Depression, suicide, choice, and our kids

In a wrenching obituary and follow-up articles, Eleni Pinnow courageously recounts her sister’s suicide following bouts of depression. Ms. Pinnow wrote, “Aletha Meyer Pinnow, 31, of Duluth (formerly of Oswego and Chicago, IL) died from depression and suicide on February 20, 2016.”

I know that most readers of EBD Blog are looking for content regarding children and youths. At 31, Aletha Pinnow was not a child nor a youth, but she had been, and we can bet that her depression was not a recent development. The reports I’ve seen do not make clear that she had a life-long condition, but it would not surprise me.

The obituary does have a special twist, though:

Aletha found her true passion in fifth grade when she decided to become a special education teacher. She graduated high school a year early to enroll in her future alma mater, Northern Illinois University (NIU), in anticipation of that goal. It is the ultimate understatement to say that Aletha loved working with people with disabilities (especially people on the autism spectrum). She was a special education teacher for over a decade and she was, as she was happy to tell you, awesome at it. She saw the potential and value of every single one of her students and she loved them with a ferocity that would make a rabid mother bear quiver.

One can learn more about Aletha in what I think is the original obituary, and a follow-up from the Washington Post.

Is suicide a “choice?” I’m not so sure. I suspect environmental conditions compel people to kill themselves. We need to understand that phenomenon better. Because suicide is not a repeatable behavior, it is impossible to complete a behavioral analysis of it. This presents a substantial problem. That does not authorize us to go off willy-nilly, spouting untestable hypotheses. The topic needs to be examined systematically.

But, importantly, as Eleni Pinnow has done, it must come out of the shadows. We can’t hide this. Especially when we see depression in children and youths. The risk is too great that that subsequently there will be substantial problems.

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