19 Jul 19
The Scottish Sun
MUM Emma Oliver was peeling potatoes for her family’s Sunday roast when she heard a loud bang from upstairs and came across her worst nightmare.
Her straight-A son Daniel Long, 15, had hanged himself while revising for his GCSEs – becoming one of a rising number of teenagers taking their own lives across the UK.
Daniel Long, 15, was found hanged by his mum in February 2017
Hundreds of struggling British teens are resorting to suicide every year – with the number of cases in England and Wales soaring by an alarming 67 per cent in just seven years.
While some of these youngsters had self-harmed before, others like Daniel hadn’t. But they all leave behind heartbroken families and friends, who are faced with the same haunting question: Why?
From the rise of social media and cyber bullying to the stress of school exams, there’s no doubt that today’s young people have a lot to deal with as their bodies change and their hormones surge.
Now, after a “bullied” 14-year-old schoolboy was killed lying down on train tracks this week and Netflix cut a graphic suicide scene from hit show 13 Reasons Why, Sun Online asks grieving parents and experts what is to blame for the crisis.
They tell us:
Students are under too much pressure to get good grades
Internet giants are gateways to suicide methods and tips
Teenagers don’t know how to identify their emotions
Parents aren’t talking about suicide enough
Schools don’t offer the counselling children need
TV shows use suicide as entertainment
Daniel, pictured as a youngster, was a “happy go lucky kid”
Daniel’s mum Emma, left, had told her boy not to revise so much
Heartbroken Emma, 45, thinks it’s far too easy for teenagers to access information on suicide online. With just one click of a mouse, they can find sick tips on how to kill themselves.
“Daniel Googled how to kill himself before he died,” says his outraged single mum, from Leeds. “It told him step by step how to do it. Why is this accessible?”
She adds: “There’s too much on the Internet. If you can remove [webpages on] making bombs and that, surely you can remove [ones on] suicide?”
The latest official figures show 187 youngsters aged between 10 and 19 took their lives in 2017 – up from 112 in 2010. Most, if not all, of these will have had access to the Internet.
Teen suicides in England and Wales soared by 67% from 2010 to 2017
‘Bullied’ 14-year-old Sam Connor, pictured left with his mum Christine and brother James, was killed lying down on train tracks this week
And social psychologist Dr Sandra Wheatley tells Sun Online: “If you’re feeling depressed there’s a lot of things on the Internet about suicide. Is all that information good information or is it planting an idea?”
But Emma doesn’t just blame web giants.
Pressure to get A grades
Her son, once a “happy go lucky kid” who loved mimicking Star Wars characters, became extremely stressed about his GCSE exams in the weeks before his February 2017 death.
He stopped eating or going out with pals, instead spending hours wading through huge textbooks. While most parents have to nag their kids to revise, Emma found herself doing the opposite with Daniel: “I’d say ‘stop revising, you’re doing too much’.”
She adds: “There’s so much pressure at schools, which starts with SATS at an early age. Some parents say children are physically shaking – I can’t remember being under that much pressure with my GCSEs. Daniel was getting Cs but they wanted him to get As to push him.”
Daniel, seen with his sister Chelsea, had his death recorded as a suicide
Daniel – who would tell his worried mum “You don’t understand, I’m going to forget everything” – was upstairs, revising for a science exam, on the day of his suicide.
Sunday roast and a sudden ‘bang’
“I said, ‘I’m going to go downstairs and make Sunday dinner’,” says Emma. “Then I heard a bang. He’d hanged himself. I remember thinking, ‘f***ing hell, what’s just happened here’.”
Daniel died in hospital two days later and his organs were donated to strangers.
An inquest at Wakefield Coroner’s Court later recorded a verdict of suicide.
Of the nearly 190 teen suicides registered in 2017, the overwhelming majority (126) were boys.
Dr Wheatley tells Sun Online that suicide is difficult to “identify as a risk” until it’s too late, adding: “Quite often they don’t talk about it very much… they just go out and do it.”
[boxout headline=”YOU’RE NOT ALONE” intro=”EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.”]It doesn’t discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
It’s the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes. And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.
Yet, it’s rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.
That is why The Sun has launched the You’re Not Alone campaign. To remind anyone facing a tough time, grappling with mental illness or feeling like there’s nowhere left to turn, that there is hope.
Let’s all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others. You’re Not Alone.
She explains that some teenagers may appear very unhappy and withdrawn after what they view as a major life event – such as exams, bullying, a break-up or an outbreak of spots.
Others, however, will pretend they’re “absolutely fine”.
“This is the really hard thing for a parent – when they give the impression they’re fine,” she says.
Like Daniel, 15-year-old Morgan Falconer hadn’t self-harmed before he ended his own life.
Morgan’s dad Stuart, from St Albans, Hertfordshire, will never know why his “sweet” and “funny” son took his life in May 2015, with no warning signs or suicide note.
“For teenagers, life’s just different”
But he believes young people often don’t know how to identify their own emotions – which leaves them particularly vulnerable when they’ve just gone through a distressing life event.
“For any child, when you’re going through teenage years, life’s just different,” says Stuart, who founded the suicide prevention charity The Ollie Foundation with two other parents.
Stuart Falconer’s “sweet” son Morgan, pictured, took his own life
“We’re not taught as young people to identify our emotions well enough. This leaves a void.”
He adds: “When it comes to trying to work out why [Morgan] did it I don’t have an answer.
“He had exams coming up [but] I can’t say hand on heart that was a reason.
“He might have fallen out with a friend, it could have been anything.”
Emma agrees that teens like Morgan and Daniel can struggle to work out what they’re feeling: “When I get a knot in my stomach I know it’s anxiety but some kids don’t know what that is.”
