Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the state of Washington for youth 10 – 24 years old and the third leading cause of death nationally. Shockingly, there are nearly twice as many suicides as homicides of youth in this same age range.
Today’s blog is a tough one to write. I’m not even sure I will post it – but I have learned that letting your feelings out rather than keeping them in aids in the grieving process, so I am letting my words spill out onto paper. I also hope that just maybe someone will read this and it will help them too.
One year ago today a friend of both my sons, the same age as my oldest, committed suicide. My oldest and he weren’t BFF’s, his passions were long boarding and soccer and my son’s were baseball and music, but they had hung out in the same circles as long as forever. His Mom and Dad are my friends, we have sat in numerous sports venues cheering on our boys together, laughed at parties, suffered through PTA meetings, and bonded over little boy’s birthday parties and Homecoming photo sessions. But a year ago their charming, smart, funny boy decided that he could not endure any more of the sadness that had settled in his head and took his own life.
Just writing these words feels as if an enormous band aid has been wrenched off of my heart. It’s a wound that will not ever heal and my heart and my head hurt for our entire community, his parents, his amazing sister and the realms of beautiful young people who were his friends. I suspect by the time I decide whether or not to share this blog that a viral wave of media will have swept across the internet with poignant sadness sharing love and remembrance for the boy who will always be known as RVOD.
Even though my heart is breaking with this virtual remembrance, I am overwhelmed by the love and am so grateful that everyone can reach out to one another across the world and have one big group hug on this day. I know that literally hundreds and hundreds of people are thinking of him with a hole in their hearts today – because he was the kind of promising young man whose radiant smile touched your soul and made you feel special. As one counselor said to us last year, “You will never go back to normal – but eventually you will start living a new normal around that empty space in your heart.”
I’ve learned a lot in the last year about teens and depression. I’ve learned more than I want to know but recognize I should continue my education. I’ve learned that depression affects one in nine kids between the ages of 10 and 24 and I’ve learned that mental illness most commonly begins its occurrence at age 18. I’ve learned that long lasting changes in personality, mood and behavior are red flags of a deeper problem and not just “teen angst”. I’ve learned that kids who have been part of my sons’ friendship circle for an eternity, who are popular, athletic, 4.0 students, team captains and liked by everyone are just as likely to have problems with depression as anyone else.
My boys and I have learned that if you think someone is considering suicide, the hardest but single most important thing you can do is ask them, “Are you thinking of ending your life?” We’ve learned that by asking that question you can provide a critical outlet for someone who thinks that no one would understands and that they are relieved to share their thoughts. And we have learned that if they say “Yes” – that they need help from a professional immediately.
One of the hardest things about losing someone to suicide is finding blame. When a life is lost to cancer or a car accident your mind automatically blames disease or a slippery road; however, losing someone to suicide is also losing someone to illness. Unfortunately, depression is a silent disease and our society is not comfortable talking about it. This needs to change. If a teenager has stomach pains we would ask them what is wrong and try to find the necessary medical solution. That is the same response we should have if we sense a teenager has anxiety, moodiness or depression. All of these things are treatable albeit much harder to recognize or diagnose. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions and don’t be afraid to hear the hard answers and practice saying those questions out loud so that you are comfortable with the words.
I’m not an expert on teen depression or suicide, but there are volumes of information online and through local health experts that can help you understand. Here are three links I recommend http://www.intheforefront.org/ which is through the University of Washington and http://866teenlink.org/ The Teen Link Crisis Clinic and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. Also if you live in the Seattle area, carry this number (866.TEENLINK / 206-461-4922) for Teen Link in your phone and put it in your kid’s phone. It’s a confidential helpline for teens run by teens through the Crisis Clinic. If you are not a Seattle Area resident – find the local crisis line number for your area or use the National Suicide Prevention Hot Line at 1-800-273-8255.
I urge you to not brush off a basic understanding of teen anxiety and depression. You may be able to help yourself, your own family or friends with just a minimum of knowledge. Trust me, it’s worth the effort.
RVOD – You will be in our hearts forever. I wish that you could have known that there was light waiting for you on the other side of your darkness.
Forefront Organization http://www.intheforefront.org/
Teen Link Crisis Clinic http://866teenlink.org/
Teen Link Crisis Phone Number 866.TEENLINK / 206-461-4922
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ 1-800-273-8255