"A LOOK INTO THE HIDDEN WORLD OF YOUTH SUICIDE "
In 1998, while living in the United States, I received a
certificate in suicide prevention. After that I worked as
a volunteer for a 24 hour crisis phone line. That was
the beginning of my journey into the hidden world of
youth depression, self-harm and suicide.
I remember clearly in my training that they instructed
us not to give any advice. In fact they said the three
most important rules of helping someone who is
Never give advice
Never give advice
Never give advice
This surprised all of us in the class because we all
thought that it was normal to give advice when helping
someone. But they explained the reasons why, in their
actual, hands-on experience, it was not a good idea.
They said, for example, that it creates dependency and
what people need most of all is to talk and be listened
to and accepted, never judged.
When I moved to Canada in 1999 I had a chance to put
my skills to work in helping a young girl named Sarah who
had put out a desperate cry for help on a
website called opendiary.com. I dont know if it was by
chance or the guiding hand of some higher power, that
I happened to Sarah on that webpage at just the
moment I did. I had never been to the site before and
found it only because I had been reading some of
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Henry David Thoreaus journals and there was a link to
other sites which contained personal journals. This is
how I found Sarah.
A few minutes earlier or later and I would not have
seen her cry for help because it was one of many new
posts which were quickly passing through the home
page of the site. She said that her mother was dead,
her father was hitting her and she had a ton of
homework to do. She said she didnt know if she could
take anymore stress and pain. She was only 11 years
old at the time, just a few months before 12th birthday.
She said that instead of helping her, people had been
criticizing her spelling. At that moment my heart really
went out to her. She had posted her MSN contact name
and asked if someone would please add her and talk to
her. So without hesitating I sent her a friend invitation,
she accepted and we began talking.
It wasnt long before she told me about something she
called cutting. During my suicide prevention training
this term had never been mentioned. It was from Sarah
that I learned about this dark, hidden world in which so
many young people live secret lives. Thankfully,
nowadays the doors to this world are opening, but
back then it was still an almost unknown topic.
Sarah introduced me to some of her online friends, all
in the same website, and all of whom also cut and self-
harmed. I feel so moved by reading their journals that I
decided I must try to do what I could to help them all.
So it was then that I began documenting their stories.
It was my belief that somehow, something good would
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come from my work. At the very least, I thought, other
young people might find my work and feel less alone.
Looking back, this in fact has proven to be true.
While I was collecting stories, mostly from teenagers
writing in their online diaries or journals, I began my
own online teen support group. I did this mostly out of
necessity because I found I simply could not manage to
help all the young people who needed someone to
listen to them. I tried to get help from many
organizations and institutions but for one reason or
another it never worked out and thus I found myself
working alone and at all hours of the day and night.
Whenever I was online, someone wanted to talk to me.
This quickly proved to be both emotionally and
physically exhausting for me so I decided I would have
them talk to each other. This, I can say with all
honesty, was one of the best ideas I ever had.
It did not take long to see how they cared about each
other and how they tried to help each other. They
became each others lifeline. I was literally moved to
tears when I saw how they opened their hearts to each
other. Of course there were some jealousies and
conflicts, but for the most part it was pure, unbridled
love and caring.
As I started to post the stories I was hearing, more
teenagers sent in their own stories and wanted me to
share them. It did not take long before I had received
hundreds of letters from young people around the
world. I have included a representative sample of those
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letters in this book. They tell the story much better
than I ever could.
One of the important things I learned from all the
letters I received over the years is that when someone
is depressed and self-harming, they need to talk to
others who are also depressed and self-harming. One
teen explained it this way. She said, If I tell someone
at school that I cut myself, they think I am crazy and I
feel worse after talking to them. But if I talk to
someone else who cuts, they will never ask me how I
can do such a stupid thing. They know. They
understand. Thats why it only helps to talk to other
people who cut.
This is something that with time I have come to
understand myself more and more. I, too, feel very
depressed at times. I too have had thoughts of ending
my own life. In fact I have come very close on a few
occasions. So when a young person asks me if I ever
get depressed and if I have ever thought of killing
myself, I can say honestly, Yes, I have.
They sometimes also ask me if I have ever cut myself.
Again I answer honestly and I tell them no.
Fortunately, this answer has not seemed to have
stopped anyone from trusting me, which I think is
probably because they know that I do get depressed
and feel suicidal. I used to also share a lot of my own
journal writing with them so they felt they knew who
they were talking to. This, too, has helped me establish
a secure connection with them. More than one teen has
told me they want to know something about the person
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they are talking to and not just their academic
credentials. In fact, now that I think about it, I cant
recall one young person asking me what my credentials
or qualifications were. They seem to have some kind of
sixth sense which told them they could trust me.
Although it sounds a bit like a cliché, I think they
somehow actually could tell that I cared about them in a
way no one ever had before. I really dont know. But I
do know that one day a 14 year old girl from England wanted
to tell me something, but she wanted to be sure she could trust me.
She asked to see a picture of me. So I showed her one and she
said, Ok, I can trust you. I can tell by your face.
Trust is something I learned a lot about from the young
people I have talked to. I have learned that nearly in all
cases, someone or even many people, have betrayed
their trust I the past. I remember clearly the first time
a girl from the USA told me that her school counselor
promised she would not tell her parents that they had
talked. But before the girl even got home from school
that day, she had called the girls mother. The girl said
I will never tell that woman anything again.
Honestly, I felt shocked to hear that a professional
would betray someones trust like that. In fact, and I
feel a bit guilty to say it, I wondered if the girl had been
telling me the truth. But I have had heard similar
stories from other young people, from professionals
and from parents, so I no longer have any doubts that
this can and does happen.
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I have mixed feelings about the work I have done over
the years. Of course I feel very sad from the knowledge
I have obtained. And I believe as you read some of
their stories you will understand and share this
sadness. But I also feel honored that they have trusted
me enough to share so much of what is most difficult to
share with others. I also feel a deep responsibility to
make this information public, for if I do not, more lives
will needlessly be lost and futures will be cut short.
It is my conviction that these suicides can be
prevented. After I share some of the hundreds of
letters I have received from young people, I will offer
But first I want to thank the many youth who have
given me their permission to anonymously publish their
stories because it is their hope that their stories will
help save the lives of others.
Thank you for reading and caring.