The news of the loss of a fellow high school sophomore spread through my son’s Instagram network like wildfire yesterday. He and all of his classmates knew immediately. I was astounded that they heard before we did. It revealed in an ominous way how pervasive the reality of suicide is for our kids, how attuned and tragically resigned they are to its occurrence.
As one of the members of the SafeSpace team, and the mother of three teens, I am keenly aware of the pressures and sense of disconnect our kids experience on a daily basis. My partners and I are dedicated to combating the stigma and isolation brought on by anxiety and depression and just plain old teen angst.
But this latest loss reveals the true extent of the foe we face. It is an insidious and cunning disease. Fed by a thousand forms of fear, the feeling of anxiety or depression convinces our kids they are better off staying quiet and isolated. This malady sucks the joy of life out of our children’s souls, it renders them into victims of learned helplessness. Worse still, many of us adults have no idea this is happening until it is too late.
We know intellectually that mental illness can be managed with proper support and therapeutic tools. We know that asking for help quiets the destructive voice within. Connection and compassion are intrinsic to recovery. We just need to practice this, rather than talk about it.
While we can’t always be there to save our children, we can fight for their right to help themselves. A supportive and open-minded community creates a positive environment for recovery. We do not need to know everything about mental illness, but we do need to know how to listen and support our kids with compassion and authentic curiosity about how their day was, not just about what they accomplished.
This is an ongoing opportunity for us to challenge the status quo. Working together as a community to support our kids is the primary mission we’ve set for ourselves at SafeSpace. We’ve created our first Youth Advisory Board to channel the youth voice into actionable goals. They have hit the ground running- we struggle to keep up! They are helping to break the silence- they are teaching us more than we are teaching them.
We are deeply saddened for the friends and family touched by this latest tragedy. It is an unimaginable grief. We hope our center will provide a space for kids to help themselves and others deal with the many pressures they face. We are not alone in pursuing this goal and we applaud all efforts. Our kids do not have to suffer in silence any more. We continue to have faith that we can change the world, one child at a time. We are truly all in this together.