Last month there were two teenagers who committed suicide on the same day in a town near where I live in an Austin, Texas suburb. The two incidents were completely unrelated -- just pure coincidence.
One boy was an 8th grader and the other boy was an 11th grader. I don't know much about the boys' suicides, their specific situations, or the things that led up to their ultimate decision to end their young lives.
And even though I'm writing this article about them, it's not just about them. It's about boys in general, and how troubling it is that boys -- and men -- are three to four times more likely to commit suicide than girls (the statistic varies, depending on the resource you use).
But it doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter if they're three times or if they're four times more likely. What matters is, while suicide is horrific (even that word seems an understatement) and is considered an "issue" across the board, there is no denying that suicide is a gender issue.
And why is that?
I am not a doctor, a counselor, a psychologist. I have no way - certainly no medical way - of knowing what physiological difference would lead males toward suicide at this greater rate than females. And research shows that this isn't just in the United States where this statistic applies. Not by a long-shot.
I'm not writing this article to report on the statistics or how our country's suicide rates differ from those around the world.
I'm writing this article because I have a personal stake in this.
I'm the mom to two boys and depression runs many generations deep in my bloodline. My boys are bright, happy, very well-adjusted children, who show no signs of depression whatsoever. Right now.
But chemical changes are inevitable in their beautiful bodies and brains, as they move into their teenage years, and I'm afraid of how those changes could trigger a spiral into depression that they think they can't possibly escape. This fear motivates me to put my thoughts out into the universe, in hopes of inspiring others to look at this serious (another understatement) issue to find out how to fix it. How to just make it stop.
There are a few places we can start:
First, we have to stop teaching boys to "be tough" or "be a man" or "toughen up." I'm not suggesting we as parents let our kids cry and go on and on every time they don't get their way. That's not what I'm saying at all. What I'm referring to is the constant refusal to allow a boy to show emotion.
It's not ok to teach your child - any child, not just boys - to swallow their emotions down and to "be tough." This isn't healthy. It's called repression. And you better start saving as much money as you can for your child's therapy if this is a parenting tactic you use.
Do I think that this practice is causing suicides?
No. But I do think that it can have a significant negative impact on a person who has underlying, even undetected, issues. In other words, it certainly doesn't help.
And if it doesn't help, then why do it? Isn't that our purpose, as parents: to help our children grow into healthy, strong, fulfilled, and productive adults?
Secondly, we have got to improve access to mental healthcare in our country. I mean really improve access to mental healthcare. According to the Affordable Care Act, along with the 2008 Mental Health Parity Act, mental health treatment is supposed to be the same level as that provided for physical health.
But, for a variety of reasons, that still isn't happening.
My family is tremendously lucky. We live comfortably and - thanks to my husband's company - we have great health insurance.
But, want to know what our mental health coverage is? We have a $10,000 deductible per person, per year. And then the coverage is 50/50. So, you know what? Why don't we just say we don't have coverage?
So I'm not just talking about improving accessibility for the impoverished. I'm talking about across the board. If you've visited a psychologist or psychiatrist, you know how expensive the doctors' visits are. Sometimes they don't even accept insurance. Sometimes they do, but again, with a $10,000 deductible and 50/50 coverage, you only really realize the benefit if you're (God forbid) hospitalized.
What do people without mental health coverage do? What do people who have mental health coverage like me (the "coverage" that isn't coverage), but who also live paycheck to paycheck... what do they do if they need care?
When will mental health care stop being its own "thing?" When will it truly be part of the whole healthcare umbrella?
We need it to be soon. We need it to be now.
My heart aches so deeply for the parents, friends, and families of the boys who took their lives last week. Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that the root of their problems had anything to do with being forced to repress their emotions all their lives, or whether they had or didn't have access to mental health care.
I don't know their specific situations at all.
My hope is that by getting a conversation started about the startling statistic of suicide in boys, we can work together as communities, parents, health care workers, teachers, and medical researchers, to find out why this is happening.
And if we can just find out why it's happening, then maybe we would know what to look for in those boys that we might not otherwise "see it coming." We'd be able to provide them with the proper care, ultimately saving them from themselves.
Let's start this conversation right here and now: What is happening in the male brain that's causing them to think that ending their life is the right decision? Is it all just chemical? Is this a nature vs. nurture situation? Is it cultural: are we raising our boys all wrong? Why can't we really get the same insurance coverage for mental health care as we do general health care? Aren't they one and the same? I want to hear your thoughts.
Note: If you need help or if you know someone who is struggling, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.