On Friday night, my sister's friend took his own life. He left a party after a fight with his girlfriend, and walked down to the lake. The following day, a passerby found his body hanging. He was 22 years old.
The topic of suicide makes me really emotional. I have an Olive Schreiner reaction to it, imaging the heartbreak of the parents who have lost their children in this terrible way. I'm not an expert on young men (and, unlike Celia Lashlie, I don't pretend to be), and I don't like to generalise over the whole male population, but I have known other males who have suffered through depression in complete silence, or have committed suicide without any warning. For what it's worth - and you blokes out there might disagree - I think the difficulty many males have talking about their mental and emotional wellbeing is a huge and urgent issue in men's health.
Some months ago, I read with absolute horror a small article in the paper, in which a coroner made a public comment about the suicide of a fourteen year old boy. The boy had been dumped by his girlfriend and was unable to cope. The problem, according to the coroner, was that we don't raise our kids tough enough - if we did, they wouldn't fall to pieces over things like relationship break ups.
This comment floored me. For a start, I don't believe the coroner would have said the same thing of a girl who had committed suicide under the same circumstances. His comments were an insult to the boy's parents: you raised him wrong, he wasn't man enough, this is partly your fault. And I wondered as I read the article, what wouldn't that boy's parents give to have had their child not act tough, not suffer in silence, but rather tell his parents how he was feeling so he didn't feel so alone?
In my Olive Shreiner moments, I look at my daughter, and know that she can and will tell me what's on her mind as she grows up. But when I look at my son, even though he's only little, I can't be so sure. I just hope the wee guy grows up in a changing culture which doesn't regard talking about emotions or mental health as a sign of weakness in men.