Ilizwi263's resident agony aunt, Big Sis Tha offers advice on dealing with teen suicide.
A few weeks ago on Sunday morning I woke up an ear splitting scream. For a moment my heart stopped beating as I imagined all manner of calamities having fallen on the household while I blissfully slept. Then I remembered that my highly excitable 16 year old sister, Tashie, was around for the weekend. It was obviously time for another lecture on being considerate and learning to control one's exhuberance.
Tashie is a good kid but sometimes I have to pull the big sister act, like I was about to do right then.
But when I got to the lounge I found Tashie pummeling a cushion while tears streamed down her face.
"Marcia... .. Marcia... . Marcia is dead!" she screamed.
Suicide is a shock
I took Tashie's phone and called Marcia's number. A woman answered it and confirmed that Marcia was indeed dead. She had been discovered in her bed a short while before. This was a neighbour who had just come in and was trying to make sense of the whole thing but it looked like Marcia had committed suicide.
I managed to finally calm Tashie down a bit and we made our gloomy way to Marcia's house. Already bewildered relatives, neighbours and friends were starting to congregate. Almost everyone, male and female, was either wailing or red eyed. The shock that I felt was reflected on every face.
"Why Sis Tha, why would Marcia kill herself?" Tashie asked, as the hearse that was taking Marcia's body to the hospital mortuary pulled away.
"Why did she not tell me what she was planning? Why did she desert me? Marcia how could you do this to me?" Tashie asked the universe which was not in a very responsive mood right then.
Marcia's family was also asking similar questions as they let out their grief. Her mother was begging the hearse driver to bring back her daughter, lay her back on the bed so she could wake up. All I could do was give hugs while I also cried.
Grief, anger and guilt
A few days after Marcia's burial I sat Tashie down and tried to help her deal with her grief.
"I feel so guilty. I was her best friend, for God's sake. I think even her mother blames me and thinks that I am hiding something. But I swear that I also do not understand what happened. But why did she do it? It is not like she came from some abusive home or anything like that," Tashie ranted.
I told her that guilt and anger are natural stages of grief. I also told her that the death of someone close to us is always hard but doubly so when it is a young person. When that person has committed suicide then it just compounds all the emotions. She was still highly emotional and would break down into tears at all times.
Teen suicide - warning signs
"But I am sure there is something that I could have said or done," Tashie insisted. "I should have seen it coming."
Sadly I had to agree with her. It is true that people who are suicidal often show signs and suicide is unfortunately high among teens. I took her through some of the pointers to depression. Depression comes in different forms and people react differently. It is a real illness that needs professional treatment.
"Did you get the impression that Marcia was distracted? Did she act weird like maybe giving away stuff that she really treasured? Did she ever talk of the hopelessness of living or refer to other people living after she was dead? Was she emotionally changed, like did she start being rude to teachers? Did she pick fights at school?" I asked Tashie.
Misfortune attracts malice
"I suppose so," she replied.
Marcia had spoken of being tired of living.
"But I never took it seriously. And if she was having a particular problem with someone, then she never told me about it. You do know that the horrible things that people are saying about her are not true, don't you Sis Tha? Marcia was not being abused by her father and she was not pregnant," Tashie said fiercely. "Even if she was, it would not have been the end of the world."
Rumours had gone viral as people tried to explain why Marcia had committed suicide. A post mortem had been carried out at the request of her mother, but that did not stop the vicious lies. Now Tashie not only had to deal with the tragic loss of her friend, she also had to witness Marcia's name getting tarnished by insensitive people. I told her to hold onto her memories of Marcia and not even try to convince the gossip mongers that they were wrong.
Reach out for help
I told Tashie that sometimes there is a definite reason why people commit suicide like when they are victims of abuse, or if they have failed exams. But sometimes there is no definite thing to point out, as in Marcia's case. I once again urged Tashie to always find someone to talk to when she was feeling low, even if she did not understand why.
"If you think your friend or sibling is depressed, talk to them. If you are still worried about them, reach out to another person that you they will listen to. This can be a favourite older relative. It has to be someone who will not judge," I said.
"Thank goodness I have you Sis Tha, cause I just cannot talk to anyone else. I am just so sad that Marcia thought she had no one to turn to. You would have understood and helped her ."