Last night I was watching the TV show Voices on PBS and a quote came up on the screen by Mother Teresa. It was perfect timing for me. I had just been thinking about the past month and the 2 teenage suicides which occurred in our local high schools. Families, friends, therapists, and the community have been devastated and their lives have been changed forever. The increase in active suicidal ideation and attempts among our children and adolescents has greatly increased across all of our communities. I thought of the many patients I work with that are currently struggling with the belief that they were better off dead as I read, “One of the greatest diseases is to be a nobody to anybody.”
I had to re-read the quote a few times and process the powerfully insightful choice of words, and then it clicked. From the beginning of our existence we were born to be in relationship. When one finds themselves at a point in life where they feel lonely and believe they are unlovable and worthless, this becomes a disease of great significance. Mother Teresa was also quoted saying,” Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” Many of our young people go to bed every night questioning if anyone cares for them and desperately wishing for a friend.
We all have our own personal stories with feeling lonely or unwanted. I can still remember one of mine, the night before my first day of high school. I was going from a small school to the big public high school. I had a lot of friends and was scheduled to play on the varsity basketball team. Even though I had all these positive things going for me, I was still so anxious. I could hardly get to sleep as I lay there having these very real thoughts of “nobody will like me” and “nobody will talk to me”. It didn’t get much better in the morning, in fact it got much worse. My anxiety was so high as I walked in to Biology class. The moment I walked inside the classroom, a guy I knew but didn’t know well, invited me to sit next to him and began to talk to me and introduce me to everyone in the class. It took about a week for my anxiety to go away and to finally feel confident, but thank God it wasn’t longer, and it was all due the kindness of now one of my best friends.
As our communities get larger and more children live their lives through electronics, many of our children do not know how to socially interact and they lose out on the connections they were designed for. More and more children are isolated and losing out on learning how to be somebody to anybody. They have been led to believe that the person on the other game system 1500 miles away is a real friend. There certainly is place for social media and interacting with others online, but there is no substitute for face to face interactions. Many adolescents wonder why they are not experiencing healthy friendships. If only one person would get to know them and accept them for who they are, and they took the chance to know and accept that person, then they would feel loved. I believe that the number one factor in combating suicide is to help kids connect to someone. One of our greatest needs is to eliminate this growing disease by helping our children build healthy connections so that they have the social supports to face life’s many challenges.
No matter where you live or what you do, let’s join together and reach our youth, the future of our communities.