A couple of months ago, I received an unusual email. It was from a young man. He told me that he was 21 years old and that he wanted to commit suicide because he was “tired of life.”
He didn’t elaborate why he was “tired of life,” and he didn’t make any demands or requests, not even a request for help. He was just reporting what he intended to do.
For the first time in a very long time, I absolutely had no idea what to do — or rather, what to say to this young man who, for whatever reason, had chosen to leave his suicide note with me.
As I sat there, agonising about my bad luck, it occurred to me that I just couldn’t ignore the email because it was a cry for help. At least that is what a couple of articles that I got from the Internet said.
I must have keyed in and deleted a reply 10 times, because whatever I wrote sounded inappropriate.
I remember starting with, “You’re only 21, you have so much to live for…” But that sounded presumptuous, I mean, what did I know about him to assume that he had a lot that was worth living for?
And so I tried, “Surely whatever you’re going through can’t be so bad you would want to kill yourself.” But this too wasn’t appropriate. It sounded condescending, especially because I had no idea what he had gone through in his short life to reach the conclusion that ending his life was the only solution to the problems he was going through.
I was a youth once, and what we may find laughable thanks to the far worse experiences we have been through may seem like a matter of life and death for many in this age group. So no, I could not afford to trivialise what had prompted him to think about committing suicide.
I also remember asking him whether he wanted to talk about whatever was bothering him, but then it occurred to me that I was not a counsellor, or a psychologist or any other qualified person who would know how to steer the conversation to higher ground should he choose to open up to me.
Think about it, what if he had told me, “My parents hate me.” Or something as profound as that? How would I have consoled him? What would I have said to re-assure him that this wasn’t the case?
Eventually, I told him that I could connect him with someone who would patiently listen to him and try to ease the pain he was going through or find a solution to his problem.
I then emailed him the number of an organisation that often offers free counselling services to those in need.
I hit send and held my breath for a reply. A positive reply. It never came. It has never come. A few days after that, I took to going through the obituaries with a fine-tooth comb, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t come across the name that had reflected on that email, and that if I did come across such a name, it would not be beneath a portrait of a 21-year-old.
I forced myself to give up my search after about two weeks when I realised that I was depicting obsessive behaviour. I still wonder what happened to him once in a while though.
According to the World Health Organisation, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds. It is a crisis, I tell you.
[email protected] Twitter: @cnjerius. The writer is the editor, MyNet