I received word a little while ago through my Shipley network. Young Austin Wylie is gone. Reports indicate suicide. This teenager is a perfect stranger to me, my only sense of connection is my alma mater Shipley, and I have to tell you I find the news devastating. I am having such a hard time wrapping my head around the photographs of a seemingly happy and well-adjusted teenager, and this news.
We have a teen close enough in age to this boy, so it hits home on that level too. My better half’s mother was on the Board of Trustees like Austin’s mom when we were in high school . (My sweet man’s mother is one of the reasons boys were allowed to go to Shipley all those years ago, truthfully.) We were speaking about this today, I called him at his office to tell him the news from Shipley wasn’t good.
One of the things we spoke of is how I don’t remember kids being under pressure like this when we were at Shipley. And that at the Shipley of today this was the second teenage boy from there in a little over a year to chose to end his life. I am referring to Cayman Naib.
Before all you haters pop up and criticize me for thinking about this, be honest, am I the only one? This is not a dig at my alma mater Shipley at all, they are just as devastated and this came way the hell out of left field at school officials as well. I am speaking of the pressure teenagers, and seemingly boys in particular are under to succeed.
This was not a boy anyone would have pegged for this action. But Austin Wylie as per Shipley, his family, and the authorities ended his life by jumping off the Ben Franklin Bridge. He left a note on his phone apparently, and was feeling overwhelmed by something at that time. I don’t understand how no one saw him climbing up on the bridge, but that is one of the things about cities and life: we are all so busy going about our days we often do not notice what happens around us.
Here is the letter from Shipley:
This is a very nice letter. I am sharing in my own post because I am a little offended by the Patch and their zeal to spread devastating news like spam. They hit a power share button and just blasted the news across their sites in my opinion. Maybe if they did actual reporting they might have content for all their hyper local sites. But I digress.
Yesterday Shipley had put the following out:
I have to be honest as the hours dragged on yesterday and people in the media I knew kept commenting how they were being shuttled back and forth between the police departments involved trying to figure out what was going on that the news was NOT going to be good. It was just a feeling, and now as I write this post I wish the outcome had been different.
What happened to Austin that made him drop everything else he was doing and go do this in the middle of the day like this?
A friend of mine just made the following comment:
Another suicide. Another young person with their whole life ahead of them. I can’t think about it without crying. But what can we do…to lessen the pressure our children feel – whatever happened to the carefree days of high school? – and what can we do to recognize and support those in need of mental health support. I can’t help but feel like we are failing today’s children.
Another friend then said:
This is horrible. We all need to stop the high expectations, pressure cooker, mentality at school and home. Isn’t great teaching and great learning enough? Manage the expectations and egos.
I agree. And I think this goes especially for boys. Boys internalize so much. We don’t even realize it. Girls seem to let emotions out more. And they will talk about stuff more. When you ask a teenage boy how their day was, the response is monosyllabic. I know first hand and it drives me crazy. Ask girls the same question and you will not only get more of a response, you will get the added color of who annoyed them at lunch or what someone was wearing.
However, male or female, we do need to regulate the pressure cooker called life. As kids climb the grades in high school the expectations grow. The expectations grow from their schools, from us as parents, and the pressure these kids put on themselves so they don’t disappoint anyone.
Another friend of mine said :
It‘s not just Shipley though. It’s an epidemic. The pressure and expectations how early it starts is terrible. And the way today’s teenagers believe their lifetime happiness and success are somehow related to test scores or number of AP classes or grades is heart breaking. In addition we need them, everyone, to be unafraid to ask for help and to not be embarrassed to address and acknowledge their struggles.
It’s a topic that is hard to discuss. It’s not something that teens or adults want to think about. It’s unpleasant and difficult. But it does happen. Teen suicide is very real, and is preventable.
Good mental health is fundamental to the health and well-being of every person and of the nation as a whole. Our children are our future, so we need to help them know they are not alone and there are resources at their and their parents disposal.
Being a teenager is not easy. It is quite literally the best of times and the worst of times. As adults, we need to think back into the deep, dark recesses of our minds and remember what it was like to be a teenager. The hormones, confusing and often conflicting (let alone ever-changing) emotions, peer and parental pressure. Add to that today the issues of multi-platform bullying and social media overload.
Teen suicide is part of a larger public health issue. Coverage of this topic and discussion needs to encourage help-seeking. And we all have to remember suicide is a very complex issue. It can’t be pigeon holed into a little box and that’s it. There are multiple causes. And the signs of suicide vary.
According to the website Reporting On Suicide, the signs can include (but not all individuals display signs):
- talking about wanting to die
- looking for a way to kill oneself
- talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
- sleeping too little or too much
- withdrawing or feeling isolated
- showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- displaying extreme mood swings
Parents need to be honest and admit at times it can be a struggle when communicating with the teenagers in our homes. And according to a study produced during the Clinton White House Years , teenagers aged 15-16 who do not feel close to their parents are about three times as likely to think about suicide as teens who are close to their parents, and teens aged 15-16 who don’t eat dinner with their parents regularly are twice as likely to have attempted suicide. This talking point about dining as a family is also just good common sense.
Togetherness as a family that is positive opens many doors, and face it, what is one of the hardest parts of raising teenagers? Communication. And communication isn’t social media like Facebook and Twitter, e-mails, chat programs, it’s a real conversation. Sitting down and talking even if it is light dinner conversation. Real and tangible contact and human interaction is so important with regard to interpersonal relationships at any age.
Teen suicide is very preventable, but as a society we have to open the doors to productive conversations and communication. Proper education on the topic is one of the keys to prevention. This needs to be discussed in the schools, the community at large, and the home.
Again, communication is key. When life gets bumpy or stressful it is helpful to know there are resources and people to talk to. Some teens in crisis will not display any telltale signs of issues, so it is really important to be able to talk with your children and they with you. And it is important for them to know from us that we do not need them to be perfect, and for some parents, especially if they are personally ambitious that is often hard to convey.
I am not laying blame here, I am devastated for the Wylie family. I look at photos of a boy that will be forever frozen in time, never aging. That makes tears run down my face. I also hope parents who were friends with, neighbors of, and went to school with Austin hit the pause button and help their children grieve and work through this. We can’t pretend these things aren’t happening, they are happening right in our own communities and across the country.
Updated: JULY 15, 2016 — 3:21 PM EDT
Please talk with your kids about teen suicide. We need to take the top of the pressure cooker.
Austin Wylie, I never knew you, but I won’t soon forget you. I hope you are at peace, and I pray for his family and friends to find peace at this most difficult time. Remember the good times you had with this by all accounts remarkable young man. Hold him in your hearts with love.
Here are some resources Shipley recommended:
Grief Counseling Referral List 2016
After a Suicide- Student Questions
Parent Handout – Suicide Loss
My deepest condolences to Brooksley and Jim Wylie and Austin’s brother Cameron.
I close with one of my favorite Robert Frost poem I shared a year ago:
Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch-hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question ‘Whither?’
Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?