Connected, but out of touch

Too many young people are committing suicide. It destroys families as children, friends or friends of friends suddenly, without warning, end their own lives at preciously young ages.

Bill Trudell

Too many young people are committing suicide. It destroys families as children, friends or friends of friends suddenly, without warning, end their own lives at preciously young ages. 

It is horrifying for mothers and fathers, abandoned sisters and brothers and devastated friends. Feelings of guilt for failing to be aware — or for not being present — always accompany these events.

Trying to comprehend that the desperate act was rooted in an undetected illness may excuse those left behind from responsibility, but it does little to address the pain.

Why do these young people who take their own lives choose to disconnect from the world? 

Perhaps, they are disconnected in it. 

In a recent Globe and Mail article, Don't ostracize drug users empathize with them, Gabor Maté quotes Adbusters, when he repeats, "You have 2,762 friends and an average of 30 likes per post and no one to have dinner with on a Saturday." 

In discussing the drug-addiction epidemic, he points out that the question should not be what caused the addiction but rather what caused the pain that led to it?

I am in no position to suggest that I know “the” cause of suicides. I suspect each situation is different and as layered as the individual personalities involved. I am far removed from the world that young people inhabit. However, I want to suggest that there may be one possible contributor that we might address.

I may be wrong, but here it goes.

Young people will say that the world has changed, that they have a lot of friends on social media and that is their wide connection. 

In many ways, they benefit from the overwhelming access to social media, music streaming, world affairs, cultural trends and shifts as well as access to immediate information from Google or Siri. 

However, perhaps it is merely immediate gratification. There is little time for absorption or adaptation to their journey in life. They receive vast amounts of information in rapid streams, not single doses. It is received in isolation and on iPhones. It may have a short-lived impact, but it does not lead to long-term consideration or storage, because there is a new message every minute. Some may feel that they don’t fit or measure up.

Our world and our lives are fast and out of control. We are all allowing time to drag us along.

We communicate by tweets and even allow our leaders to do the same. 

We order online, leading to a future full of abandoned shopping centres where human contact has been a more important by-product than the product we buy. Driver-less cars will deliver our meals. Schools and universities will deliver lectures online. The classroom will become extinct. Medical care will be replaced by online prescriptions and self-diagnosis. Hospitals will be drive-thrus and long-term-care facilities for the needy will be geographically isolated places.  

The immediate need for jobs will replace vocations. Planning for the future will continue to take a back seat to the immediate need to keep up. Narcotics will become increasingly available and unregulated.

This is the world our young people are facing, and without stable, loving, engaged relationships and life-skills, it may be no wonder that some choose to take their own lives.

The task that all of us face is to ensure that we have a safety net — someone to talk to about how we feel, what we fear and our hidden pain. To be seen to be connected is superficial. We all need to be truly in touch with others.

I believe that every college and university, often small cities in themselves, should have one mandatory course that all students must attend in person. Let’s call it Wellness 101. Cellphones are left outside. The curriculum would be about mentoring, friendship, addictions, pain, loving, communicating, asking for help and problem solving.

It would focus on long-term engagement and planning. Lectures would feature people who “have been there,” who share stories of failures, addictions, mental health, poor relationships, diet, health care, hygiene, the environment and caring for your neighbour — finding a breathing buddy on the deep dive through life.

Parents and caregivers at home should understand this curriculum to enable them to not be judgmental but open to listening and asking questions.

Every young person must be encouraged to develop a spiritual connection to their friends and community, not only to be connected online but more often off-line and in person.

Suicides result from an illness almost always undetected. Cancer, too, is a killer that can remain undetected. That is why we encourage checkups and treatment. 

Mental illness, depression and suffering in silence are all illnesses. They are detectable because we all experience them in some degree. We all — young people in particular — need to be in touch. We can’t reach everyone, as groups and friendships change and evolve, but if each person makes an effort, we will have it covered.

Every year, Bell Canada promotes its “Let’s Talk” ad campaign. That can be our catalyst.

Why don’t we all decide that we will take that day to physically meet with our kids for an hour. Let’s invite them to open up without any value judgments on what they say. Maybe it will catch on and they will reach out to a friend and do the same.

Many suicides among our young may be preventable. We need to encourage them to talk about life, not end it. 

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