Father of Teen Who Killed Himself: Education System Burying Its Head in the Sand

A severe shortage of educational therapists in high schools and partial implementation of programs aimed at treating teens' fears are among the reasons for the education system's failure to help teens at risk of suicide, professionals in the field said yesterday.

They added that many educators are overly wary of raising a subject often considered taboo.

The comments came shortly after the Education Ministry was handed a study, published exclusively in Haaretz, which found that nearly 8 percent of Jewish Israeli 10th-graders and nearly 18 percent of their Arab counterparts say they have attempted suicide at least once, while 17 percent of Jews and 20 percent of Arabs say they have seriously considered killing themselves. The study is due to be published shortly.

Dr. Avshalom Aderet of the Path of Life Organization for Suicide Prevention, a nonprofit working to raise awareness of teen suicides, said the school system is apprehensive about addressing the issue.

"We are trying to get into the system, but it's very hard," says Aderet, whose son Eran committed suicide during his military service with the Israel Defense Forces 11 years ago. "The school won't even listen to us when we offer to hold activities for students or for parents."

School counselors, whom Aderet said are aware of his group, are "afraid" to talk about suicide, he said. "The school system is dealing with suicides as though it were taboo, in much the same way that it used to address AIDS 10 years ago."

Aderet says the system is burying its head in the sand.

Hava Friedman, the Education Ministry's chief psychologist, said there is good reason for the reluctance Aderet is complaining about.

"Unlike in issues such as violence or sexual harassment, with suicides there is a danger that dealing with the subject will 'infect' new students," Friedman said.

Friedman cited studies conducted abroad indicating that when too much attention is devoted to the subject of teen suicides, children who are contemplating taking their lives might be more inclined to do so.

"So we need to act very cautiously in a very educated manner to make sure that the school has all the tools required to address this subject," she said.

But there are other, more prosaic, restrictions that keep educators from tackling the painful subject.

A crippling shortage of psychologists in schools and in the Education Ministry makes it hard to locate and assist those teenagers at risk of taking their lives.

The few existing programs on the subject of suicide are hardly implemented because of this personnel shortage.