A teen’s tale: Confessions of a suicide attempter.
WARNING: the blog below addresses a very sensitive topic, teen suicide. Whilst we believe that talking about teen suicide is an important component in the prevention of future suicide attempts, it is completely up to your personal discretion to read the blog, and discuss it with your teen.
The case below is a social story: a real-life example of one girl’s journey through a suicide attempt, and her eventual recovery. The purpose of producing such a story is to provide a framework to potentially discuss teen suicide with your teen. The reason we include a real case, is that it details one person’s real, imperfect journey through life. You will be able to see in the case of Cynthia, all the hopes that her parents would have had for her, and at the same time the feelings of hopelessness she had for herself. The reason we do not use a recent case is that we want the case to have enough emotional distance from our teen that they are not wrapped up in the media mayhem aspect of current events, and can review the situation with a bit more detachment.
The case of Cynthia is a real case, about a real girl, now a woman, called Cynthia, a Hong Kong girl who went to an international high school in Hong Kong. Below you will find a number of questions constructed by the RED DOOR team to help frame your discussion with your teen. The goal of that discussion is that you engage with your teen about that topic and help to reflect on the case. You don’t need to tell your teenager what to think. Contrary to rumours, you cannot “plant the idea” of suicide in the head of another person. Whilst exposure to suicide (ie of a friend or relative) can increase a person’s individual risk, it isn’t a risk to the whole public and rather highlights the need for those individuals to receive the appropriate counselling to help them in this particularly challenging area of grief and bereavement.
After reviewing this story, and perhaps reading it with your teen, you might discuss:
Social story questions:
- Why do you think Cynthia felt so bad? Can you imagine feeling like Cynthia did?
- What do you think her parents could have done differently?
- What could Cynthia have done differently?
- Now Cynthia is an adult and having a full and fun life, how did she lose sight of that when she was a teenager?
- If you were Cynthia, what would you want your parents to know?
- When Cynthia went back to school, what could have made her experience easier?
- What would you do if you thought one of your school mates was contemplating suicide?
- Have you ever felt so bad that you thought it would be easier to be dead? Did the feeling pass? If you felt that way again what would you tell yourself to help you get through that moment?
You may be surprised, or worried, if your teen identifies with Cynthia and her feelings. If you feel your teen may be depressed or contemplating suicide, we have recommendations at the end of this article.
I was the girl who attempted suicide. My story, by Cynthia.
When I was sixteen I was a very unhappy teenager. I felt like I didn’t want to be here anymore. I just wanted everything to stop. I felt that I wouldn’t be missed by my family or my friends. I had feelings like I didn’t ask to be born, I didn’t like who I was. I want teenagers today to know that it’s not a good idea (to contemplate suicide) and even if I help only one person then telling my story will be completely worthwhile
When I was young, I was confused about my identity. I was born in England and when I was five we came back to Hong Kong and my family put me into a Chinese school. I was from a traditional Chinese family where I was expected to be obedient. I was labelled a naughty and disobedient child, I was physically and verbally punished. Looking back, I was just a normal kid.
I had a few holidays in Canada to visit my grandparents and one year we went I was left there and told I would now be attending school there. My mother had just had a new baby and I felt that I was now no longer wanted. I felt like I was being abandoned. I said I didn’t want to be left there but I was told that I needed to stay with my grandparents. I felt unloved and started having suicidal thoughts. My grandparents couldn’t talk to me.
At thirteen I came back to Hong Kong after asking my parents to bring me back as I was really homesick. When I returned it wasn’t as I expected. I didn’t feel part of my own family. My mum was pregnant again, this time with my brother, and there was an eight-year gap between my sister and I. By then I was used to a very western culture and I was now back in a Chinese culture. Yet again I felt like the black sheep of the family. I started self-harming (cutting) around this time, and made some weak attempts at suicide by taking pills and drinking cleaning products. My system would not be defeated by these attempts, and each time I woke up the next day, still alive, feeling sick and hating myself even more.
I thought that turning sixteen years old was going to herald a big change in my life and that everything would be different, finally all good. I was thinking ‘sweet sixteen’ was something to look forward to, but it arrived and I wasn’t any happier. I wanted to be like my friends. It felt that they were able to do more than me and my family didn’t want me to be like them. I had to beg to be allowed to go to school camp. I felt that my family hated me. I also had the pressure of school exams and I wasn’t very good at school. I felt that I was dumb, stupid or lazy. Every time my parents were not happy with me it would be discussed at the dinner table and I was publicly shamed and I would throw my chop sticks down and run to my room. One night I decided to end my misery once and for all. I felt I was the only person in the world who felt this way.
I waited for my family to fall asleep. I got a knife out of the drawer in the kitchen and went back to my bedroom. It was a school night. I proceeded to do what I planned to do. I really wanted to finish myself off. It was not just a cry for help. It was final. I was just so unhappy. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t think anyone would care if I lived or died or notice and even if they did, I thought that time could easily heal them. I stabbed myself – my wrists and my stomach with the big kitchen knife.