Sick suicide ‘challenges’ and live videos
Desperate to identify their emotions, some youngsters turn to their friends or the Internet – where suicides have been broadcast live on video and horrific ‘death challenges’ go viral.
“One website was giving people 50 challenges,” says Stuart in disgust.
“Finally, [it challenged them] ‘kill yourself’.”
Morgan, pictured around the age of 15, hadn’t self-harmed before he took his own life
Many parents believe the rise of social media hasn’t helped. While bullying used to stop at the school gates, it now continues online – making children feel unsafe in their own homes.
Youngsters can also access images glorifying suicide and self harm, which has also risen to worrying rates among UK teens. This type and volume of content wasn’t easily available in previous decades.
London schoolgirl Molly Russell, 14, viewed these sorts of images on Instagram before she killed herself in 2017, just hours after handing in her homework.
Instagram “helped kill my daughter”
Her father Ian has said he has “no doubt” that Instagram “helped kill my daughter”.
Molly Russell, who killed herself in 2017, had viewed suicide images on Instagram
Molly’s dad Ian, pictured, has “no doubt” that Instagram “helped kill my daughter”
The social media company vowed in February to ban all graphic self-harm images from its site – but in March it was slammed by the NSPCC for leaving “distressing” self-harm pictures up.
Gaming fan Bradley Trevarthen had also viewed disturbing content online before his death.
The 13-year-old, from Durrington, Wiltshire, hanged himself last January after watching videos of self-harm and becoming “fascinated” with the idea of suicide, his inquest heard.
Coroner David Ridley said the teenager did not intend to take his life.
Suicide being used as “entertainment”
Recording a verdict of accidental death by hanging, the coroner warned that the availability and accessibility of material online was “normalising” self-harm and suicide.
Bradley’s dad Jamie added: “Nowadays kids seem to spend their lives in bedrooms, chatting online while playing games. Parents need to try and talk to their children as humans.”
Bradley Trevarthen hanged himself after becoming “fascinated” with the idea of suicide
And such material isn’t just restricted to the web.
In recent decades, suicide has become a common theme in popular TV shows – like 13 Reasons Why, which follows the story of a teenage girl who kills herself.
“Suicide is a regular form of entertainment,” Morgan’s dad Stuart says.
“If you as parents don’t talk about[suicide] they’ll pick it up from what they see, what they hear, from around them.”
TV scenes ‘glamorising’ act
Rachael Warburton’s 12-year-old daughter Jessica Scatterson killed herself just three weeks after 13 Reasons Why first aired – and had told her mum she’d watched the show.
Netflix said this week that a graphic suicide scene from the first series was being pulled, amid claims it glamorised suicide and “increased suicidal thoughts in vulnerable teens”.
Some parents fear scenes like this make suicide look like a cool, dramatic statement to teenagers – who are often prone to making emotionally-charged statements.
But grieving Rachael, 33, wants the entire programme to be scrapped.
Jessica Scatterson killed herself just days before her 13th birthday
Chilling list of ‘six reasons to die’
She said her daughter even listed six reasons why she wanted to die before she was found hanged at her home in Bewsey, near Warrington, in April 2017.
“Within hours I was receiving messages that Jessica had posted a letter on social media listing six reasons to die,” Rachael said.
“I was devastated. I didn’t understand why she would have done this.”
Jessica, who was just days from her 13th birthday, had also posted a picture showing RIP written on her foot on social media, and had named an alleged school bully.
This year, Britain’s teen suicide rates are expected to be almost double what they were eight years ago – while younger children are also suffering from a mental health “crisis”.
But parents believe the toll could be far higher – because official suicide statistics do not include the deaths of young teenagers that involve “undetermined intent”.
Jessica posted a picture showing RIP written on her foot on social media before she was found hanged
Jessica’s mum Rachael Warburton has called for Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why to be scrapped
In Morgan’s case, his inquest recorded an open verdict because the Year 11 student didn’t leave a note behind.
“The statistics may well be way off,” says dad Stuart, who describes his son as a caring boy with a laugh that would “light up any room”.
“Because there was no note, they couldn’t be certain [Morgan had] wanted to do it.”
So, as more and more children die, what is the answer?
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, has written to social media giants including Facebook, Snapchat, Youtube and Pinterest, highlighting the “horrific amount of disturbing content that children are accessing online”.
She has called on the industry “to accept there are problems and to commit to tackling them – or admit publicly that you are unable to”.
Teens facing a “wide range of pressures”
Emma Thomas, Chief Executive of the mental health charity YoungMinds, says Government plans to improve mental health services for children also need to “lead to real improvements”.
She adds: “With rising demand, we also need to see greater investment in community support beyond the NHS, so that young people can get early help when problems first emerge.”
Daniel’s mum Emma wants the Government to fund counsellors in schools as she believes “teachers can’t just spot the signs [of suicide] with a couple of days’ training”.
[article-rail-section title=”Top stories in news” posts_category=”2″ posts_number=”6″ query_type=”popular” /]
But Stuart also believes change needs to happen at home.
“There’s still a generational reluctance to talk about suicide,” says the dad, whose charity offers suicide prevention skills training for parents, teachers and community groups.
“But the risk of not talking about it is that young people have to draw their own conclusions. I have to tell you I’m no different to any other parent. It could happen to anybody.”
If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please call the Samaritans on (free) 116123
[bc_video video_id=”5832066767001″ account_id=”5067014667001″ player_id=”default” embed=”in-page” padding_top=”56%” autoplay=”” min_width=”0px” max_width=”640px” width=”100%” height=”100%” caption=”We spoke to bereaved family members affected by suicide and this is what they want you to know”]