My son Felix was 16 ½ years when he tragically shot himself, leaving an enormous hole in our lives with so many unanswered questions. He was a wonderful son, a quiet boy, courteous, hard working but he loved his cricket and athletics. The hardest thing to understand is why he never confided in anyone about how he was feeling, not even his best mates at school. He obviously had some sort of depression that had started to manifest itself in the latter half of his 15th year but he was able to mask it in some way, even from his family. He was our only son, and excelled in operating the machines on the property and that was what he loved the most about being on the land. He was becoming an expert at driving all the machinery we had, dozers, graders, front end loaders and yet seemed unaware of the special gift that had been bestowed upon him from an early age.
My son had been in boarding school from the age of 12years but it wasn’t until Grade 10 that we noticed he started to become moody and depressed especially after the holidays when he had to go back to the school, yet back in school everything settled down or so it seemed on the outside. It was then we sat down with him and told him that if anything at all seemed too much for him he must confide in us as we were always here for him. His school marks never showed there was a problem looming that was slowly eating away inside him. At school he worked diligently, was popular, ate well, slept well and had fun like normal teenagers do when they are with mates. At the commencement of Year 11, he didn’t want to go back to school but when we discussed, as concerned families do, that to finish senior would be of benefit to him, he relented and never argued with us.
Felix had just gone through a tough mid-term exam in mid 2003 and was almost relieved to be home for the holidays. But coming home he seemed to have the weight of the world on his shoulders and became almost intentionally withdrawn from me, especially avoiding physical contact to the point of becoming aggressive, which I found disturbing. Concerned, I assumed he was going through a stage of growing up and this was his way of breaking his bond with his mother and getting closer to his father. As parents we did not even consider depression let alone suicide as we had brought both our children up knowing that if anything bothered them our lines of communication were always be open. We often had forums of discussion around the dinner table as our children were growing up and there were other relatives such as grandparents and aunts, just a phone call away, which were also close to our children.
During the three weeks at home I noticed there was something that had changed with his personality but when I tried to ask him about it he brushed it off and didn’t want to talk about it. My son was struggling with dark thoughts but wouldn’t let anyone in to help him.
On the 15th July, the day he was to return to boarding school with his sister, I had decided it was time to contact a counsellor on our return to the school to see if there was something I could do for him. It was breaking my heart to seem him so down.
That morning he had half packed his bag but took off without saying anything and did not leave a note or letter to explain the actions that led to his death. We found him after searching for 5 hours, that afternoon and from that day on our lives changed forever.
The most tragic thing to come out of this is that he could’ve been helped through this if only he had opened up to someone or if we had been aware of the possibility that depression is very common in teenagers. It is ironic that parents and teachers spend the most time with children yet they aren’t they being taught to recognise the signs and symptoms of depression and mental illnesses.
When the school found out that he had taken his life, they kicked into a self-preservation mode where the information about his death was kept under wraps. Not even his closest friends were told of his actions, they had only been told of a `farm accident’. Isn’t it ironic that the students are expected to become more mature, to handle adult life as they progress to their senior years yet they are not allowed to be told the truth about what happens in real life. They are treated like children, that shouldn’t know the awful truth because most of the schools are concerned that if you mention the word, ‘suicide‘ you could put that thought into their head and they may cause them to do it. How ill informed society is about suicide!
It is high time the education system realised that the only way to fight this `insipid killer’ that lurks inside the minds of many of our hormonally, chemically imbalanced, depressed youth making them capable of snapping at any moment when they feel there is nothing left to do but act impulsively and affect the lives of everyone around them, like a ripple effect in a pond – and change them forever- is to talk about it openly.
When Felix died I searched for answers and for many months researched everything I could find about depression and suicide and then took it upon myself to write his story in all the local papers around our area as there had been a number of teenage suicides occurring and the local media had taken on the role of bringing this to public attention. I felt by telling my story someone else may be experiencing the same problem with their son or daughter. (It did help someone.) I also wrote to the teachers of his school to make them aware of how my son died, as I know for a fact that they were not told of the truth either.
Since Felix’s death the school has implemented the `blues’ programme in their system and some of the other schools in the town have also taken up the fight against suicide by making available information on depression in adolescent and how it can lead to suicide.
The education system needs to be aware of the `blue’ period that our youth can go through especially in these demanding stressful times that society imposes on us now.
As parents we have to live with this burden for the rest of our lives and it seems just as the pain subsides something in the conscience will trigger a memory and then all that pain comes flooding back making it a constant battle to maintain a positive outlook on life and the future.
The truth is, I found that this does happen to those children that are cherished and loved by their families and that they are supportive, loving and competent parents who are deeply affected and scarred by the actions of their suffering children.