I heard yesterday that a 14-year-old North London girl hanged herself in the night from a tree in her back garden. Her father discovered her in the morning and cut her down.

There’s an English expression that I don’t normally use, but this information left me feeling gutted. Like a fish.

Poor child. Poor parents. Poor all of us.

As much as I write about adolescence, it’s nearly impossible to experience the extremity of being fourteen in a middle-aged head. I’m 54, and know that sadness gives way to joy in about the same proportion that joy eventually segues back to sadness.  It’s the human condition.

Or as my mother says, the wheel keeps turning.

I hug my own 14-year-old with tears in my eyes on a public bus and ask whether she’s heard.

Yes, she says, a little crossly. And do you think just because we know people in the same school that it’s sadder than any other child dying?

No, I say. Just a little bit closer to home.

We sit for a minute in silence.

Please promise me never to do that, I say to her, at the same time knowing that the contents of someone else’s brain are always veiled, that teenagers are experts at keeping secrets, and that you never know what will happen next in your own life, much less your child’s. It’s a promise no one can make, or keep.

Knowing more about life than she does is what makes me cry when a stranger’s child swings from a tree.


10 thoughts on “Suicidal.

  1. David Hepworth 8 years ago

    There was a chap called Martyn Harris who used to write a column in New Society. He once wrote “having a child is all about owning something more completely than you can ever own anything and then losing it more completely than you can ever lose anything. Nagging,” he added, “is the index of loss.”

    Soon as I heard about the vogue for “planking” I felt compelled to tell my 24-year-old son about it. He wasn’t very interested. Nonetheless I felt I had to say “You know this new thing? Don’t do it.”

    1. Meg 8 years ago

      Yes to all that.

  2. sharon creech 8 years ago

    Meg: such a perfect, eloquent, sad, wise post.

  3. jackie 8 years ago

    yes. Such a turmoil of thought. I remember a feeling of horror when I looked around at the world made by grownups when I was that age. They must, I thought, all be mad.
    Such a terrible and desperate thing to do and the act always leaves all those around in a state of shock.
    Heart breaking.
    Someone once described the teenage brain to me as being something like a caterpillar in a crysalys .
    So sad.

    1. Meg 8 years ago

      More like an egg in a frying pan I’d say.

  4. Dee White 8 years ago

    So sad.

    I know our kids have to live in the real world, but sometimes it’s just too real.

  5. Emily 8 years ago

    I don’t know what that girl was going through that would have pushed her that far, but as a 15 year old I can certainly try to give you all some sort of incite into the mind of a depressed teenager. Of course, you don’t have to read, or care about, my life story. I just figured it might help any worried parents gain some sort of idea about what their teenager might be feeling, and why. So, here goes:

    I’ve been feeling depressed for about 2 years, but it’s never been diagnosed by a doctor or anything. I don’t know where it originates and, to be honest, I think trying to find out would be more painful than putting up with not knowing. All I know is that I haven’t been completely happy for many years. I self harm. I know it’s a terrible thing to do and I should stop, but I do it anyway. It helps push the emotional pain away for a while and, when I find myself feeling ’empty’, it helps me to actually feel something. I often think that the only reason I’m not suicidal is because the thought of death and what comes after it terrifies me.

    So, as I said, I’m 15 and depressed. The world becomes real to us at about 13, when people start asking “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and expect a serious answer, and when you have to start thinking about GCSE options. Everything becomes more stressful – with age comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes stress. And what with our parents nagging us about keeping our rooms tidy and doing our homework and everything else, we don’t always feel we can confide in them. I know I haven’t been able to confide in my parents.

    If you want them to confide in you then all you have to do is ask. If my parents actually asked me if I was ok, and cared whether I was answering honestly or not, I think I’d be on the path to recovery by now. Or, if they don’t want to confide in you, give them my email address (ejhannah1995@hotmail.com). Let them read my story and tell them they can tell me anything.

    I don’t know whether this will have settled your minds or made you worry more, hopefully not the latter!

    1. Meg 8 years ago

      Hi Emily
      I’m replying via e-mail.

  6. Judy Astley 8 years ago

    That poor child. Poor everyone. I think every parent hurts to some extent along with the tragic suffering ones when it comes to something like this. Beyond awful.

  7. Nicola Morgan 8 years ago

    Emily, I want you to know that people care. You need to find a way to talk to someone about this, talk to them in the articulate way you just expressed yourself here. Sometimes teenagers think that everyone ought to understand them but sometimes we adults are not that perceptive!!

    Your words are very wise. You haven’t claimed to say that you know how that other girl felt, because you are wise enough to know that none of us can truly know what anyone else feels. But you have shown us something of what you feel and it is important for people to be given insights into others, especially when we may have forgotten how we felt at different ages.

    Similarly, I don’t claim to say I know how you feel, but I know something about teenage experiences, more than just from my own memory – I’ve written a book about the teenage brain, in fact. And I also know what it’s like to be depressed – a long time ago. You won’t always feel like this. The tragedy of the girl who took her life is that she didn’t know or believe that. Please believe it.

    None of us knows what the future holds, and that’s a bit scary. In fact, you put your finger on it when you said that things become difficult when you’re asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and “Everything becomes more stressful – with age comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes stress.” Yes, it’s the understandable teenage fear of holding our own lives in our hands instead of having our parents do it for us. I often talk to groups of parents about this. One of the worst things for teenagers is the feeling of powerlessness. But you will be powerful and that will come sooner than you think.

    I’m going to say one more thing: you say your parents don’t care. Obviously, I don’t know your parents but I do know that many, many teenagers think that their parents don’t care and many, many parents don’t realise that that’s what their teenagers think. And some parents don’t find it easy to ask the right questions (sometimes because they are afraid of the answers, sometimes because they simply think everything is fine, or fleeting, or minor.) I suggest your parents would care very much if they knew what you were feeling. You seem very articulate to me but is it possible that emotions and conflict have got in the way of communication?

    I hope you feel less stressed and sad soon and I hope you find the right person or people to talk to. It helps, really helps. And people *do* want to help. Take care and stay strong.

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