In a rare convergence of youthful passion and buttoned-up resolve, punk
rockers and politicians shared the microphone at a press conference on youth
suicide prevention last month in Washington, D.C.
Before running off to tune their instruments and prepare for a sound check
at the 9:30 Club across town, members of the punk/pop band Sugarcult appeared
alongside members of Congress at the Dirksen Senate Office Building to discuss
the importance of educating their young fans about suicide and depression.
"We feel like our fans have given us a career, so we'd like to give
something back—not just a show, but a green light to talk about their
feelings, and the understanding that mental illness is not a flaw—it's
just something that people have," said Sugarcult guitarist Marko
The National Mental Health Association and the Kristin Brooks Hope Center
held the press conference jointly to call for increased federal funding for
the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, which was signed into law last year and
authorized $82 million in grant money over three years to states, Indian
tribes, and colleges and universities to prevent youth suicide
(Psychiatric News, August 6, 2004).
Reese Butler founded the Kristin Brooks Hope Center after the 1998 suicide
of his wife, Kristin. The nonprofit organization operates the National
Hopeline Network through a toll-free number, (800) SUICIDE.
The number links those who are depressed and/or suicidal with a crisis
center in their community.
The press conference also kicked off the fifth annual "Take Action
Tour," in which a number of punk and hard-core rock bands on the Sub
City record label are performing in 35 cities to help educate youth about
depression and suicide.
The press conference and tour promote national crisis hotlines for those
who are depressed and/or suicidal. These include (800) SUICIDE; (877)
YOUTHLINE, a toll-free peer-to-peer crisis line; and (877) GRADHLP, which is
available to graduate students in crisis.
"Although more than 90 percent of those who commit suicide suffer
from some form of mental illness," Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) told
attendees, "our country has not come out of the dark ages when it comes
to ensuring that we have equal coverage for mental illnesses just as we would
every other physical illness."
He continued, "You can have a broken leg and still get insurance
coverage. You can have diabetes or asthma and get insurance coverage. But if
you have bipolar disorder, like I do, or another mental illness, you may have
no luck in getting insurance coverage because insurance companies... are still
allowed to discriminate."
Kennedy attributed suicide in part to a "deadly silence" that
prevents people from speaking up about their mental health problems and from
He also pointed out that there are nearly twice as many suicides as there
are homicides in the United States.
"I guarantee you that if you put before this Congress legislation to
fund an effort to crack down on crime because of murder rates, Congress would
unite" in supporting it.
"So why aren't we cutting down on suicides?" he asked.
Rep. Tom Osbourne (R-Neb.) recalled that as former head football coach for
the Nebraska Cornhuskers, he lost one of his players to suicide. "It hit
me hard, and it hit the whole team hard," he said.
He also pointed out that during the 36 years he spent as a college football
coach, suicide rates on college campuses rose steeply.
Osbourne cited statistics from a 2004 survey conducted by the American
College Health Association showing that the number of college students who
reported ever having been diagnosed with depression rose from 10.3 percent in
2000 to 14.9 percent in 2004. The sample included 47,202 students at 74
Of the 14.9 percent of students who reported ever having been diagnosed
with depression, almost 40 percent of men and 50 percent of women said they
felt so depressed that they had difficulty functioning during the prior school
"This is a huge problem," Osbourne remarked.
Sugarcult songwriter and vocalist Tim Pagnotta said that he regularly sifts
through e-mails from "kids who said they were going to kill themselves
and then got our record and could relate to the lyrics" and
Pagnotta, 28, can relate to his young fans. "Every morning, I get up
and take a little pill," he said, referring to the antidepressant that
has alleviated symptoms of anxiety and depression he's experienced since his
At age 23 Pagnotta had signed a major record deal and had a song on the
radio and a video on MTV.
"I started getting panic attacks," he said. "I didn't
know what was happening to me—I thought I was losing my mind."
He went to his grandmother, who advised him to pray. "That didn't
help," Pagnotta noted.
He then visited his doctor. "He told me I needed to relax and that I
was just too stressed out," Pagnotta said, "but I thought to
myself, `No, I feel like something has chemically changed in my body. At a
moment's notice, I can't think, I can't make decisions, and I feel terrified
for no reason.'" He was also having suicidal thoughts.
Pagnotta eventually sought the help of a psychiatrist and a psychologist."
Fortunately," he said, "I have insurance and have all the
support I need so everything turned out OK. But on a daily basis I read
e-mails from kids [with mental health problems] whose parents aren't
progressive enough to understand what mental illness is."
Though Pagnotta said he wishes "everyone had the same opportunities I
had," he realizes they don't, and so is proud to "support a cause
we believe in, and we'll play a show anywhere at any time for it."
More information about the Take Action Tour is posted online at<www.takeactiontour.com>.▪