A heartbroken dad says the misery of modern life played a massive part in his son’s death.
Derek Boal believes a perfect storm of social pressures led to 16-year-old Murray’s suicide last month.
And the 43-year-old service engineer thinks many more young people are suffering in silence.
He said: “I totally back the campaign the Wishaw Press is doing with regards to mental health.
“But my son never suffered from mental health. He never had a history of that.
“I actually went and spoke to a counsellor for the first time to discuss that. She said 75 per cent of people who commit suicide don’t actually suffer from mental health.
“It’s just a dark moment in their life. It can happen to anyone. In one dark moment anyone can snap.
“I think in his daft teenage mind, he’s wanted to try and win his girlfriend back, and thinking if he tried something like this it would prove to her how much he loved her.
“I don’t think he’s meant to do it. I was on the phone to him every night. Even at 16 years old he still text every night to say love you dad’.
“The last text he sent was to his mate saying ‘I love you bro’. He’s obviously been in a bad place at that point.
“Why couldn’t he have just phoned me that night when he was feeling the way he was feeling?”
Former Coltness High pupil Murray took his own life in woodlands behind Coltness on Monday, May 14 – just three days before his 17th birthday.
Derek is now seeing a counsellor as he tries to come to terms with the devastating loss.
He wishes his son had seen how well-loved he was before he took his own life.
He said: “The funeral was on May 25. The Friday night I found out he was dead was the worst of my life – I’d never wish that on anyone.
“It’s a pity it took for this to happen for Murray to see how many people were there for him.
“There was nearly 600 people at the funeral. The church was full and they were still trying to squeeze more in.
“It’s unfortunate it’s took something like this. If he’d been looking down and seen it he’d have thought ‘Jesus, what have I done. I meant that much to so many people’.”
Derek is sure that social media and a lack of opportunities is hitting youngsters hard these days.
“It’s shocking,” heartbroken Derek explained. “The kids have got nothing these days.”
“I grew up in Coltness. The house Murray was living in with his Gran was my childhood house.
“When I was a kid you had the family choice shop, next to the chapel across from the garage, which was a youth project years ago.
“You had table tennis, darts, pool. It was just a good place for people to go. Behind it you had the old community centre. There were youth clubs in there that ran activities and days away and stuff like that.“There’s nothing like that anymore.
“Kenny Davidson, my friend, is trying to set up a boxing club there to get kids off the street, but the council keep putting hurdles and barriers up.“Because they (kids) have not been brought up in that environment with those things being there they aren’t used to it.
“If they were brought up going to clubs all the time they’d maybe continue doing it.”
• Whatever you’re going through, there are people willing to listen. Call the Samaritans free any time from any phone on 116 123 (this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill), or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch.
Around 2012, something started going wrong in the lives of teens.
In just the five years between 2010 and 2015, the number of US teens who felt useless and joyless – classic symptoms of depression – surged 33% in large national surveys. Teen suicide attempts increased 23%. Even more troubling, the number of 13 to 18-year-olds who committed suicide jumped 31%.
In a paper published in Clinical Psychological Science, my colleagues and I found that the increases in depression, suicide attempts and suicide appeared among teens from every background – more privileged and less privileged, across all races and ethnicities and in every region of the country. All told, our analysis found that the generation of teens I call “iGen” – those born after 1995 – is much more likely to experience mental health issues than their millennial predecessors.
What happened that so many more teens, in such a short period of time, would feel depressed, attempt suicide and commit suicide? After scouring several large surveys of teens for clues, I found that all of the possibilities traced back to a major change in teens’ lives: the sudden rise of the smartphone.
Because the years between 2010 to 2015 were a period of steady economic growth and falling unemployment, it’s unlikely that economic malaise was a factor. Income inequality was (and still is) an issue, but it didn’t suddenly appear in the early 2010s: this gap between the rich and poor had been widening for decades. We found that the time teens spent on homework barely budged between 2010 and 2015, effectively ruling out academic pressure as a cause.
However, according to the Pew Research Center, smartphone ownership crossed the 50% threshold in late 2012 – right when teen depression and suicide began to increase. By 2015, 73% of teens had access to a smartphone.
Not only did smartphone use and depression increase in tandem, but time spent online was linked to mental health issues across two different data sets. We found that teens who spent five or more hours a day online were 71% more likely than those who spent less than an hour a day to have at least one suicide risk factor (depression, thinking about suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide). Overall, suicide risk factors rose significantly after two or more hours a day of time online.
Of course, it’s possible that instead of time online causing depression, depression causes more time online. But three other studies show that is unlikely (at least, when viewed through social media use).
