Teenage stress can be silent

Too many young people have lost their lives to mental illness. Talking is a vital first step

Yesterday was the third anniversary of the death of Louis Smith, a 15-year-old British boy living in Abu Dhabi who took his own life. Louis’s story is well-known among British and other expats in the capital because of how similar his family situation was to that of many others. Outwardly he was happy, had friends and was doing well in school. His suicide took his parents completely by surprise.

Louis’s story is only one of several tragic suicides that have taken place in the UAE. Another well-known case is that of Abhimanyu Sadasivan, a 16-year-old Indian boy who took his own life in 2014. As with Louis, there were few warning signs with Abhimanyu, although he did give an indication of the pressures he felt on an exam paper.

The truth is that mental health issues can strike people of any age, but teenagers are particularly susceptible to stress, anxiety and even depression. That is the case everywhere in the world, but there are unique “stressors” to life in the UAE. For one, many teenagers will be away from a familiar environment. For those expats who have moved frequently around the world, their children may have experienced two, three or more countries and cities before they finish their schooling. That can mean they have friends they have not known for very long or access to fewer extended family members to whom they could confide their feelings.

As we reported yesterday, there are many benefits to being a “Third Culture Kid”, someone who grows up in a country other than that of their parents. But it also brings with it some unique experiences and challenges, one of which is that it can leave children prone to anxiety or depression.

Nothing will bring back Abhimanyu or Louis, but the best way to honour their memories is to keep talking about stress, depression and mental health issues. Help is available, whether you are a teenager wrestling with these issues, or an adult seeking help with children. The more open that society is about these issues, the fewer tragic cases will occur.