention.” One source involved in the case tells us … her call to a suicide hotline is compelling evidence “she wanted to be saved.” The source added, “It makes no sense if you really want to die to call a hotline, where the person on the other end will get an ambulance over to your house.

You couldn’t invent a worse message to send to other vulnerable teenagers: that we trivialize your pain and desperation, that we don’t take your actions seriously, and that calling a hotline means that you aren’t truly suffering. Unbelievable.

Just as bad was the endless speculation about what prompted her action, from being bullied at school to being upset over having to testify in the wrongful death lawsuit involving her father to being told she couldn’t go to a Marilyn Manson concert. And then Marilyn Manson got into the act in a concert Thursday, dedicating a song to Paris, and miming cutting himself with a huge knife.

Marilyn Manson isn’t exactly a role model for probity, but even for him this lapse in judgment is shocking. For a very thoughtful description of what it’s like to feel suicidal I recommend an interview last week with comedian and actor Stephen Fry, who admits that he made a suicide attempt last year that would have been fatal but for a producer who found him unconscious in his hotel room.

“You may say, ‘How can anybody who’s got it all be so stupid as to want to end it all?’ ” Frye said in the interview. “That’s the point, there is no ‘why?’ That’s not the right question. There is no reason. If there was reason for it, you could reason someone out of it.”

Fry, who is on the record about having bipolar disorder, said he often feels suicidal. “Sometimes it’s the expression I imagine on my mother and father’s face—both of whom are alive and happy—that stops me,” he said. “But there are other occasions when I can’t stop myself, or at least I feel I can’t.”

We hope that the caring adults around Paris Jackson will make sure that whatever pain led her to this act gets serious attention, as well as the love and support she deserves.

Tagged with: Mental Health