Dr. Michael Tobin Comments on: Teenage Suicide
Ellen is seriously suicidal. Why? How did she reach that point?
Do her problems seem to be more severe than anyone else's? Okay, her parents have problems - they fight. But how many children grow up in families in which parents fight and suicide never even crosses their mind?
Other kids may think that she's even popular. So how come a kid like Ellen thinks seriously about killing herself?
I think the answer can be summed up in one sentence: Ellen feels absolutely and totally cut off, alone.
Ellen feels that she's in a world in which she has no connections with friends, with family. In that state, suicide appears to be a possibility.
Maybe one of the most important ingredients to feeling happy and hopeful is feeling connected to one or more people. This is the reason why Ellen's feelings begin to shift when Jenny, a very sensitive and caring girl, notices how unhappy she is. Jenny makes contact with Ellen and begins to talk to her. The decision to commit suicide then becomes less of an absolute.
It's obvious that Ellen must feel a terrible burden, an overwhelming sense of responsibility for her parents' marriage. I suspect she feels what many kids who consider suicide feel - a tremendous weight of expectation from family and from peers to excel, to be popular, to be highly successful.
Meanwhile, inside of each of these kids is another person, one who might feel scared or inadequate, but is afraid to express that, afraid to let anyone know that he has those normal fears and doubts. People like this feel split in half, disconnected from themselves and from everyone else.
Ellen has a desperate need to talk and it's interesting that she says, "Almost despite myself, I was crying, and I told Jenny about my desire to kill myself."
Why did she tell Jenny? Because she's like all of us. We need someone who we can trust and to whom we can pour our hearts out to from time to time.
Teenage suicide is a reality. We can learn from Jenny. Her caring wasn't passive. She took the risk of reaching out to Ellen. Something we may be called upon to do one day or perhaps may need. One thing is certain: None of us would want to carry the burden of, "If only I had actually done something." I've known many suicidal teenagers who, as a result of intervention through friends, family or counselors, were helped and were never again suicidal, who went on to live very healthy and productive lives. The feelings of despair, loneliness and self-hate can pass, but when you're in the middle of it, it seems like forever.
It's our job to help that time pass.