I didn’t die. I remember opening my eyes and seeing my father’s panicked face. I was so tired and couldn’t talk properly or keep my eyes open and I was falling in and out of consciousness. Every time I woke up I was in a different room (in a hospital) and there were bright lights and people rushing around me. I finally woke up in a hospital ward of a government hospital, with other patients around me. I realised that I had not succeeded in my mission. I was in a lot of pain and shocked when I looked down to the mass of dressings and tubes coming out of my stomach. There was a nurse there and she coldly said to me whilst changing my dressings that the doctors deliberately sewed me up with a big and ugly scar after my operation, to serve as a deliberate and permanent reminder of what I had done.
I was in hospital for about a month. I remember that the head master of my high school came to visit me and wrote me a wonderful inspiring letter that I still have to this day. My father arranged a counsellor for me but I didn’t go for very long as I wasn’t willing to tell him what I was thinking.
Before my suicide attempt I probably seemed a lot like other teenagers. I remember we all complained about our home lives with each other. But I felt that my friends got to do what they wanted to do whilst I felt I had very limited freedom. I knew I didn’t feel right, and shouldn’t feel this way. No one had ever talked to me about depression. I think it was viewed as abnormal, something that only happened to crazy people. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t from a dysfunctional family; we were not financially deprived, so why did I feel so rotten? My feelings didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t feel like I could get any help from anywhere.
When I returned to school, my classmates were very quiet with me and looked at me like I was an alien. They knew about what had happened but they, and I, didn’t know how to bring the topic up in a constructive way. So many kept their distance, but I know they were all talking about me. I was an embarrassment, it was shameful. People didn’t talk about it. It’s a crime to commit suicide so once again I felt like a disappointment and naughty and that I couldn’t succeed at anything.
My close friends protected me as much as they could but we were often in different classes so I was often alone. When I was alone I felt self-conscious, people often whispering, teasing me and asking me to show my scar. I knew everyone knew. I found some teachers were overly cautious and they were very nice to me telling me to take my time and to leave the classroom if I needed to. The headmaster reached out to me, he was a person I could go and talk to, and I am very grateful that he was so supportive toward me.
Now I look back at those events from the perspective of an adult. Had I killed myself, I would have missed out on more friendships, my four children, love and marriage. I would have missed bringing another life onto this earth and watching my own children grow up, and have great lives as well. Everything is a different experience and you have got to enjoy it.
I have never forgotten what I did. I look at my scars every day. I was ashamed by my scars until a couple of years ago and now I see them as my journey through my life. I used to cover up my wrists with bracelets but I don’t now as I am not ashamed. I feel I can leave it all behind and be myself now so I got a tattoo, it’s a cherry blossom in full bloom. It’s a traditional Chinese style as most of my life I struggled with my Chinese identity, but now I am immensely proud of my history. The branch of this beautiful blossom purposely starts on top of the scar on my wrist. From great pain, has grown great beauty. I accept myself and fully express myself. I no longer feel the need to be accepted by others. I am me and I am happy and I love myself.
When you are a teenager you feel any minor crisis like falling out with a friend or boyfriend problems are major catastrophes. When as an adult you listen to teenagers’ problems you think
they are not serious issues however when you are that teenager and experiencing those things you feel the world is crushing you, it hurts so much.
Teenage me was a girl who thought she on her own. She couldn’t reach out and express herself. I didn’t understand then that there was still so much to see and that I wasn’t on my own, I wasn’t the only person suffering. I couldn’t reach out and be understood. If I could go back in time and advise her, I would want her to have some patience with herself and life. I would let her know that she would grow out of those feelings, in time, and have a good life.
I want any teenager feeling sad, lonely, or struggling, to know that whatever they are going through will pass. Everything has a beginning and everything has an end. You start feeling something (negative) but that feeling will pass. But I learnt the hard way that suffering on your own is not healthy or useful. I found that that talking to people is the best thing to do. By talking to people and receiving counselling it can relieve the burden and give relief. Don’t be embarrassed about your strong feelings.
I want parents of teens to understand that the vital key is to communicate with your children and please, do not judge them. Do not compare them with others and accept who they are. If you have values explain why you hold them but allow your children to be their own person. If they want to experiment do not say they cannot – find some form of work around so that you can build trust in them.
Please let any teenager you know that if they feel a compulsion to take their own life they need to be aware that the feelings won’t last and they will have different experiences in the future. There will always be hardships and as you get older you will learn to cope better in a crisis. The children who are labelled naughty just want to express themselves, be seen, feel heard, but don’t know how to. It is our job as adults to help when we can.
We thank Cynthia and are especially grateful for her honesty and sharing.
Is your child at risk?
If you feel that your teen is at risk of suicide or has contemplated suicide.
Do not leave them alone. Your objective is to keep them safe until the feelings pass.
Contact one of the supports below or the counsellor at your child’s school.
24-hour hotline at Suicide Prevention Services: +852 2382 0000
24-hour hotline at Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong: +852 2389 2222.
If you feel your teen has been depressed for a protracted period of time, and expresses feelings of hopelessness and helplessness consider counselling for your teen.
Below are a series of suicide warning signs. Watch your teen, grow together, stay close, communicate.
Suicide Warning signals
Be aware that the following factors may be a warning sign for risk of suicide
- Depression and other mental health disorders
- Noticeable change in behaviour, high anxiety or agitation
- Talking, writing, or communicating about suicide or death
- Inability to sleep
- Buying a gun
- Past suicide attempts
- Substance use (drugs and alcohol)
- Contagion (experience a friend/ relative who attempted or committed suicide)