Suicide is a topic that people don't want to raise, yet it is affecting our communities more than any other society affliction today. To lose someone to suicide means a life of crippling grief for those who are left behind.
Having been affected myself personally, I know the devastating consequences. I also know that suicide is not an easy choice, it is a compelling pull on one's life where it feels as though there is no other option.
When one is at the point of suicidal intention, it isn't as simple as being in control. To make a rather crude comparison - when one has an urgent call to attend the bathroom, there is nothing that can speak 'delay' or 'you don't need to go' - the physical call cannot be overcome nor argued with.
Suicide is the same, the 'pull' on one's life is so strong that it becomes a physical rather than emotional force. It is NOT a choice that individuals want to make,- in fact, there are desperate cries for help IN THE MIDST OF THAT PAIN AND PULL. When someone is standing on a bridge ready to jump off, they don't climb, jump and go, there is often a moment or a delay where they will seek another person, or if they are lucky enough to have someone near, will allow them to reach out because THEY DO NOT WANT TO GO. Usually, there are a few critical minutes where someone's life CAN be saved.
SO AS A SOCIETY WHAT CAN WE DO?
In New Zealand, we have the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world. I've attended training workshops, and community meetings on suicide and one thing is clear that our teenagers' needs are not that complex.
Our teens need to be affirmed in LOVE. They need to be accepted for who they are, - NOT with conditioned love (I'll love you if you behave this way, but not if you do that), but because they are beautiful inside and because they are unique in what they bring.
They need to hear that their behaviour might require modification BUT they don't. They need to be HONOURED and AFFIRMED. They need to understand that 'success' does not depend on how many likes they receive online, on how many sports they play, nor on what they achieve in life. 'Success' that will prevent the suicide is knowing they can push through, understanding they can overcome and having enough experience in perseverance that they can do it all again.
Our teens also need to understand they are not perfect AND THAT NO ONE ELSE IS EITHER! They are growing up in a world of social media where individuals present dangerously PERFECT LIVES, PERFECT SUCCESS AND PERFECT BEAUTY. Our teens need to understand that social media hides peoples pain, it hides vulnerability and it hides imperfection. They need to hear that EVERYONE is VULNERABLE, EVERYONE experiences PAIN, EVERYONE SUFFERS IDENTITY CRISIS THROUGH TEEN YEARS (and often throughout life), and EVERYONE suffers periods of low self-esteem, self-hatred, worthlessness and hopelessness.
The danger in parenting our teens is avoiding those things that teach endurance and resilience - which are critical life skills. 'Helicopter parenting' and 'rescuing' children from a young age teach children that there will always be an escape route, BUT THERE WON'T BE. There won't always be success, there won't always be perfection, and there won't always be loving relationships. It is critical that we teach our children that the world is a complicated place. It is vital that we allow them to see us struggle, but more importantly, it is essential that we give them tools and resources to overcome IN THE MIDST OF CRISIS, without doing it for them.
Our teens are irreplaceable. They are the light and hope of our future - so let's give them light and hope on their difficult path and teach them that the hard bits are not the end but the learning process. FAILURE, VULNERABILITY, and REJECTION are the critical life experiences our children need so that as teens they know they can get through because they have before.
Finally 'it takes a village to raise a child'. Teens ALL need another 'home' they can go to when things get critically tough. That 'home' may be your heart for another teen or a friend's child. It might be your meal on the table, your acceptance, your encouragement or your praise for a child that's not your own. That 'home' might one day be the very thing that saves another teen's life - not because you were there at the right time but because they remembered there IS someone out there that cares.