Two followed people over time, with bothstudies finding that spending more time on social media led to unhappiness, while unhappiness did not lead to more social media use. A thirdrandomly assigned participants to give up Facebook for a week versus continuing their usual use. Those who avoided Facebook reported feeling less depressed at the end of the week.
The argument that depression might cause people to spend more time online doesn’t also explain why depression increased so suddenly after 2012. Under that scenario, more teens became depressed for an unknown reason and then started buying smartphones, which doesn’t seem too logical.
What’s lost when we’re plugged in
Even if online time doesn’t directly harm mental health, it could still adversely affect it in indirect ways, especially if time online crowds out time for other activities.
For example, while conducting research for my book on iGen, I found that teens now spend much less time interacting with their friends in person. Interacting with people face to face is one of the deepest wellsprings of human happiness; without it, our moods start to suffer and depression often follows. Feeling socially isolated is also one of the major risk factors for suicide. We found that teens who spent more time than average online and less time than average with friends in person were the most likely to be depressed. Since 2012, that’s what has occurred en masse: teens have spent less time on activities known to benefit mental health (in-person social interaction) and more time on activities that may harm it (time online).
Depression and suicide have many causes: genetic predisposition, family environments, bullying and trauma can all play a role. Some teens would experience mental health problems no matter what era they lived in.
But some vulnerable teens who would otherwise not have had mental health issues may have slipped into depression due to too much screen time, not enough face-to-face social interaction, inadequate sleep or a combination of all three.
It might be argued that it’s too soon to recommend less screen time, given that the research isn’t completely definitive. However, the downside to limiting screen time – say, to two hours a day or less – is minimal. In contrast, the downside to doing nothing – given the possible consequences of depression and suicide – seems, to me, quite high.
It’s not too early to think about limiting screen time; let’s hope it’s not too late.
With 2018 being Scotland’s Year of Young People, the charity warned too many young adults are struggling with mental health problems and is urging immediate action to tackle the problem.
Isabella Goldie, director of development and delivery at the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Loneliness among younger people is hugely under-reported but our research is clear that social isolation affects the mental health of young people more than any other age group.
“Our children are finding life harder to navigate than previous generations and, worryingly, they are living with high levels of distress. This is something we can no longer choose to ignore.
“Relationships and social connections remain at the heart of what makes and breaks our mental health.
“A child’s ability to communicate and form relationships is vital right from the point that they enter the education system if they are to thrive at school – and ‘school readiness’ is one of the strongest predictors of whether a child will go on to develop mental health problems.”
She added: “If the Scottish Government is serious about making 2018 the Year of Young People, then it must place health and wellbeing at the heart of the school curriculum – not at the sidelines as it currently is.
“It needs to invest in school-based counselling and give teachers the training they need to create inclusive environments and explore mental health.
“Too many of our young people are not thriving and unless we act now, we will face an imminent mental health storm.”
The charity said loneliness can contribute to stress, anxiety, depression, paranoia and cognitive decline, and is a well-known factor in suicide.
The study of 250 young people found more than eight in ten (82 per cent) said spending time face to face with others improves their mental health.
The research suggests the stigma of loneliness remains the greatest barrier to seeking help as 46 per cent said they would be too embarrassed to talk about it and 52 per cent feel they ought to cope with the problem themselves.
The research was carried out by YouGov at the end of November.
‘I was given a leaflet on how to apply for benefits and “rewarded” with 10 yoga classes,’ writes one woman, whose husband died last year. Plus Keir Harding questions the zero suicide policy
Amid the debate about the lack of care received by patients suffering from mental ill health, the impact this lack of care has on the “carers” must be considered (Report, 6 March).
My husband recently killed himself after six years of suffering from severe depression. Four years previously he had made a very serious suicide attempt. Despite this, he was returned home from hospital the very next day as “he was not suicidal”. After 14 nightmare days he began to claw himself and was eventually admitted to a psychiatric ward. After three months on the ward, during which he had made a further suicide attempt and tried to escape on two occasions, he was discharged, still highly suicidal.
Suddenly I was deemed to be his carer. I was not asked if I was happy to take on this role or if I was even capable of caring for him. I was given a leaflet on how to apply for benefits and “rewarded” with 10 yoga classes. I pointed out to a community mental health nurse that they were expecting me to care for a man who had twice attempted to abandon me and part of me hated. Living with a man seriously intent on suicide is mental torture.
Now, due to the stress of trying to keep him alive for years, the shock of his suicide and the weight of my grief I am left with acute trauma. I have effectively stopped functioning, my adult son is now forced to be my carer.
