Important lesson from vile TikTok video
FEAR grows in darkness.
And after one tough week, we've been turning on a lot of lights in our house.
On Monday afternoon, my 13-year-old son unwittingly came across the horrific TikTok suicide video.
There was no warning, there was nothing he searched or clicked, it simply came up on his feed as he sat on the couch just metres away from me. On that afternoon, there were no news stories, no public warnings from schools or the eSafety Commissioner about this video … we were alone in trying to process what he had just seen. And how or why it appeared on this app aimed specifically at kids his age.
Regardless, I knew immediately that those 10 seconds had likely forever changed him.
Certainly the boy who came home on Monday afternoon was not the same as the one who went to school on Tuesday morning.
He saw in far too much clarity just how fragile life can be - both mentally and physically.
We've given him all the support we can - counselling, letting him sleep with us, turning on night lights, talking about it with him.
But it turns out the single most important thing we did to help him, was to send him back to school.
Because people were talking.
His teachers knew what had happened because I had emailed them asking for help - and they most certainly did.
His classmates had seen his own last post on TikTok, telling them he'd seen something awful and advising them to get off the social media channel. They wanted to know if he was okay … and some admitted they too had seen the video.
And then news spread around the school - both from media sources and other students - that this video was everywhere.
By the time my son arrived home on Tuesday afternoon, I could see a lightness in his shoulders that definitely had not been there just hours earlier.
"I feel so much better, Mum," he said. "I feel like I'm not alone anymore."
And in that moment, I understood the importance of mental health awareness.
Talking about what he had seen as well as listening to others discuss it will never take away my son's flashbacks or trauma of seeing a man die before his eyes.
But it did take away the burden of handling it on his own.
No longer was it his dark secret, but a shared tragedy. And while still awful, it normalised his abnormal experience.
Whether it's ironic or fortuitous or both, the fact that it was R U OK Day on Thursday reminded me of how often I have heard criticism of "talking cures''.
I've heard people ponder whether simply asking "R U OK'' really accomplishes anything, especially since few of us have the answers if they're not.
But it's not about the question or the (lack of) answers, the point is in the conversation - in our homes, in our schools and in the media.
The more we talk about mental health issues like depression and anxiety, the less "scary'' they become. The more we can remove the stigma and reduce the shame, the more we talk … and the more we are supported.
There is such a lesson in the way my son was treated after this traumatic viewing that should be applied to anyone enduring depression or anxiety.
No one ever asked him what was wrong with him, it was understood that he was not to blame for his experience or his feelings. His reaction was absolutely normal and expected.
No one shied away from speaking openly about it to him, or in offering him help.
No one treated him like he was defective. He had gone through something and needed his friends.
And there's a lesson too in how my son handled this experience.
He had no shame in asking me for help, or in accepting help from his teachers and friends.
He owns his emotions - he is frightened, he is disturbed and he is willing to speak to a professional because he does not want to keep feeling this way.
And above all, he has empathy. He has empathy for the kids who saw it and won't tell anyone because they are scared they'll get in trouble.
He has empathy for myself and my husband, knowing we haven't had much sleep this week.
And above all, he has empathy for the man in the video. He isn't angry the man live-streamed his own death (although he is angry at those who reposted it), he is even sorry that the manner of the man's passing frightens him - he feels his fear is nothing compared to the fact that this poor guy could not bear to live anymore.
The sad truth is that perhaps if the man's own depression was treated like my son's trauma, and that if this man had been able to accept help like my son, he would have found the light in the darkness. And then he would still be here … and that video would never exist at all.
>>>For 24/7 counselling (ages 5-25), phone Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 or go to www.kidshelpline.com.au
Originally published as Important lesson from vile TikTok video