The Last ManLast weekend, a former colleague committed suicide, tragically unable to deal with living his life any longer. Tim Ford was, on the surface, a man who had it all: great job, wife and kids. Having spent time with him, I can attest to his open nature, willingness to talk, listen and guide, his intelligence and curiosity. In short, this was not the kind of man who does this kind of thing. Yet he did. In the aftermath, a lot of people seem to be asking the same question: how did this happen, without anyone knowing or being able to help?

Whilst there are things we will never know, from what I have read and heard, it seems like he was suffering from depression, and I would guess this would be one of the key factors. The saddest thing with depression is that it is so socially unacceptable to talk about it, and this just makes it worse. Those who suffer (and I have counted myself amongst their ranks) are left feeling ashamed, confused, and unwilling to get help. The problem grows, and becomes less accessible, less visible, and less solvable. I would guess many people live like this, hiding their experiences from themselves and those close to them. And sometimes, it seems, people simply can’t go on like this. And we just don’t see it coming.

As a teacher, I feel a deep responsibility to broach this difficult, personal topic with my students. If I am not willing to open up and share my experiences with them, how will they ever learn to share with others. How many are we condemning to suffering, simply because of our own pride and fear? So, this morning, I took 15 minutes to discuss this tragedy with my students, opening up my own past and experiences for them to think about. This was not easy, and has left me feeling drained. However, I think the impact of talking specifics, rather than fuzzy generalisations, is worth the risk. I hope this is something I can continue to share with students, and hopefully it will help them realise that life is complex, and things are rarely what they seem.

I would love to hear experiences from other teachers on this issue. I would love to encourage others to do this if they feel they can. I would love for there to not be another generation growing, hiding their feelings in the shadows of shame. I would hate terribly to lose anyone else to stigma and a stiff upper lip. My biggest regret is that I was not more open earlier…that I never had a chance to talk to Tim and tell him he was not alone.

Note: thumbnail image “The Last Man” by seriykotik1970 on Flickr, shared under CC BY.