The look of sadness in their eyes and their trembling voices are still embedded in my memory. Their confused sense of grief on why their son chose to take his life was painful to see. I’m referring to Louis’ parents, Ross Barfoot and Lisa Barfoot-Smith, who are now establishing a suicide helpline for the first time in the UAE for teenagers, after their 15-year-old son took his own life in December, 2013.
It’s clear that children night not be getting the emotional support or attention they need. A study conducted last year among 1,300 Dubai students aged between 14-18 showed that 1 in 5 students had symptoms of depression, while 17.5 per cent showed advanced depression symptoms.
Globally, suicide is the third leading cause of death between in the 10-24 age bracket, according to the World Health Organisation. But the fact that UAE lacks official studies about its teenage suicide rates is disturbing, since it signals low awareness of a serious problem.
What’s even more critical is that parents and schools are taking the blame for not catching the early signs, yet we’re forgetting that we, as a society, lack enough awareness about mental health issues in the first place.
Most people fail to realise that depression is an illness, just like any other — the more you leave it untreated, the worse it gets, eventually leading to possible death.
The idea of getting psychiatric treatment or counselling is perceived negatively, leaving teenagers torn between the embarrassment of seeking a counsellor or talking to someone who will not understand their feelings. Therefore, they choose to stay silent.
Being a teenager is harder than most of us can imagine. It’s an age where you’re between becoming an adult and pulled by your childhood. You don’t quite understand the physical and emotional changes you’re undergoing, nor do you feel that anyone around you understands.
You’re not aware that there’s a problem and what you need at the most is for someone to listen without judging.
This is why experts have been calling for a suicide helpline in the UAE to give an ear to depressed teenagers. And while the Barfoot family was the first to take the initiative of establishing a helpline, it is good to hear that the authorities are welcoming it.
Louis isn’t the first but could hopefully be the last. Having a teenage suicide helpline in the UAE will be a positive step. Similar to awareness campaigns about diabetes and cancer, mental health issues are of high importance and should be in focus.