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All the Bright Places | Context

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Teenage Suicide

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), suicide is the "second-leading cause of death" for those between ages 15 and 24. Citing data from the Center for Disease Control, the APA states that one in five teenagers in the United States "seriously considers suicide annually." More than 90 percent of the teens who commit suicide have risk factors that include mental disorders and substance abuse. These are typically in conjunction with stressors that may include "disciplinary problems, interpersonal losses, family violence, sexual orientation confusion, physical and sexual abuse and being the victim of bullying."

Currently, suicide prevention efforts exist nationwide in the United States. These have often focused on education in the schools and crisis center hotlines. Additionally, prevention efforts include teaching the public to recognize the signs of suicide risk factors, such as changes in personality and behavior and talking about dying.

In All the Bright Places, both primary characters experience risk factors for suicidal ideation, or preoccupation with suicide. Violet Markey has lost her sister. In the wake of this stressor, she displays changes in her personality and behavior. Violet self-isolates by separating herself from her boyfriend and friends, and she discontinues her writing and refuses to ride in vehicles. Her hope for the future also changes—she is no longer making plans for college. Although she does not demonstrate all the risk factors, Violet is a classic example of a teen who demonstrates suicidal risk factors.

Theodore Finch, on the other hand, experiences suicidal ideation as a result of an undiagnosed and untreated mental disorder. Although he has experienced bullying and childhood abuse, he also experiences happiness and acceptance with Violet. Nevertheless, he is still at a high risk because of his mental health. Both protagonists are suicidal teens, but the causes for these tendencies are vastly different—as are the outcomes.

Bipolar Disorder in Teens

Bipolar disorder is characterized by "extremes of happiness, energy and clarity to sadness, fatigue and confusion" according to the APA. Not every person with this condition will experience depression, but all will experience mania (extreme happiness and abundant energy, often combined with the performance of risky acts). The onset of symptoms typically begins at age 16, or even younger. However, a range of 11 to 19 years of lag time between the first symptoms and actual diagnosis is common.

Current research suggests that "a rate of four or more episodes in a year" in adults is linked to earlier age of onset, as well as higher risk of suicide. Some research indicates that a "balanced circadian rhythm" may help with bipolar disorder. This means regular sleeping patterns increase the manageability of the illness, whereas "disruptions in sleep and routine may spur bouts of mania or depression."

In general, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with bipolar disorder are more likely to seek help during an episode of depression than mania. Treatment is available, often including both medication and therapy. The medications prescribed include "mood stabilizers, atypical antipsychotics, and antidepressants." With bipolar disorder there is a genetic risk factor. Not all members of a family will develop the disorder, but a child is more likely to develop the disorder if a parent or sibling has it.

In All the Bright Places main character Theodore Finch displays multiple indicators of an undiagnosed and untreated bipolar disorder—as does his father, Mr. Ted Finch. His father has dark moods that result in his striking out physically, hitting Finch. In speaking to Violet Markey, Finch describes his own moods as "Kind of black, sinking moods ... what being in the eye of a tornado would be like, all calm and blinding at the same time." He also experiences some degree of mania at varying points in the book.

The character is self-aware enough to characterize his own moods, but he is not willing to accept the help that is offered from his school counselor or his girlfriend, Violet Markey, or by the staff when he goes to the emergency room (ER) to have his stomach pumped. He refuses help, reacts with hostility, or outright leaves. Noting that patients are less receptive to treatment during mania may explain Finch's refusal to accept help. However, when Mr. Embry asks Finch about bipolar disorder, Finch thinks: "it's a label," and Finch doesn't want to be labeled. Also, in that moment, he thinks about how he's "watched [his] father in action for almost eighteen years, even though you could never slap a label on him because he would kill you."

Bullying

Bullying is aggressive and demeaning treatment toward a victim by a person in a perceived or real position of power. The most common manifestations are physical or verbal abuse, threats, rumors, and exclusionary actions. Throughout the course of the novel, main character Theodore Finch has most of these experiences. In many cases, as is true of Finch, bullying causes depression, anxiety, decreased academic performance, and decreased school participation.

After years of physical and emotional abuse by his father, Finch accepts the bullying behavior he experiences at school from Gabe Romero (Roamer) and others. When Roamer sees Finch atop the bell tower in Chapter 1, he says, "Why don't you go ahead and get it over with, freak?" Finch expects such reactions because, "Oh well, it's just Theodore Freak."

On numerous occasions in the novel, nothing is done by the teachers or principal to correct the pattern of bullying against Finch. This lack of adult intervention adds to the problem. Finch's experience with bullying is that there is no outside force who will act to stop it—not with his father, not with the students who verbally abuse him, and not with Roamer. Thus, in a somewhat atypical fashion, Finch demonstrates himself capable of stopping these actions. He has to be pulled off Roamer more than once, and he begins to resist his father's abuse and bullying.

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