Empty Unhappy Youth who Kill Themselves or Kill Others

For the last two days, my mood has been strangely introspective, to the point of getting disinterested in everything.

My son’s friend, who was a student with him at the same college, committed suicide.
Thereafter, we also heard news about campus killings in Oregon, America.

Although the real reason can never be known, people deduce all sorts of reasons for a young person’s suicide. One reason given was ‘parental pressure’. Also, that the day he took his life, he had said to one of the girls in his class, “I feel empty inside.

Parents again. Oh, but isn’t this a question being raised all the time, that ‘parental pressure’, which itself has its roots in ‘societal pressure’, lies heavy on many students’ head when they do not come up to their parents’ expectations?
Most students deal with it, some can’t cope.

My son’s friend is (was) actually the older brother of one of my son’s classmates, with age-gap of only a year, and so they all studied together. Although both brothers are/were academically brilliant and both got along well, but in a way the younger of the two was doing better. And now that this tragedy has happened, people are quick to deduce that the older brother who committed suicide was probably not happy with his academic career, howsoever good it was.

That said, I couldn’t help probing further reasons for this unfortunate incident. Why did he feel ‘empty inside’?  He had three loving siblings. He had both parents alive. Then where and why was the parental pressure? Is it that the child assumed there is pressure? Is it that his younger sibling was out-performing him and he felt left out?  Probably, day-to-day comments and harmless little nagging within the families is not so harmless after all. A growing child, and a young person being consciously or unconsciously compared to others, loses his self-esteem and self-worth. I feel like hugging his soul. How lonely he must have been during his last hour or so!


Photo Credit: animalnewyork.com

Essentially, loneliness is a part of growing up. Late teens to early twenties – this is the phase when children are no more considered children, even if, due to their lack of life experience and not much exposure to the world, most of them continue to be a child at heart.

As they leave their teens behind, they are full of anxiety. Anxiety of behaving sensibly like a new adult, that of being a role model for younger siblings, pressure of performing well as per the societal or parental expectations, of getting admission into best possible courses, of out-performing others so as to secure a great job. Then there are issues related to a girl-friend, or of not having a girl-friend while others have. All this and more, while out-doing many others who themselves have similar mind-set.  Each young person trying to excel in this rat race because eventually the fittest will survive.

While I was deeply brooding on all this, I shifted my thoughts to the other news, that of mass killing at the community college at Oregon campus. News about regular campus carnage in America is no more news for the international community.  This time too, the culprit’s age-group is the same as in most other campus killings, and the victims too are mostly young students or else teachers.

Recent Oregon massacre, as the news slowly revealed, was based on hatred for organised religion. And quite like previous campus killings, this is also related to the frustrated youth – an acrimonious revenge of some sort, for it is strange that the shooter was at some stage enrolled in the same college.  So it was about rebellion, about getting noticed. This too is about perceived or real societal pressure to conform (to religion), and it’s about retaliating and giving back pressure to the society.  It’s as if the shooter is saying: Look you mean society!! I don’t believe in your dictatorial religious dogmas and pseudo-principles. I shun you. I have the power to kill you all.

As I mentally compare a young man’s self-killing to that of another young man’s mass-killing of others, both have similarities as well as differences.

Suicidal youth are the ones who have lost all hopes from life. Their needs are not being met. They’re crying for help but unable to say it, or else they do try to convey but no one pays enough attention to their feelings. Eventually, when they feel life is more unbearable than death would be, that’s when they escape life via one impulsive step. Likewise, the aggressive youth who finally resorts to a killing spree, he also conveys or protests spitefully via social media and other means, till one day he decides to take some rebellious action. As the Oregon killer said ‘He did not like his lot in life”.

Youth on the verge of a suicide assume they haven’t found their rightful place in the society and can never get it, hence they finish their life. In comparison, aggressive young men who kill others also feel the same, except that killers try to get their place forcibly, by attempting an act that would leave a larger statement behind. Both seek attention, one does it passively and the other aggressively. A suicidal introvert passively punishes the family and society by withdrawing from it; whereas the shooter does so aggressively by taking lives within unsuspecting campuses.  