Two weeks ago I presented the health trust with a 24-page complaint. This comprised of the emails I had sent them over a two-year period expressing my concerns about his treatment. After two years I was too worn down to continue the fight. One of my last emails read simply “I am now completely unable to cope with [my husband]”. This must stop.
•While 271 deaths after NHS failures is an appalling statistic, we need to apply careful thought to what an appropriate response might be. One has to consider the impact of the “zero suicide” policy and its “every suicide is preventable” mantra.
Those with mental health problems are already at risk of having their liberty taken from them when they are deemed in dire need of assessment and treatment. In 1999 research by Aaron Beck et al showed how very few people deemed to be at high risk of suicide go on to do so. They estimated that even in a group with 100 times higher risk of suicide than the average person in the street, you would need to detain and observe 500 people for one year to save one life. This is not to say that this isn’t worth doing, but that there needs to be clarity around the implications of saving a life.
Those with mental health problems (one in four of us) often find that their voice does not get heard once they have entered services. I wonder how this will be helped if the interventions of staff are aimed not towards achieving the best outcomes for their patient, but ensuring that clinicians cannot be blamed if tragedy occurs. Keir Harding Wrexham
Your investigation on preventable deaths linked to mental health services, including those for children and young people, is powerful evidence of the systemic failures that frontline staff such as child psychotherapists have been trying to raise awareness of for several years. As well as being dreadful individual and family tragedies, the avoidable deaths of the young people you report demonstrate a continuing lack of specialist care that the government and local commissioners are failing to address. Evidence from Young Minds and the Royal College of Psychiatrists is that funding is not reaching the front line, and that many areas struggle to provide comprehensive services meeting the full range of needs, especially for children and young people with severe and complex conditions. According to a recent survey of therapists and counsellors in the NHS, 84% say that, over the last five years, young people have needed to have increasingly high levels of illness in order to access services. Your investigation shows that, even then, many are not receiving adequate care or effective treatment. Unless new money is ringfenced for specialist NHS services and training we will continue to fail the most vulnerable in our society in ways that are truly shocking. Dr Nick Waggett Chief executive, Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP)
• In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org
NHS Tayside has fallen well short of targets set for seeing children referred for mental health treatment
According to new statistics from NHS’s child and adolescent mental health services, NHS Tayside fell below the 90 per cent target, by only seeing 41.5 per cent of children and teenagers referred for mental health treatment within 18 weeks between October and December last year.
In a review of all health boards across Scotland, NHS Tayside failed to provide the information requested on child mental health due to “IT system changes”. However, the Information Services Division estimated 172 young patients would have started treatment for mental health in Tayside during this time.
It also estimated the average wait in Tayside to receive mental health treatment was five weeks. The overall figure for Scotland was 4000 children and young people.
The children’s charity Barnardo’s Scotland now say more needs to be done to improve the support on offer for young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
Kirsten Hogg, the charity’s head of policy, said: “The statistics on children and adolescent mental health services waiting times are just a small part of the bigger picture of children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
“We believe a multi-disciplinary approach to children and young people’s mental health is required, one which utilises the knowledge and skills from a range of professionals and agencies including health, education, social work and the third sector.
“Not all children and young people with mental health difficulties will need a specialist children and adolescent mental health service, and we must make sure that we make use of the relationships and expertise present in other services, to ensure that these children and young people have access to appropriate support. This is not an issue for health alone to deal with.”
Laura Falconer, the charity’s assistant director for mental health and wellbeing, also said: “In other parts of the UK Barnardo’s works corroboratively and in partnership with children and adolescent mental health services to jointly deliver services for children and young people who require support for their mental health. Through these models of working we are seeing an increase in engagement and improvement in access to services for children needing support.
“We know that not all children and young people with mental health difficulties will need a specialist children and adolescent mental health service. If the right support, and joined-up referral pathways are in place for these children, then the dedicated staff within children and adolescent mental health services will have more capacity to work with those children who really need them.”
“Every day we get calls to our Parents Helpline from parents whose children have been waiting up to 18 months for treatment,” chief executive Sarah Brennan says.
Chloe is now getting help with her mental health.
“I now see a psychiatrist on a fairly regular basis and it helps to be able to be open about how I feel now.”
“As this report shows, we need to see urgent action across the board,” says Claire Murdoch, the national mental health director for NHS England.
She says the CQC is right to highlight the need for there to be “better cross-sector working” involving health providers, schools, regulators and government – as well as children and parents.
Scotland’s mental health minister Maureen Watt says the government will “continue to support the improvement of mental health services through the £150 million of extra funding we’re providing over five years to help deliver our Mental Health Strategy”.