Ever consider suicide? How many teens have considered this option and have given serious thought to it?
Ann Jacobus has written a page-turning story set in the romantic city of Paris that hits upon the many important issues in young people’s lives – where do I fit in, friendship and loyalty, the excitement of sex, drinking, and maybe even drugs, and all this in the tincture of longing to belong, to be somebody, successful, meaningful, and to have a parent care, really care, if I live or die. ROMANCING THE DARK IN THE CITY OF LIGHT by Ann Jacobus looks at suicide both head on and also on the slant.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death of young people. Over 14% of teens give serious consideration; 7% have attempted it. Suicide attempts peak during adolescents. Bullying is a major player.
ROMANCING THE DARK is “A vivid portrayal of a girl in love with love and death …flowing from the real to the surreal with all the gritty glamour of a black and white French film.” Richard Peck, Newbery Medal winner, National Book Award finalist
I had the opportunity to interview the author, Ann Jacobus, who invited me to “take a walk on the Dark Side.” Join us —
What is ROMANCING THE DARK IN THE CITY OF LIGHT about?
ROMANCING the DARK is about a depressed and hard-drinking 18-year-old girl in Paris who’s torn between two boys—one who pulls her toward the light and all her potential, and one who leads her toward darkness. It’s meant to be an entertaining YA thriller first, but at its core, the story is very much about suicide and being suicidal, and is based on hard facts.
What kind of research did you do?
We lived in Paris for ten years so I know the city. For many years I’ve participated as a trained volunteer for suicide crisis lines. I was briefly suicidal at age fifteen. I also attended AA meetings, consulted recovering alcoholics, medical doctors, psychologists, and French police.
Yes! Stories are how readers can make sense of pretty much everything, but especially of dark, difficult subjects like suicide.
Each year at least 4600 kids between the ages of 10-24 complete suicide. Another 160,000 are treated in ERs across the country for self-injury from attempts. Almost 30% of the 40K high school students surveyed felt so sad and hopeless in the previous year for two weeks running that they stopped doing regular activities. 17% seriously considered suicide! That’s 1 out of every 6 high school students.
And yet, we turn away.
This is the stigma mental health workers refer to. While it applies to most mental health issues and illnesses, suicide suffers it the worst.* It affects not just the suicidal themselves but their friends and families and survivors.
Stigma leads to silence. Silence for the suicidal leads to loss of life.
We can prevent suicide in the vast majority of cases, if we can talk about it. And that’s why I wrote ROMANCING THE DARK IN THE CITY OF LIGHT.
Writers and other artists, by the way, are four times more likely than the general population to suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, and even illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Unfortunately, suicidality (the term for feeling suicidal) is sometimes associated with these. We all know of someone who has taken their own life, whether a celebrity or an acquaintance. Some of us have lost a loved one. Many of us have at some point in our lives dealt with depression, and a few of us have been suicidal ourselves. We just don’t talk about it.**
The main character, Summer, is not only depressed and suicidal, but is also an alcoholic. Why is this important to the story?
Depression, addiction and suicidality so often go hand in hand in hand. The majority of people who are suicidal are depressed but for the record, only a small percentage of the depressed are suicidal, thank goodness. Some 40% of all completed suicides involved elevated alcohol blood levels. Teens who binge drink and who are dealing with stressful events in their life at the same time are the most at risk.
Alcohol consumption can be a coping method for dealing with acute mental anguish. It’s also a depressant and if someone is already contemplating suicide, it can remove remaining inhibitions.
When a young person is feeling most desperately in need of help, the stigma of mental health issues make friends and family more likely to turn away, or deny that there’s a problem. Throw in alcohol abuse or other substances and it’s like pouring gasoline on the fire.
Best thing to do if you’re worried about a friend or family member?
Ask them if they’re feeling suicidal! It doesn’t put the idea in their head. Trust me. It’s a relief to admit how you’re feeling and that maybe you need some help. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for information.
Thanks, Pirate Tree, for having me and for taking a walk on the dark side.
* Not all cultures feel the same way about suicide. In the west, during the Middle Ages, the Church instigated brutal crack–downs that included desecrating the corpse of a suicide, barring them from heaven (sic) by burying them in unconsecrated ground, confiscating their estates, and exiling their families. No wonder we’re still a little touchy about the idea.
**Everyone has ups and downs. While heredity certainly plays a major role in our mental health, our circumstances do, too, and almost anyone, can at some point in their life, find themselves in a crisis situation. External factors that can weaken our ability to cope with great stress include: disrupted or lack of early attachments, past trauma or abuse, poor physical health, lack of peer/community connections and support, lack of self worth, to name a few. This can be when alcohol consumption increases. This can be when thoughts of ending one’s life to escape the pain occur.
www.annjacobus.com FB annjacobus.author