A young man, feeling depressed, desolate and all alone turns to drugs and later deciding life is not worth the trouble takes his own life. A young girl, needing to belong and not knowing where to fill her father-void, turns to promiscuity and yet the hunger for love and acceptance remains, she too decides to stop the pain and end her life.
These case scenarios are not mere fragments of my imagination; rather they are representative of real case studies of young people. A few years back I ran a programme among young people leaving high school. One of the facilitators I was working with asked a class of 30 young people how many of them had contemplated suicide. These were your average everyday group of church going, well-adjusted young people from fairly stable homes. All of them had either seriously contemplated suicide or actually attempted suicide.
Many of their parents were unaware of this fact. When questioned further they said their key issues were feelings of inadequacies, depression, loneliness or family issues. I am not a counsellor and will not attempt to go into all the complexities. But being a mother of young children I cannot help but ponder the issue. I am sure suicide is not a new concept. It probably has been an issue for every generation. However, now being a parent, the issue seems to be moving into my backyard. What would make T.j or Toriah get to the point in their lives where they feel so defeated that suicide would be their only course of respite? How can I ensure that this does not happen in my own home? As a parent, how can I ensure that he communication channels between us stay open?
My greatest fear is to live my life thinking I am loving my babies only to have them kill themselves because they feel unworthy! At the moment the issue of suicide and childhood depression is heavy on my mind as I watch my children enter their pre-teen years. My younger son and I recently had a very interesting conversation. He asked me to go with him as he prepared for bed and once tucked in he told me, “You and dad are so lucky good things always happen to you. Nothing good ever happens to me. I wish I wasn’t born”. It came out of the blues and terrified me greatly. We talked and talked and I realized that this was something that was disturbing him. Earlier he had sent me a note, a prayer really that God would help his mom and dad be kind and make him feel loved. Talking to my husband and a friend who is a counsellor helped set my mind at ease.
They helped me recognise the difference between actual depression and just tantrums being thrown by a child. I realised that my son was laying on the guilt because Tony and I had refused him something he had been asking for not to mention the fact that there is a new baby on the way to ‘take his place’ (for lack of a better phrase) as the last born. As a parent I needed to know the difference and deal with the two very differently. However I was still glad he shared with me what he felt and I took the time to listen and to validate him even when I didn’t necessarily cave in to his demands. Being there and allowing him to vent helped him know that he was loved even when we didn’t agree with him or share his sentiments.
I guess the key is keeping the communication channels open and taking time to ensure that your child feels loved and appreciated. Teaching our children that life will hand them curve balls and they cannot always have what they want, will help them learn to navigate the eventual disappointments they will meet in their life journey and hopefully build them some psychological muscles. No matter how alone a person feels, the reality is that they are never truly alone. As the old African saying states, “Every monkey has a friend”. However small or insignificant you feel, there is someone who thinks you are all that and a bag of chips. We need to drum this reality in our children that when they feel alone and unloved, they are not. We are here, we love them and we care.