The story of Nicholas Navarre is heartbreaking.
The 15-year-old Atkins High School sophomore, with many friends and a wide variety of interests — with all the enthusiasms and hopes of the average teenager — suffered greatly after his school closed down a year ago. On Feb. 12, he took his own life.
He’s not the only one to choose this way out — and others are contemplating it even now. It falls to all of us who can to do what we can to prevent further deaths of despair.
Nicholas’ parents, Bob and Ana, have been sharing his story — including with the Journal’s Lisa O’Donnell, who wrote about Nicholas on Sunday — to raise awareness about the effects of the isolation that many children have been experiencing during the pandemic. It’s a lesson every parent needs to hear.
“These are the times in their lives when there’s a transition from being dependent on parents and caregivers to independence. It’s a time where socialization and being with friends and being in a group, whether it’s part of the band or choral society or sports or the computer geeks, and identifying yourself with that group, is very important,” Andy Hagler, the executive director of the Mental Health Association in Forsyth County, told the Journal. “It’s a part of who they are. And the pandemic and its effects run counter to that.”
Fortunately, there’s help for struggling teenagers, from parents, school system authorities and others.
“There should be no student struggling in silence. In any case where we have a student who is struggling socially, emotionally, mentally, behaviorally, in any way, we’ve got systems in place to support them,” Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Tricia McManus told the Journal. “That doesn’t diminish the fact that some of our kids are having challenges, and that’s concerning to me.”
To us all.
Hagler offered suggestions to parents to help teenagers who are struggling that include setting up routines of sleeping, eating and studying — with plenty of breaks. Outside activities and visits with friends while maintaining social distancing can also be helpful.
Physical activity can be of great benefit.
Most of all, Hagler says, “Trust your instincts.” If children seem vulnerable, make an appointment with a primary care doctor.
Bob Navarre’s message to parents is this: Tell your kids this is temporary.
We’re all familiar with the intensity of teenage emotions, uninformed by the experience that comes with the span of decades. It may be hard to understand that things change and there are better days ahead.
They may need constant reminding.
They definitely need people to listen to their concerns.
It’s not just teenagers who are under emotional and mental stress at this time. Many long-term care residents have been isolated in ways that affect them physically and emotionally. The result in some cases has been deaths from what is called “failure to thrive.”
And many we would never guess, who are operating in some semblance of normalcy, are also affected emotionally by the pandemic.
We don’t begrudge the necessity of shutting down businesses and educational facilities during this crisis to starve the virus of victims — the death tally could have been much higher than it is today if government officials hadn’t taken action.
But as we learn more, if we can find safe ways to alleviate people’s suffering, we should take advantage of them.
And as vaccines become more and more available — have you scheduled your shot yet? — we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
There are more struggles ahead before life returns to — dare we say “normal”? We’ve got a long way to go yet. But where we are now — it’s only temporary.
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.