Thursday 5 May 2016


At the SciFest gig last week, there was one girl who had done a study of Depression and Anxiety.  As often, I asked why she had chosen that as the topic to spend weeks or months wrestling with.  She said that she suffered from Depression herself which is a perfectly adequate explanation.  I might have felt a sense of empathy because I spent my 15th and 16th years asleep for up to 16 hours a day. It was 20 years before I appreciated that this is one of the telling symptoms of clinical depression. The project was the usual unsatisfactory mess of teenage science: inadequate sample size; opinion privileged over objective data; questionnaires used rather than rulers, test-tubes or butterfly nets. The data seemed to be interested in identifying depressed kids and getting the school to do something about it. But there didn't seem to be a place in the protocol for concerned friends of depressed kids.

Later on, I had a more engaged and engaging to-fro with a trio of girls who were comparing the results of questionnaires [yawn - questionnaires again] carried out anonymously vs name-attached. The sample was weak but there was some sort of consistency suggesting that anonymity made more of a difference the edgier the questions got. The most articulate of the girls said that, of course, they wouldn't be asking 12-13 year olds about their gender-identity anonymously or otherwise.  I replied that my girls Dau.I and Dau.II had that aspect of their lives sorted by that age even if they couldn't do statistics. And one of the other girls said that not everyone has their sexuality sorted out so young. Hmmmm, fair enough, I was forced to reflect on my gay friends who wree digging with the 'wrong' foot all through their 20s: so powerful is the "normalising" power of society and its media.

Skyping with Dau.I that evening, I realised that depression and gender-confusion were two of the most powerful correlates with suicidal ideation, and indeed suicide, in the young. Suicide is a beast because it trails so much pain and guilt in its wake. Two of my final year project students missed the submission deadline because a friend back home had topped himself and they were supporting his sibs and each other in their vale of tears.  Made me reflect again quietly on the girls from our circle who offed herself in 1971 - so young, so pretty, so dead, so sad. Dau.I and I agreed that a lot could be done to mobilise the peer-group in the prevention of suicide and the handling of the troubles which precipitate that final act. You can't expect the teacher to teach and manage the bad-boys-at-the-back [with a chair and awhip] and keep the register up to date and keep up to date on continuous personal development and pay attention to a change from forte to piano in one of her pupils. But the rest of the class could note that mood change and apply an appropriate amount of attention, compassion and right action to the troubled. A little kindness goes a long way, in my experience.

In my discussion on the performance installation Stormy Petrel the family silver spilled noisily to the ground amid the feet of the audience . . . and nobody did a thing to help. There, then, I reflected on this as a metaphor for our response to the current refugee crisis.  But it might also be applied to our inertia and denial about the cancer of suicide in amongst our young people. Instead of expending so much political capital ensuring that all of them get free clean water ad lib from the taps.

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