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Teen suicide puts spotlight on mental-health crisis



Nothing could have prepared a Johannesburg mother for the moment when she walked into her teenage son’s room at daybreak to find his body after he had taken his life in the first week of the new year.

Jared Rubin was 15. As the holiday season ended, scenes of mayhem took place at the family’s Waverley home as Hatzolah paramedics tried in vain to resuscitate him. His devastated three siblings watched in shock and horror as their much-loved brother’s life slipped away.

“My beautiful boy is gone. I cannot believe this is real,” said Jared’s mother, Debbie Rubin, still reeling.

Her son’s tragic death comes in the wake of a concerning rise in teenage depression and anxiety in the community and worldwide, as children and young adults battle more than ever to make sense of the world around them.

“There’s a common myth that childhood is stress-free,” says Johannesburg psychologist Sheryl Cohen, “However, statistics show that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15 to 19 year olds. Globally, it’s estimated that one in seven (14%) of 10 to 19 year olds experience mental-health conditions, yet these remain largely unrecognised and untreated.”

Jared’s grieving father, Gerald, a Johannesburg podiatrist, said his son’s death had “rocked their world”.

The divorced couple have a good co-parenting relationship, maintaining a close family unit.

They have chosen to share their son’s story in the hope that Jared’s life will be celebrated and that his death will create awareness of mental health. They also hope to remind people that “kindness and acceptance” of those who may be seen to be different is paramount.

“Mental health is real. Children need to know that they’re not alone, that whatever they’re going through can be fixed, nothing is too big, and that there’s help out there,” said Debbie.

Those who knew Jared say he was a kind, caring, sensitive boy, with a “big heart”, but was often misunderstood.

He came into this world seven weeks early, and spent the first few weeks fighting for his life in intensive care with pneumonia. An energetic little boy, he was like a “Duracell battery”, said his family this week. Early on, he was diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which may have contributed to growing low self-esteem, troubled relationships, and difficulty at school. He attended several schools, each time having to prove himself and make new friends. It was never easy, said his family, alluding to incidents of schoolyard and online bullying and feelings of isolation. “He struggled socially,” they said, “because he didn’t fit the mould.”

Throughout it all, he “put on a brave face” and never lost his sense of humour and forgiving nature, preferring to forgive those who hurt his feelings rather than be alone.

“Jared was different,” said his sister Gabriella, 19, who was his confidant, “He didn’t see the world like everyone else, but he had the biggest heart, and you could feel the love in his hugs.”

Things seemed to be going better for the teenager, who had lost weight and took great pride in his appearance.

“We spent two great weeks in Umhlanga over the holidays. He seemed happy,” said Debbie, pointing out that he was enrolled at a new school to start Grade 10, and was preparing himself for a new start.

The family believe something may have triggered him, and they are left with more questions than answers, desperate to understand the reasons behind his sudden and unexpected spiral into hopelessness. With the help of the police, they are trying to piece together the timeline of the last few days and moments of his life.

“I never saw this coming, even though he was extra sensitive and took everything to heart,” said Debbie. The traumatised family are receiving counselling.

Whatever the reason, this is every parent’s worst nightmare, say experts in the field of mental health.

Sheri Hanson, a mental-health co-ordinator at Hatzolah said, “For adults, the teenage years may seem far away and most us have idealised it as ‘the best years of our lives’. However, a lot of teens today are faced not only with the regular challenges of being caught between childhood and adulthood, they have the extreme stresses that our success-driven society places on them.”

On the evening of 5 January, Jared arrived home at about 22:00 after attending an overs at one of his friend’s homes. He greeted his mother who had waited up for him, wishing her a good night and went to play Fortnite on PlayStation in his room.

“He seemed fine, there was nothing unusual,” she said.

According to her, his cellphone went offline at 02:30 and he was heard walking around the house at about 04:00. It’s not known what transpired in the wee hours, causing him to text a friend threatening to take his life and googling ways to do it.

The family say that while he struggled emotionally, he still had “big dreams and aspirations”.

“He was saving for a trip to Miami, Florida, after matric and dreamed of buying me a beach house one day,” said Debbie, adding that he was entrepreneurial by nature and enjoyed helping his father in his laboratory at home.

“A part of us has died. We have lost a piece of our heart. By sharing this, we hope people will take mental health seriously, tell their children every day how much they are loved, and look out for any signs and warnings. Take them seriously, they are real.”

The family believe that if one life can be saved due to awareness of suicide prevention, then their boy won’t have died in vain.

Hatzolah Connect was established to provide a safe space for teens to connect who are going through a crisis or experiencing any sort of emotional distress. It offers them a completely anonymous, confidential platform to chat to a trained counsellor via text, and is open 24/7. Teens can SMS TALK to 44918 (the SMS is free) or connect to or follow it on Instagram @hatzolah_connect

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  1. Marion

    Jan 19, 2023 at 3:27 pm

    Sincere condolences to the family. This is an ongoing fear for me knowing that my son sees no purpose to his life.

  2. Pamela

    Jan 23, 2023 at 5:08 pm

    In tears as I read this. Deep condolences to the family I’m so sorry for your loss of this beautiful boy, it’s absolutely tragic. This is not only a wakeup call with regards to mental health but an even bigger wakeup call to the society / community we live in, where cruelty (top down, learned from parents to children) is rampant. I, personally, am a victim of this cruelty and it is soul destroying. It’s all very well to go to shul, have the right car, address, toys, gimmicks, clothes, hairdo, but if you’re unkind, even once, nothing counts, G-d, does not see your fancy gadgets or how many Insta followers you have, He only sees how kind or how cruel you are.

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