I hope the weeks are rolling smoothly for you as we approach spring. I hope this is a good time for you, in every way that’s important to you. I read a quote recently of Robin Williams, which really touched my heart. To paraphrase it, “Everyone you have contact with is dealing with something you know nothing about.” It reminded me of how true that is. We are taught early on not to share our griefs, to “keep a stiff upper lip”, and many people feel private about their problems, relationship and family issues, and the standard response to “How are you?” is ‘Fine’. We usually don’t respond to mere acquaintances or even good friends with the truth when things aren’t going well, as in “My life really sucks”. We are often private and discreet while carrying a heavy load. It helps to share and to talk to someone, and out of pride and discretion, good manners or shyness, we don’t always reach out when we need help. It really does help to talk to someone who cares about you and wants to help.
My son Nick had bi polar disease for his entire life. I first noticed the signs before he was two years old. No psychiatrist or doctor would listen to me until much later, when he was sixteen. it was a long lonely road trying to get help for him between two and sixteen, when he was finally medicated. The medication helped a lot, so much so that he thought he was cured, which led him to try stopping the medication at 18. The end result was that he committed suicide at 19. He was severely impacted by the disease, and even once medicated, it had gone untreated for too long, and we tried everything but we could not save him. I was open about his illness, and not ashamed, but mental illness comes with a lot of stigma, and particularly at the time, many people hid the fact that they or a loved one suffered from mental illness and spoke about it in whispers, or not at all. Today, people are more open about it, which is a vast improvement.
Suicide has long been the second highest cause of death in the US in young people under the age of 25, after car accidents, which is #1. And today it’s on the rise at a rapid rate. I personally feel that young people and adolescents of high school, and particularly college age, have paid the highest price of pandemic survivors, more so than any other age group. They have missed out on two years of their college experiences that they worked so hard for, instead of enjoying campus life, and building the social foundation for their adult lives, they are locked up at home studying alone, and going to school on computer, meeting no one, making no friends, and have lived with lockdowns, curfews, restaurants and bars and meeting places closed for a year, no access to sports experiences, making new friends, and learning in a group setting. The future looks dim to them, they are uncertain about jobs, finances and their future. MUCH too often I am hearing now about suicides among late teens and young people in their early twenties. I don’t know the current statistics, but successful suicides tended to be more heavily male in the past, and more and more I am hearing about young women taking their own lives as well.
In the past two weeks, two star athletes and star students took their own lives at Stanford University and the University of Wisconsin, both young women with outstanding achievements, and no warning signs to their family and friends. And this weekend I learned of a fifteen year old high school student, who took her own life, also with no warning. None of these three had a history of depression or mental illness, and those who loved them are shocked by the path they took, clearly in desperation.
Young children also commit suicide more often than we think. Out of compassion for their families, many states forbid listing the cause of death as suicide before the age of 13, which skews the statistics. The tragic fact is that children as young as 6 commit suicide. When I spoke to the Senate sub Committee about suicide, at their request, after my son’s death, a famous very learned psychiatrist said that she is well aware of children’s suicides from the age of 6 on, and some have left suicide notes written in crayon. (When I read my son’s journals after his death, I discovered that he had written about suicide almost daily, from the time he was 11. We kept him alive 8 years longer than he intended).
Suicide is on the rise, children, adolescents and young adults are at grave risk. We need to be more alert and aware than ever. Covid has hit their world even harder than it has ours, as adults, or at least as hard. They feel that they are missing their youth, the future looks uncertain to them, and the challenges and hardships of today are liable to impact all of us into the future. Young people are sad and uncertain, and feel cheated of their youth, and for some, it’s a challenge they don’t know how to face, and need help and support doing so.
Sunday May 1st is my late son Nick’s birthday. In his honor, and in his name, I reach out to you. If you, reading this, feel at risk, or if you love someone who is, there is help out there. Call a friend, tell a parent, call one of the hotlines and talk to someone. The future is never as dark or as bleak as we think it is when we are at a low point. And as parents, we need to keep an eye on our young adults, those with the most serious leanings in that direction often give no warning before they act. Watch, listen, talk, reach out, follow your instincts. My son gave many warnings, he suffered from bi polar disease all his life, he made three unsuccessful suicide attempts before the final one. All the warning signs were there, and we did our very best to change his course. But so many young people give no overt warnings, but the behaviour and the intentions and the despair are there. Be aware and alert, and if you are the one feeling drawn to harming yourself or taking your life, there are people around you who want to help you. Let them in, reach out. There is help, there is a future, maybe even a very good one. And there is hope.
These young people need our help and our protection. The future is waiting for them, after these hard times in Covid. Not a single young life should be lost in this battle, no matter how dark these times seem to them.
Let’s all be as aware as we can be, and as brave as we can be to help them get through these times. These young people are our future, let’s help them get there safely and be the safety net under them for as long as they need one, until better, easier times come again. The future belongs to them. Let’s help to get them there safely, and help turn the tides of these treacherous waters they are navigating now. Their support system can start with us, if we reach out to them.
Have a safe, happy week, with much love, Danielle.