By the time this sees print, I will be on a plane headed for Seattle via Narita, Japan. An hour before I land, my daughter will have arrived there from a visit with her son in San Francisco. We will meet in the baggage area. I call that perfect timing.
Who knows, there may even be an assortment of grand-and great-grandchildren waiting outside.
I can hardly wait.
After three weeks, I will fly south to Atlanta to be there for my sister’s 89th.
Of course we will celebrate!
There was a disturbing post on my group chat the other day—the farewell letter of a young man who took his own life. I cannot even imagine how painful this must have been for his family.
Unfortunately, there have been several such heartbreaking incidents lately. Is there something in the air? What’s happening?
Barely out of their teens, some of the victims were children of high-income families, enrolled in exclusive schools. One would think they had so much going for them, with a bright future ready to unfold.
What is it that makes these young people so desperate that they can’t find anything worth living for? What makes them lose all hope?
Is there something one can do to stop these tragedies from happening?
A study covering “tweens and teens” by clinicians of the Mayo Clinic says, “teen suicides are preventable.” And they list several warning signals that parents and teachers should watch out for and heed.
Some miss these red flags because they are not out looking for signs of instability or mental illness, especially in their children.
Also the world today has too many distractions and our stressful lifestyles tend to pull us away from what is happening right under our noses.
As parents, we tend to get defensive and make excuses for our children who manifest some “quirks.” What we fail to see is that these could be actual alarm bells. Some of us, noticing that something is not right with our kids, immediately shift gears and go into denial. Many of us are simply clueless.
We explain antisocial behavior saying, “He’s just a loner and wants to be left alone. But he’s a good kid and has no reason to feel depressed.”
To make matters worse, today’s new high-tech toys make it hard to tell whether a person is just playing a game, or on a chat, or seeking to escape. This outwardly “harmless” pastime may be the dark corner they can hide in as they look for a way out of their pain, be it real or imagined.
Pay attention. What is your child saying, how is he acting?
Listen. Is your child frequently talking about death or dying and making light about killing himself? Is he dropping hints that he will not be a problem to you much longer? What does he mean?
Have there been recent suicides in school?
“Wanting to be alone” is cause for worry. If your child has broken away from his “best friends,” shouldn’t you wonder why? Are there mood swings? Is that once lively person now sullen and quiet? Have his good grades in school suddenly dropped? Those are red flags.
What to do
The Mayo Clinic report encourages, in fact insists, that parents must engage their children in open and frank conversations. Do not dismiss their problems and don’t treat them as silly sulks. Remind them instead that you are there for them always and are ready to help.
The paper also suggests seeking medical help. Take your child for the tests yourself. And do as the doctor orders. Do not be embarrassed to accept that it could be a mental health issue. It does not mean your child is crazy. It just means that he needs help.
Suicidal children need to be taken to a psychiatrist or psychologist. It is important to tell them your family history. They have the training and experience to assess and diagnose and can accurately identify indicators of deeper problems.
Don’t wait for the child to come to you. If you see signs of unexplained sadness or anxiety, you must take the first step.
Find out what he is going through. There may be some form of bullying, or persecution or questions about sexual orientation.
Be present in his life. Isolation is harmful. And it can be deadly. Encourage contact with good friends and family.
Get them interested in activities that help build up their confidence.
Promote a healthy lifestyle of wholesome food, exercise, time outdoors and adequate sleep.
As a safety precaution, the study advises to store away all medications, firearms or alcohol.
So for anyone, at any age, who thinks that the only solution and answer lies in getting off this merry-go-round called life, let me share something someone told me, when I too felt utterly hopeless.
“Place your hand over your heart. Feel that? That’s called purpose. You are alive for a reason. Don’t ever give up.”
And for the rest of us who often feel that the night of our woes is long and endless; let me call to mind the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson.