Journalist and author Kate Shand revisited the event of her son’s suicide at a 2014 Think!Fest Healthy Living talk entitled ‘Teenage Suicide: Missing Signs – a Mother’s Story’ on 6 July. Sharing her experience of the signs she missed as well as the responses she has received after the publication of her book Boy: The Story of my Teenage Son’s Suicide, Shand delivered her talk in a silent Eden Grove Blue at the National Arts Festival.
Shand’s son John Peter (JP) hung himself at age 14 in 2011. In her book Shand explored the afternoon of the suicide as well as how she and her family have grappled with the death of a son, brother and friend.
Considering the possible causes of the her son’s suicide in her talk, Shand admitted that she and her family, much like other families, failed to interpret the warning signs.
Weeks prior to his death, Shand had sensed agitation in JP. He had wanted to know his parents’ whereabouts, how long they would be gone, when they would return and so forth. One of the things Shand said she failed to do was to use her intuition to interpret her son’s use of marijuana and as opposed to other more dangerous narcotics.
“I keep thinking of the dagga smokers I know and have known” she said of her son’s use of the drug. “Under the influence they are usually incapable of doing much of anything, let alone killing themselves. Being stoned takes the edge off, I thought,” Shand explained.
Shand added that at times warning signs are beyond articulation in suicide cases. “How does one give language to the unimaginable, the unthinkable?” she asked.
She asserted that she and her family had received warning signs but they were not sure what the signs were pointing to. “If I had known how unhappy my son was and how desperate he was feeling … I would have done everything in my power to prevent it,” Shand said.
“The signs are so bleak because of the nature of being a teenager … because being a typical teenager includes being withdrawn …sullen, moody, etc,” Shand said. She said that acting on one’s intuition is the surest way of preventing the worst. “If you think there is a problem there is one”, she said.
Words by Nkcubeko Balani