Dead Serious: Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide – Jane Mersky Leder

Dead Serious: Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide doesn’t talk down to its audience; instead speaking to teens in a down to earth way. You would imagine that a book with a focus on teen suicide would be all doom and gloom, but that’s not what this book is at all. Letting teens know that it’s brave to seek help when they need it and providing tools for people at risk of suicide along with their friends, Dead Serious provides understanding and hope.

It dispels the myths surrounding suicide, provides information about some of the issues teens face that may lead them to become suicidal, offers plenty of tools to use and hotlines to contact, and empowers teens. Information is also provided so you can recognise warning signs in other people that may indicate they are considering or planning suicide.

Sections focus on some of the experiences people have that increase the risk of suicide, including anxiety and depression, loss through death or divorce, bullying, being LGBTQIA, abuse and homelessness. There’s also strategies outlined that teens can use to help their friends talk about what’s bothering them, including using mirroring in conversations.

Usually it’s friends that first find out that a teen is suicidal, not adults, so it’s vital that teens know what they can do if they learn a friend is feeling like that. Thankfully this book emphasises that it is not the responsibility of a friend to keep their friend alive or to keep this information a secret, but to inform a trusted adult who can seek help for the friend who needs it.

While reading about people who have considered, attempted or died as a result of suicide is always going to be heart wrenching and confronting, the stories are not gratuitous. They’re provided as examples and I expect they would be powerful to read for someone who is considering suicide as there’s often nothing more comforting than learning you’re not the only one who feels a certain way or has experienced specific problems.

I loved that there were song lyrics between chapters. Songs have had such a huge impact in my own life. There are some songs that make you feel like someone understands you and you can hold onto them when life gets rough. I thought they were a great addition to the book.

Stories are also shared by people who are left behind after a friend or family member has died from suicide. These are vital as when you’re suicidal it is very easy to believe that by you dying it will make everyone else’s life easier or that no one will care that you’re gone anyway. The experiences shared by those left behind make it clear that nothing could be further from the truth.

What I Didn’t Like

The Cover Design – Sorry, but I didn’t like it. I know this is only cosmetic and I know suicide is an extremely serious topic but the cover looks bleak, depressing and uninviting. By looking exclusively at the cover design I wouldn’t have expected this book to offer the hope that it does.

In the chapter on bullying the author concedes that bullying is a risk factor that increases the chance of suicide but also includes the following sentence:

However, what the experts don’t know is whether bullying directly causes suicide or suicidal behaviour.” (64% – please note this quote is from the ARC so may not be representative of the final text)

I found this sentence offensive (just because the experts haven’t decided something doesn’t make it any less true) and I’m sure parents who have lost their children to suicide after they were tormented by bullies would have some things to say to counter this claim. In Australia there has recently been a highly publicised story of a gorgeous 14 year old, Amy “Dolly” Everett, who died on 3 January 2018 after relentless bullying. I thought of Dolly’s family when I read that sentence and am sure they’d beg to differ with the ‘experts’.

Overall, I feel this is an extremely valuable book. One of my early childhood friends died by suicide in her early 20’s and I still think of her and her family. Even though I hadn’t been close friends with her since we were about 10 and hadn’t seen her after we attended different high schools, I still wonder if there was anything I could have personally done to make a difference in her life in the lead up to her death. I can’t even begin to imagine what those close to her must still be feeling all of these years later.

I applaud the author and the people who contributed to this book, and thank them for their openness, courage and honesty about their experiences. I believe their words will make the difference to people who are thinking of suicide and those supporting them.

It’s so hard to see around corners when you’re a teenager but please take it from someone who attempted suicide when they were a teenager. There are so many wonderful things I would have missed out on that I couldn’t have even begun to imagine at the time if I had died back when I thought my life was over. There is hope and there is good to be found in this life, even if all you’ve known until now is pain.

Content warnings include suicide, along with mental health, bullying, abuse and all of the other issues that may result in people feeling like suicide is the answer. Suicide is not the answer. Please be safe while reading this book. If you are struggling, please seek help. You deserve it and you are not alone. There are people who will understand what you’re going through and can help you, regardless of your circumstances.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Pikko’s House for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Are you under a lot of stress? Feeling too much pressure to get good grades? Trying to avoid social media because you’re being bullied? Grappling with your sexual/gender identity? Feeling depressed – even suicidal?

What are the reasons why teens decide to take their own lives? What can be done to stop them? Through stories, studies and strategies, Dead Serious helps teens, parents and educators navigate the choppy waters of adolescence and provides tools that can help break the cycle of teen suicide. 

Teen suicide is preventable. 

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