On December 1, 2010 my out-going, intelligent, sensitive athletic 16-year-old son T.J. killed himself. I feel it was important to speak out about suicide and the vast number of people it claims every year. Every 13 minutes, someone dies by suicide.
Prior to losing my precious son to suicide, I thought the only kids who killed themselves were those who were bullied because that is what is usually covered in the media. And while bullying is an important issue that must be dealt with, the issue of teen suicide is much broader. Suicide deaths often occur in teens who are high functioning, out-going and popular. My son never experienced bullying. He had many friends, was a varsity athlete and honors student. He was much loved by family and friends.
However, he battled depression and was a master at hiding it. Since losing T.J. to suicide I have immersed myself in learning all I can about teen depression and suicide. 1 in 8 teens will suffer a depressive episode prior to reaching adulthood. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in teens. Parents need to understand this underreported danger that can impact any family. As parents of teens we worried about car accidents, alcohol and drug abuse, but never suicide. We had no idea how many teens lose their lives to suicide every year.
There were no ghosts in the closet in our home. We are an average, upper-middle class family—2 parents, 3 kids and a dog. While not perfect, we enjoyed life and believed we were blessed and happy until depression entered our lives. We didn’t understand what depression in a teen meant. We saw a boy who was becoming increasing irritable in the home and testing the boundaries we set. Many told us, he was just being a teenager. We felt it was more. We tried to get him help, but it wasn’t easy and things quickly spiraled out of control.
T.J.’s death has left us fractured and broken hearted, but with a will to help others from suffering this same fate. We need to do all we can to help the many teens out there who are suffering to know they are not alone and help is available. The best way to do this is by raising awareness and educating parents. We all worry about our kid’s physical health, but their mental health is just as important. For more information visit Erika’s Lighthouse.org.