Taking one’s life via suicide, or that of many others…these are angry, unhappy, lonely, frustrated youth, not born that way but possibly they had been seeking attention since their early age as is clearly visible from the early life of this campus killer. Their mental tension and loneliness took root in their childhood, that is long before they culminated their anger or anguish in this extreme manner.

This amazes me as a parent, as I wonder if parents play any role in their children going extreme. At what stage do parents mentally lose contact with their child and why does this happen. Is it from the early childhood that some odd eccentric behavior goes ignored, or else when the child is 10, 12 or 15?  Possibly more so after they turn 16 or 17, as that’s when they start to go out on their own. In a nuclear family, which is a norm these days, there’s no support from extended families, hence the pressurized parents are either too engrossed in balancing their career with family life; or busy looking after their younger kids while getting more and more detached from the older kid-turned-adult. The older ones thus grow distant from their families and soon their lonely voices go unheard.

Here the problem is, how much parenting is enough? There are parents who would like to be forever involved in their children’s life, but they face another ‘societal pressure’, one that reminds them that parents should let their kids be; should set them free, let kids grow up on their own. Over-caring parents are considered helicopter parents – over-anxious and too fussy about their grown-up child or new adult.

Well of course, good parents need not be helicopter parents but they should not be so unobtrusive or unavailable that if their child is feeling ‘empty inside’ they don’t even know it.

Likewise, parents of a teen, who is soon going to evolve into a monster with head full of bloody ideas like mass massacre, are either parents who are themselves party to such vile things or else totally ignorant about it.  Either way, they are not playing any positive role in the lives of humans they gave birth to.

Throughout the life of their child, parents need to constantly sow seeds of ethical, moral and righteous living in their children. There’s no age for that.

Parents need to be present in their kids’ lives forever. There’s no age for that.

Parents need of watch out for signs of killer instincts in their growing children and youth. There’s no age for that.

There’s no age to fix things that have gone even slightly wrong. It’s better to mend them in time.


Copyright © 2015 Alka Girdhar

17 thoughts on “Empty Unhappy Youth who Kill Themselves or Kill Others

  1. A thoughtful post. The reasons are complex and the factors in each case are surely unique. To me, our human world seems increasingly cruel with horrific wars, the proliferation of weapons, increasing poverty and class divisions, militarization of police forces, morally corrupt politicians, overt racism, the brutalization of women and minorities, unliveable wages, tremendous personal debt, global climate destruction, everyone frantic to just keep up. It’s no wonder, to me, at times, that the youth of our world fall into despair as they feel these pressures so keenly. Growing up is hard enough without adults acting like lunatics. I would like to see an overhaul of values in my country – a dedication to peace, kindness and compassion while we make whatever sacrifices are necessary to create a wonderful world for all our children.

    Liked by 3 people

    • You have captured the essence of the whole problem which is a many faced demon. Much as we say it’s the home-based environment it is also the overall sociopolitical scenario at national as well as international levels that is to be blamed. Indeed, wars give rise to supposedly deterrent weapons that have now become commonplace like toys. Economic inflation increases the disparity between haves and have-nots; this poverty gives rise to frustration and anger at all the inequalities that exist at various levels. And youth feel this pressure even more because they have their whole life ahead…they can either pave their way or be left out. Wise adult support can come by only if adults are wise. Your last lines carry such heart-felt emotions. There is a dire need for all these valuables – peace, kindness and compassion, otherwise children have no bright future to look forward to.
      Thanks you so much for such thoughtful comments!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Disturbing thoughts. I agree that parents have to be in the lives of heir kids forever, yet one never knows what transpires in the mind of children, in their teens when they are much more influenced by the outer world than by their parents.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What you say is true. Every child has their individual temperament which even parents can’t fathom. This factor combined with the influence of outer world which is often in the form of peer-pressure, makes them completely different from the kids they once used to be for the caring parents who brought them up. Sometimes parents find every strategy failing because, busy as they were in their own lives, they left it for too late.
      Thanks for your wise input!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Parents’ role evolves to take a different form at different stages, a challenging task that each parent must learn rather than giving it up. Thank you for appreciating my thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

        • That’s true…and that’s because bringing up a human being can be exhausting. Parents finally need time to live their own lives and in the process sometimes kids get out of their hands.
          Jacqueline, it was nice to know your views on this topic! Thank you.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Alka,

    You have linked two similar emotions wonderfully well…both the consequence of frustration! While the mass killing can be prevented, self killing is connected more with an instant urge, triggered by the unforeseen circumstances. Despite all this talk of various kinds of pressures, a suicidal act is extreme cowardice, the inability to cope up with life, which is so beautiful. It is too harsh to blame the external forces, especially the parents who are the worst sufferers.

