I can recall a boy I knew when I was a younger man. He was a joker and always smiled, the nicest teenage boy you ever met. I lost touch with him in my early to mid teens. The next I heard of him was the sad news that he had committed suicide by taking a massive drug overdose. It was the sort of overdose where resuscitation would be pointless. He really wanted to die. No cry for help, no hint and no turning back from the brink. Even now, when recalling his name people talk about how stunned they were, not only by the fact of his death alone, but also because of the notion that such a happy-go-lucky (to use that well-worn cliché) could take his own life with absolutely no warning or indication that anything might be amiss.
If ever there was a time and a desperate need to act upon this sort of thing it is now. According to recent research more than half of parents never talk to their children about stress, anxiety or depression. I cannot tell you how heartbreaking this is, not only for the mere fact itself, but also because I am not in the least bit surprised. The one conversation that I have ever had with an immediate family member regarding this amounted to my confession that I was ill and that person reflexively (almost before I had closed my mouth in fact) screaming at me that I was making it up, and an admonishment telling me to shut up and to ‘not discuss things like that’. This is nothing but a recipe for disaster. It should be no surprise at all for anyone to see that the number one killer of young males is suicide and it must be tackled with great urgency and care. The epidemic of suicide that is killing the strongest of us, the boys, is powered by a dreadful, terrible epidemic of silence. Imagine that; a nation of parents who cannot discuss such matters with their children. How on earth did things ever get this way?
I say this all the time but one day soon it may well be your son on the chopping block, your daughter on the ledge. If you do not have this conversation with them now then you might one day find that you are having a conversation with yourself, asking why you stood by and did nothing whilst your son became a man, or your daughter blossomed. You will, on countless sleepless, endless nights face the hard truth that you could have acted, and you will torture yourself for leaving them in emotional poverty when YOU WERE SO RICH.
A hero of mine, the late Christopher Hitchens wrote in his memoir of a telephone call that came from his mother which he never took. It came minutes before she committed suicide in a pact with her lover. How it must have scarred him to know that he might have talked her down. One can only imagine the shame and guilt he felt, right up to his dying breath about his inaction and casual dismissal of her reaching for him.
Would you like to avoid that? Talk to your children. Whisper in their ear before the voice in the dark convinces them that the world is better off without them. No teenager wants to die. They want to cry out to the world and let it know that they have something to give.