A short life….

On the way home the other evening I was stopped at the round-about near home when a beautifully restored canary-yellow LJ Torana accelerated out of the corner and, with a delightful burble of the tweaked RED 273 cu inch six, carried it’s pasengers off to enjoy life. Why does the sight of a Torana make me think about teenage suicides and the meaning of life you may well ask ?

There have been a spate of suicides, particularly young men of Greek heritage, in Darwin lately and the subject of why seemingly happy and healthy kids would want to top themselves is a topic sometimes touched on over a few beers. Not that the subject is ever about to be the first thing talked about when people assemble in social groups; for some unknown reason death of any kind is rarely discussed and suicide, especially teenage suicide, rarely raises it’s ugly head down the pub.

Mark used a quote from a Ross Gittins article to introduce a blog about social perception of crimes and, unfortunately didn’t provide any more information about suicides and the relative frequency of killing others rather than oneself.

Which do you think is more common: murder or suicide? If you think it’s murder, congratulations – most people agree with you. But you – and they – are quite mistaken. Suicide outnumbers murder by far.

How far ? Do I need to wade through he statistics of ,Law and Order in Australia: Rhetoric and Reality to get the answers?

While I was waiting for the ANZON ipo document to download (I’ll have to get broadband, I’m spending way too much time waiting for big .pdf files to download) I thought I’d write down some thoughts about how I feel about teenage suicides. By the way, I think Mark is doing a wonderful job blogging on Troppo while Ken is waiting for his broadband installation, so haven’t had the urge to dilute such erudite blogging with an offering of my own.

It seems little is known about the motivation for suicide although some attempts have been made to research and many myths abound, and governments make half hearted attempts to educate.

In my opinion, the most overlooked aspect of teenage suicide is the affect it has on the parents. Remember the boys that died in the desert while running away from the station up near the Kimberleys. I read somewhere recently that the parents were finally compensated by a subsidiary of the Heytsbury empire, some 10 or 12 years after the event. Imagine all that time grieving.

Notwithstanding the obsessives amongst us, the parents who will always want to blame some one else, the dead teenager’s peer group, a schoolteacher, even society at large, most parents view the death of their child through an agony of guilt.

In killing themselves they leave a message to the world at large and to some, if not all, of their nearest and dearest. Their written message might be, ‘You will be better off without me,’ but the sub-text is, ‘You have failed to be what I wanted you to be.’ Many of the parents of teenage suicides know that this is the message and they torture themselves with guilt.

A quick Google indicates that few adults understand the motivation for teenage suicide and even the professionals that should know find it difficult to take threats seriously.

A recent study found a lack of awareness of the signs leading to teenage suicide. The study found that knowledge of how to work with teenagers with suicidal tendencies was not strong, especially amongst potentially influential professionals such as doctors and teachers. Suicide is the second highest cause of death amongst 15-24 year olds in Australia. The study also found that 50% of suicidal adolescents would have visited a doctor in the month prior to their suicide.

The authors of the study were clinical psychologist Dr David Smith and psychologist Ms Kylie Scoullar. Ms Scoullar said that a major concern was that 40% of teachers and doctors said that they would not take a suicide threat seriously. Eleven percent of teachers said that if they were confronted with a suicidal student, they would not take direct action.

Perhaps the upsurge in suicide has stimulated some thoughts on how to deal with it.

For the last 15 years or so there’s been groundbreaking work going on in Western Australia into suicide in young people. It’s a rare event, but when such a suicide occurs the tragedy is enormous. The work in Western Australia has discovered a lot more about what increases the risk of suicide; what might protect a young person from it; and how, for example, hospital emergency departments can recognise a person at risk and do the right thing. One of the key clues, it turns out, is deliberate self-harm. It can be hard to know whether a cut or an accident was actually deliberate but apparently there are signs if the right questions are asked.

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Between the stem cell transplant and the radiation we found David’s dream car. I was ambivalent about buying the car at first because it smacked of ‘the trip to Disneyland for the terminally ill cancer patient’. But he seemed to accept the car as a reward for bearing all the pain and suffering without complaint.

David fell in love at first sight. It was every teenage boys wet dream. Beautifully restored with a magic paint job, lowered suspension with flared wheel arches over huge fat tyres. A hot six cylinder engine driving through a four on the floor gearbox and a competition clutch. Disc brakes, four speaker stereo, mini steering wheel, it had the lot.

We were worried for a time that he would turn feral after living through the transplant. You know, adopt the attitude that he was living on borrowed time any way, so why not live life to the lees. We would lie in bed wondering what he was up to when he stayed out all night with Adam and his friends. We caught glimpses of what he did; usually it was nothing more than a normal teenager. I think he tried some pot (in some amazing forms like soaked in Draino as he confessed in a letter to a friend in WA.) but what was the truth and what was bravado we’ll never know. Several times he got shitfaced on Jim Beam. There are some photos of him and Adam mucking about at home while we were away in Canberra, obviously drunk as skunks, browneying the camera.

At 7.30 am one morning in August we heard a loud thump just outside in the street. Rosemary rushed out to find David had rammed the Torana into the light pole in front of the house. He was crying that his brakes had failed but it became obvious that what he had tried to do was switch the engine off and coast down the street so that we didn’t know what time he had got home.

When I reflect on how hard David tried to stay alive, accepting the horrendous pain as part of the cost, never complaining, never asking ‘why me’ – just getting on with the job of keeping-off death for another day; and I think about the gutless, ungratefull worms that throw away their lives, it makes me angry.

Perhaps there will one reader of this blog who, having a child suicide, will tell me I have no right to get angry over what is a personal tragedy. It’s nothing to do with me they’ll say, but I can’t help thinking about how hard some kids try to stay alive compared to those who kill themselves seemingly on a whim.

And it hurts terribly everytime I see a restored Torana.

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Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

Suicide is a tragedy. An absolute tragedy. The boyfriend of a friend of mine committed suicide recently.

I don’t feel qualified to say anything else. The funerals of suicides are the absolute pits.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Jacques, you’re not wrong about the funerals. I’ve been to three – all young men in the early 20s.

Wayne, I think you’re right that it must be a terrible feeling for parents to lose a child this way. The death of a child before the parents, seems the wrong way round, and is terribly hard to bear.

Thanks also for your kind words about my blogging. Please don’t feel that my academic perspective is the only one that should be voiced. I’m quite conscious of its limitations, and I think that Troppo benefits wonderfully from a mixture of voices. So hope to see you back on the site soon!