    This post reminds me of a recent suicide of a doctor who had just finished his MD, in India and was from a rural background. He left his mother at the airport, promising he would return within minutes, went to meet his girl friend and then injected himself with a lethal injection! It was concluded that he was under pressure to marry according to the wishes of his parents.

    My questions are – wasn’t he independent to take his own decisions? Didn’t he have enough resources to go against his parents? Who could have prevented him from doing whatever he wanted to do? Couldn’t he speak frankly that he will not marry according to the wishes of his parents? Isn’t it just an excuse? To my mind he was the biggest coward! He had everything to live his life according to his wishes but he chose death. Loser!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Balroop!

      Suicide as well as mass killings, esp. those perpetrated by the youth on the youth, are a result of some long drawn hurt and behavior patterns. But of the two, self-killing is definitely more impulsive, often unplanned and there are cases where people regret it during their last moments. Yes, we can term it as cowardice because it requires certain amount of bravery to face the world, howsoever bad the world may be. Mature people with families are aware somebody needs them, be it their children hence they have to be brave. Younger people esp. those who are sensitive and immature sometimes find solace in drugs, alcohol, or else suicide.

      It is cowardice esp. in cases like that of the doctor you have mentioned, an educated person who got qualified to help others, someone who has everything in life and for a minor reason which we can’t even call pressure as he could easily refuse to marry that girl.
      Possibly, in most cases, those left behind just hypothesize about the reason of suicide but no one can ever know the real cause which I’m sure is much deeper that we ever know.

      Thanks for sharing your unique perspective!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for writing this article. Parents need a reminder not to be lax where their children are concerned. It’s terrible when a child commits suicide because he or she loses hope in life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for appreciating! Parents should try to play their best possible role in given circumstances; inculcating good values so that children themselves know right from wrong. Yes, a suicidal mind has lost all hope and it’s a shameful matter for any society esp. if children commit suicide.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a great, thoughtful and thought provoking post. I used to work in mental health in the community and some of the more serious mental illness present themselves late teens into early twenties. Sometimes it is genetic, sometimes unlucky. I counselled many desperate parents of
    adult children who were trying to help them. Personality disorders can also cause this skewed perspective of the world and they are far more difficult to treat. In my family we have a very strong genetic thread weaving through paternal and maternal sides. All of us brought up differently but genetics still lurk, so many of my cousins, aunts, parents have a similar mental illness. Bottom line – you can’t kill so many people with a knife so take guns away from vulnerable people. Be persistent in asking social work, doctors, relatives for help. If you are really worried call the police. Having lived in the UK and now the US – you need way more community resources out there and it shouldn’t be charity. There should be medical and non-profit organizations with the ability to help both the patient and the parents. Civil liberties is used as an excuse to avoid our responsibilities as a society. Most severely mentally ill people are afraid of the world so showing a little kindness can make a huge difference. Smile, hug and love the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for taking interest in my article and sharing insightful thoughts based on personal as well as family experiences, thus reiterating my point that late teens to early adulthood is a critical age for such issues. I do agree about personality disorders; where the problem as well as solution lies in nature as well as nurture. Yes human nature is partially genetic including extreme sensitivity, and that is why if parents themselves have these issues how are they going to help create a right nurturing environment for their growing children who are liable to be born with similar genetic traits? In such cases, extended families, wider society, health organizations should come forward and help. As you said, charity is not the solution but more overall resources are needed to provide long lasting solutions.

      But at a critical juncture like it is with mass killers, things are already out of hand and no amount of sermonizing and soft steps will help change the distorted mindset. The only solution is let guns be out of reach.

      Your last line is the real long term solution for mental issues as well as all other issues. People need love and kindness, not rebuke.

      Liked by 1 person

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