The Tough Lessons I Learned From A Tragic Teen Suicide Close To Home

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teen depression

There are important warning signs — knowing them could save someone close to you.

It started out like any other Friday Fall morning. The foliage was slowly turning to stunning yellows, reds and oranges. Workers and students alike were heading off to their respective responsibilities, likely looking forward to the weekend.  

And then the devastating and shocking news started to circulate amongst our friends, loved ones and community.

A 15-year-old 10th grader had taken her life.

We asked ourselves how could an extremely bright, articulate, hard working, sensitive, kind, popular and well liked kid do this? We have since learned that she was struggling with depression and using illicit drugs.

Living two lives

In a sense, she was living a double life, one that we saw and one that she kept hidden.

We saw the light, the gifts, the presence she had. We did not see the depth of her pain. Perhaps some of her friends saw it — we're not sure.

The family whose daughter took her life is trying to make sense of the senseless. We, in their community, are trying to fathom the unfathomable. We are trying to heal.

We are trying to reconcile this tragedy as something as real as can be while feeling like we are in a surreal dream.

As we do this, and grieve, and hope, and wonder, and fear, some conclusions that we come to include that we must keep our children close to us, we must help them understand that the world is a challenging place and that life is full of struggles. We must help them to learn how to handle these struggles amidst adolescence, arguably one of the most difficult phases of a person’s life.

Seeing the signs of depression

We must also recognize the signs of depression.

Yes, some signs of depression may be characterized as “normal” teen moods and behavior. Nevertheless, if you have concerns about your child, trust your instinct. Keep asking your kids how they are, where they are and were, what they are doing. Even when your kid rebuffs you, which she likely will, keep asking. Listen when they want to tell you something even if it does not make sense to you. Know that they are living in a world different from ours — a teen culture with peer pressure, cliques, pressures to get good grades and perhaps thinking about college.

Empathize with these pressures.

Raising kids does not come with a manual. If you are unsure, which we all feel at times, talk with your partner, reach out to friends and contact a counselor to help your child and your family as a whole.

I knew the teen who took her life since she was born. I have been friends with her parents for 30 years. Even after 30 years of counseling and helping people cope with all sorts of unspeakable pain, I have never seen nor heard such pain as I have seen in her parents. Nor have I ever experienced such deep pain myself. It is for these reasons that I have written this article. 

Beyond the family teachers, school administrators, clergy, peers, parents and the community as a whole have all been deeply affected by this tragedy. We all need to heal.

There is something you can do.

In your own family, and in your own community, look for these common signs of depression:

  • Loss of pleasure in activities once enjoyed.
  • Loss of motivation.
  • Lack of attention to grooming, showering and other activities of daily living.
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns.
  • Hopelessness, including an attitude of "why bother, it doesn't matter anyway."
  • Isolation from friends, family, social activities, or their phone and computer.
  • Loss of energy with accompanying listlessness and fatigue.
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings.

Pay close attention if you see these warning signs of suicide:

  • A sudden switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy. Always talking or thinking about death.
  • Having a "death wish" — tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving through red lights.
  • Losing interest in things one used to care about.
  • Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will.
  • Saying things like "It would be better if I wasn't here" or "I want out."
  • Talking or texting about suicide and/or posting things online about suicide.
  • Uncharacteristically visiting or calling people one cares about.
  • Thoughts of suicide and/or a past history of suicide attempts.

Know that anybody who expresses suicidal thoughts or intentions should be taken very, very seriously. Do not hesitate to call your local suicide hotline immediately. Call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), or the deaf hotline at 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889).


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