Learning from the Brenden Tiggs Tragedy

On Sunday, Brenden Tiggs, an 18-year-old African American student at San Jose State, committed suicide in his dorm room. According to local media, his dad did not believe the coroner’s ruling, because his son was doing well and seemed happy. While it’s a topic we often don’t like to talk about, suicide rates for young men in the United States are especially troubling.

Four times as many college age men commit suicide as women: In 2005, suicide rates for women ages 15-24 was 3.5 percent per 100,000; for men the rate was 16.2. Of course, the tragic loss of a young man who had such a bright future ahead of him is more than a statistic.

In 1996, while sitting in the Juvenile Justice Commission of San Francisco, I was the lead investigator and writer for a report looking into the suicide of Aldo M, a 16-year-old ward who had been placed in a group home. Aldo M had been found hanging in a closet by a counselor in his group home. He was an immigrant who had no family in the United States and he spoke only Spanish.

Although he had a history of suicidal thoughts or attempts, Also M was placed in the group home without any suicide watch plan. Initially, the group home had Spanish-speaking staff, but over the course of several months staff that spoke only English replaced all of these people. So, this suicidal young man, with no local family, soon lived in a group home where he had no one with whom he could speak. I wanted to make sure no one forgot Aldo M and we learned something from his tragic death.

Perhaps SJSU will also learn something from Brenden Tiggs. Although he was African American, 90 percent of suicides in ages 15-24 are Caucasians. However, from 1980-1995, suicide rates for African American males in this age group increased by 214 percent. In 2005, young white men had a suicide rate of 17.3 per 100,000 people, compared to 3.7 for women. Meanwhile, African American young men had a suicide rate of 11.5 percent compared to 1.7 percent for African American young women.

While young men commit suicide four times as often as women, women try to take their lives more often. Young woman are three times as likely as men to attempt suicide, they just don’t succeed as often.

The bottom line is young men have a high suicide rate and colleges and high schools need to develop training and programs that address suicide risk factors and prevention. Mental illness and depression, along with alcohol consumption, are leading risk factors for suicide. Students who live in dorms are at increased risks because they are away from home for the first time and can sometimes feel isolated.

I hope Brenden’s tragic death will be a wake-up call for SJSU’s administrators to take a closer look at their mental health and suicide prevention services.

Sparky Harlan, Executive Director/CEO at Bill Wilson Center, is a nationally recognized advocate for youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this post listed the rate of suicides amongst men and women as percentages, as reported by an outside website. That reported rate should be in reference to suicides per 100,000 people.

Sparky Harlan, Executive Director/CEO at Bill Wilson Center, is a nationally recognized advocate for youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.

3 Comments

  1. Four times as many college age men commit suicide as women: In 2005, suicide rates for women ages 15-24 was 3.5 percent; for men 16.2 percent.

    Almost 1 in 6 males between the ages of 15 and 24 kill themselves?  I don’t think so.

    That 15-24 age group also seems to have the lowest suicide rate for any of the adult age groups.  That was for 2001, and that was according to the link you referenced.

    http://www.suicide.org/suicide-statistics.html

  2. > A clarification has been made.

    I think the reason for your clarification needs clarification.

    Was clarification necessary because of a benign “typographical error”?

    Or, was the typographical representation an authentic reproduction of the source information?

    We are wary, because social activists are notorious for distorting or fabricating shocking information because it helps to sell their “narrative”.

    Mitch Snyder created “homelessness” numbers out of whole cloth because the media wanted numbers.

    Did Sparky Harlan really report and/or believe that 16.2 percent of age 15-24 men committed suicide?  Was she seeking to create a “narrative”?

    Who should we hold accountable for a potentially meaningful departure from fact-based reality?

    More transparency please.

    Explanations that “Mistakes were made” are not sufficient.

    In an era where opaqueness and “spin” are routine signals for “cover-up”, those who rely on public support and approval, need to have a corresponding high level of credibility.