He is eight years old. Skinny and awkward and adorable. We sit at the kitchen table, coloring.
His dad is one of my favorite college professors, fascinating and intelligent. His mom is the woman everyone in the girls’ dorm wants to be when we grow up: wise, soft-spoken, graceful.
Sometimes I babysit. Today, I dropped by to see his mother and play with my little buddy.
“Draw Toby again,” he pleads.
Toby, the multicolored, furry creature I created just for him. Toby is talented, musical, always smiling. Also, he has a chronic habit of leaving his high-top sneakers untied.
I pick up a marker and begin to draw.
He is nine years old. We sprawl on the floor, watching monochromatic terror and insanity crescendo on the screen. The original Frankenstein. I listen for his little sister, napping in the next room.
I am a little shocked that this movie, his favorite, will not give him nightmares. Pretty sure I’ll have one.
I glance at him as the monster comes to life.
His smile is wider than the sun and twice as bright.
He is ten.
I sit in the Florida autumn sun, absorbed in test preparation. I ignore the tiny berries sailing by my head.
Sauntering past my chair, he tosses my notebook into the bushes and takes off running.
He’s fast, but I’m still faster.
I catch up and toss him over my shoulder.
I carry him toward the pond, fabled to be frequented by a large alligator. He screams with laughter, pleading for his life. I agree to give him one more chance.
He is eleven.
He rides a large pony. I walk with him, showing him how to keep heels down, how to communicate gently through the reins.
I grin at his parents, thrilled with his quick success.
I snap a picture of his adorable little sister sitting on a Shetland.
The family moves out West. I leave Florida. My life moves on, as does theirs. Other than intermittent communication, we lose touch.
The picture of his sister remains on my dresser through grad school and three moves. I love those two kids with all my heart. The distance devastates me.
He is twenty-something. He writes a beautiful letter, thanking me for the time I spent with him during his childhood. He writes about Toby. I had forgotten.
We lose touch again, until he mails a picture. He’s married a beautiful girl.
I am happy, so happy for my boy.
He is thirty.
I read his sister’s message, stunned.
None of us knew how deeply he was hurting.
We are so thankful that he trusted in Jesus to give him eternal life, and now he isn’t hurting anymore.
We never saw this coming. I’m heartbroken.
I imagine his parents’ devastation. His family’s deep loss. They were close. Having practically lived with them for several years, I can vouch his parents were some of the best in the business. Not perfect, of course, but amazing. And still, this unexpected tragedy.
Once, I heard a slogan, something along the lines of “Suicide is Not the Solution!” Unfortunately, for many teens and young adults seems to be a solution. And in some cases, the solution.
They think it’s the final solution to a life too overwhelming to comprehend, too hopeless to navigate.
Over 800,000 people die due to suicide every year and there are many more who attempt suicide. Hence, many millions of people are affected or experience suicide bereavement every year. Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and was the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally in 2012.
-World Health Organization (bold mine)
And I think of our two children, with their insane start to life. The neglect, abuse and resulting depression they’ve both experienced. Hubby and I were naive and fully untrained when they arrived. We made tons of mistakes. We still do. Although we do our best to learn and grow, both of us are far from perfect.
Children who’ve survived the foster care system are at even higher risk for suicide.
• Adolescents who had been in foster care were nearly two and a half times more likely to seriously consider suicide than other youth (Pilowsky & Wu, 2006).
• Adolescents who had been in foster care were nearly four times more likely to have attempted suicide than other youth (Pilowsky & Wu, 2006).
• Experiencing childhood abuse or trauma increased the risk of attempted suicide 2- to 5-fold (Dube et al., 2001).
• Among 8-year-olds who were maltreated or at risk for maltreatment, nearly 10% reported wanting to kill themselves (Thompson, 2005).
• Adverse childhood experiences play a major role in suicide attempts. One study found that approximately two thirds of suicide attempts may be attributable to abusive or traumatic childhood experiences (Dube et al., 2001).
-Helen Ramaglia, Suicide and the Foster Child
If this tragedy can happen in my friends’ family, it can happen to anyone. There’s no way to guarantee our world’s children will discount this solution, be willing to consider other avenues, when it seems so easy to simply fall asleep. Forever.
I’ve experienced depression. Desperation. Futility. Bleak future. No chance things will improve. No way out.
One way out, it seems.
There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.
– American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
And just as someone who is depressed may believe the untruth that suicide is the only door to relief, we have some myths of our own.
The following are common misconceptions about suicide:
“People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.”
Not True. Almost everyone who commits or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like “you’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” “I can’t see any way out,” — no matter how casually or jokingly said, may indicate serious suicidal feelings.
“Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy.”
Not True. Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They may be upset, grief-stricken,depressed or despairing. Extreme distress and emotional pain are always signs of mental illness but are not signs of psychosis.
“If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop him/her.”
Not True. Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, and most waiver until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to end their pain. Most suicidal people do not want to die; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.
“People who commit suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help.”
Not True. Studies of adult suicide victims have shown that more then half had sought medical help within six month before their deaths and a majority had seen a medical professional within 1 month of their death.
“Talking about suicide may give someone the idea.”
Not True. You don’t give a suicidal person ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true — bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.
-Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE)
That last point is important. Ignoring the problem or the symptoms will not “make it go away.” We have to talk about it. We must. Below are suggestions for beginning the conversation.
Ways to start a conversation about suicide:
- I have been feeling concerned about you lately.
- Recently, I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing.
- I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately.
Questions you can ask:
- When did you begin feeling like this?
- Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?
- How can I best support you right now?
- Have you thought about getting help?
What you can say that helps:
- You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
- You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.
- I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
- When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold off for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage.
Preventing Suicide, Helpguide
In my deepest depression as a teen, suicide crossed my mind. It never became an option because I had too many nosy adults in my life. And that was a great thing.
In the minds of the hopeless, suicide seems to be a solution. We need to help them see that although suicide may appear to end the problem, it doesn’t solve anything.
Be the nosy adult,
especially if you’re in the life of a child who has been in the foster system or experienced some kind of abuse.
Kids are dying for someone to care. Literally.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or visit their website: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.