BRANDON -- My teenage daughter has friends all over the world. They regularly meet via Skype and chat for hours.
Last week, she came to me in tears. When I asked her what was wrong, she said one of her group of "Internet friends" had told her he was going to commit suicide over Christmas. He had told his parents he was gay and they had thrown him out of their home. He was cold and alone, and viewed suicide as his only option.
My initial reaction was equal parts skepticism and concern. He could be bluffing, I thought. Or he could be one of those evil people you hear about occasionally who convince other teens to join in a suicide pact. The third possibility I considered was he was telling the truth about what had happened, and was serious about his intentions.
My immediate reaction was to tell Celine to get off the Internet. After an hour of thinking about the situation, however, I asked her to give me all the information she could about the boy. She said she didn't know much about him, but some of her other friends might. The next day, she was able to tell me his first and last name, his birth date and he lives in Northern Ireland. The kids didn't know which community, however.
I decided I would try to get word to authorities in Northern Ireland, so that they look into the situation. I contacted cybertip.ca, a website that protects children, but was told they only protect children from Internet predators, not suicide attempts.
I tried to contact Manitoba's suicide-prevention phone line, but it constantly received a busy signal. When I finally got through, they gave me the phone number for the Northern Ireland suicide prevention line, but they would not make the call themselves.
I contacted the Brandon Police Service, thinking they investigate online child pornography and would have international contacts. I was told they could not help me, however. They told me to contact the authorities in Northern Ireland myself.
I went online and found websites for several Northern Ireland police departments, but I didn't know which community the boy was in, and none of those departments could be contacted by email.
I finally came across the website for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which appears to be the equivalent to the RCMP. There was no email address on that website either, but there was a form to fill out for online reporting of non-urgent property crimes.
I set out all the information I had about the boy and expressing my concerns it could be a hoax, it could be legitimate or it could be a sick effort to lure other teens into committing suicide.
Three hours later, I received a call from a police sergeant in Belfast, telling me the threat had been real. They had found the boy and taken him to a hospital.
I'm relieved the boy will receive the help he needs, but I'm also proud my daughter had the courage to tell me about the situation.
The holiday season isn't merry for everybody. While we are partying, unwrapping presents and experiencing the joy of the season, we can be oblivious and/or insensitive to the pain, stress and loneliness others are experiencing. For some, it is too much to bear and can cause them to consider killing themselves.
Those contemplating suicide are unlikely to seek help directly, but they often give signals which include direct and indirect statements, making suicide notes and plans, the making of final arrangements (e.g. funeral plans, writing a will, giving away possessions), a preoccupation with death and a change in behaviour, thoughts or feelings.
During the holidays, be sensitive to the feelings of others. Check on those who are alone or going through a rough time.
If you suspect someone you know is contemplating suicide, or if this is you yourself, get help. Call the Manitoba suicide line at 1-877-435-7170.
Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.