I had a conversation with some young adults about the suicide of a teenager who re-enacted the death of Kurt Cobain. I asked them how big a factor they thought that the music might have been. They replied that there were so many other factors which were likely more important.
In my experience, if a client is sad or depressed, they may be drawn to lyrics expressing hopelessness and despair in many different types of music. It’s easy to blame something that seems bizarre, because suicide seems so irrational and difficult to understand.
What actually often happens when depression lingers, and one cannot find satisfaction in life, is that the individual begins going into a kind of suicidal trance. Their focus becomes increasingly narrow, so that all they can see are the problems, the sadness and the hopelessness.
They slowly withdraw themselves from all life support, including family and friends, and spend more time alone, experiencing the emptiness within. It’s like slowly reducing your supply of oxygen. The process is often so slow, so gradual, that no one recognizes that the person is letting go of life.
It is easy to respond to a sudden change in one’s behavior, but when it happens slowly over time, it is not so easy. And when it happens during adolescence, it is extremely difficult to assess whether the withdrawal is a part of growing, due to problems with peers or school, hormonal changes, or a natural uncertainty about the future.
At that age children often are distancing some from parents anyway, and we don’t want to be prying too much into their lives out of respect for their individuality.
How then, can we prevent such tragedies? There are many answers, depending on each situation, but there is one overall shift that would make a difference. We must truly recognize that within every child is a soul that knows no age. A soul that may be more advanced than ours.
Further, we must treat their ideas and feelings with dignity and reverence. And we must get it through our heads that just because we brought them into the world, that does not mean that we own them.
We are learning, but our culture and our institutions still do not honor the uniqueness of each child . They are often still treated like uncivilized beings who need to be trained.
When behavior is not as expected, often consequences are administered or behavior modification instituted, without any real discussion with the child about what is really troubling him/her. This is acceptable for laboratory animals, but not for human beings.
One of our greatest needs is to be seen, to be understood and to be validated. When we receive the first two, we grow strong enough to provide our own validation from within. Children cannot value themselves unless we value them. This is what they are constantly trying to tell us but we’re not listening closely enough.
We cannot value them as whole individuals unless we have learned to value ourselves. It’s not a question of whose fault it is, it’s a matter of how many of us will take responsibility to create the necessary changes.
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