Sam’s Story

The need: I suppose I could start by quoting a bunch of statistics about the nature of mental health issues in adolescents, but I wonder if that is actually necessary. It seems to me that it’s rather obvious how our culture is taking its toll on teens. Social media has made comparing behavior a social compulsion leaving teens convinced that there is something wrong with who they are or perhaps they will never be enough.

The related dependence on electronic communication leads to increased isolation and social anxiety because there are far fewer opportunities to learn and practice social skills in real life situations anymore.

The pandemic has revealed to teens just how much uncertainty they live with and how truly out of control their lives are. Feeling out of control leads to hopelessness, helplessness both precursors to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Not too long ago, mental health was commonly viewed as a luxury, today it is clearly a necessity.

My Relationship with Joshua: I met Joshua in July 2010. He was 7 years old. I think he was biting his nails and getting teased about riding his bike back then. He was not responding well, and it seemed some sadness was setting in. Although most of our sessions included discussions about NASCAR, in tremendous detail, which I knew little to nothing about, there was always something behind the information. At times there was tremendous energy on his part while at other times, in the same session, he might become totally quiet, unable to describe where he went in his mind. He could often display noticeable if not infectious intensity around things he cared about along with low frustration tolerance for me when I couldn’t understand just how much he cared. And that, caring, is what I remember most about the privilege that was my time spent with Joshua.

I came to believe that much, if not most of Josh’s difficulties in life, were caused by the gift of emotional intensity that he was just beginning to explore. I think he was starting to understand himself, but his peers often misunderstood his behavior.

The day I heard that we had lost Joshua, I had just come out of a session and was getting ready to start another one. Rich Killen was barely able to speak the words and I immediately started quietly sobbing. All I could think to myself was how many lives were going to be affected by this tragedy. I had to take the rest of the day off to think about my time with him. His father once told me that on particularly bad days, Joshua might say to him, “I wish I could just talk to Sam.” Hearing that was incredibly heartbreaking and even more so humbling. How much would one more of those talks be worth today? I wish I could just listen to Joshua.