The police report is painful to read, laying out in meticulous, clinical detail the suicide of a 13-year-old boy by his father’s handgun.
A copy of the boy’s note to his mother is attached, five sentences running together with no punctuation as if the words poured onto the paper — ending with "I love you all."
We never reported the boy’s death in the newspaper, though there was at least one other suicide at his Mesa middle school last year. The police report has been sitting in a file here for months. There was no way to make sense of this child’s passing.
But one thing is certain: His parents never dreamed their child would take his life.
In interviews over the years with the parents and loved ones of children who commit suicide, there are the common themes of 20-20 hindsight and guilt. I should have picked up on this, or I wish I’d talked to him more about that. Sometimes, looking back, there were clues.
And sometimes it seems as though nature is working against us. As their hormones start churning and kids set about the angst-ridden adolescent business of figuring out who they are and where they fit in, they seek more independence. So we afford them more space and more privacy, and no longer expect them to come running as we walk in the door to tell us everything about their day.
We come to expect oneword answers, moodiness and dramatic outbursts. We remember our own teen years, when we sobbed because of our hair or spent hours brooding in our room over a breakup.
"Childhood depression is really tricky to spot and to treat effectively," said Marlo Archer, a child psychologist in Ahwatukee Foothills.
By some estimates, as many as one in eight teens is clinically depressed. That’s not the same thing as adolescent moodiness, and they cannot simply "snap out of it."
On Tuesday, psychologists will be available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to offer free screening, information and referrals for parents at Banner Desert Children’s Center, 1400 S. Dobson Road, Mesa, and Phoenix Children’s Hospital, 1919 E. Thomas Road. It’s not necessary to bring children along, but teens can fill out their own questionnaire with their parents’ permission and get feedback from a psychologist.
Amid the debate over whether or how much children should be medicated, and the potential link being investigated by the Food and Drug Administration between antidepressants and suicide in children, the fact remains that many children and adults suffer from a bona fide mental illness and could benefit greatly from appropriate treatment.
So there are questions to ask yourself and your kids, and warning signs to heed, including losing interest in things they used to enjoy, losing interest in their appearance, feelings of guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness, or changes in eating or sleeping habits. You can visit the National Institute of Mental Health online to learn more, at www.nimh.nih.org.
There continues to be a stigma attached to mental illness, and that can keep parents and children from seeking help. Two dozen children took their lives in Arizona in 2002, almost half of them younger than 15.
Last fall, a 13-year-old boy wrote a note to his mother. There is still no way to make sense of this child’s passing.