Building Boys Bulletin 12-23-19

It's a wonderful life. Except when it's not.

Last weekend I saw my oldest son play George Bailey in a musical version of It’s a Wonderful Life.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the classic holiday movie, with Jimmy Stewart in the lead role. Even if you haven’t seen the film, you probably know a bit about the plot: Good guy George Bailey, desperate and despairing, thinks he’s worth more dead than alive. He plans to jump off a bridge so his family can collect his life insurance money, but his guardian angel, Clarence, shows George what life would be like if he’d never been born. George ultimately embraces his life and Clarence gets his angel wings.

It’s a Wonderful Life tackles depression and suicidal ideation.

I never really noticed that before — but then, I’ve never before devoted so many hours of a year to thinking and learning about suicide, depression and mental health.

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates for teens and young adults have reached their highest point in two decades. From 2007 to 2017, the suicide rate among 10- to 14-year-olds nearly tripled, and among 15- to 19-year-olds it increased 76 percent. Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for 10- to 24-year-olds, and the suicide rate is three to four times higher among boys and young men compared to girls and young women.

We as society can make a dent in those numbers if we are willing to talk, listen and love. But stigma is a still a problem; despite the prevalence of mental anguish, our emotional struggles are still hidden from sight. We hide them from one another. We even hide them from ourselves.

That’s why It’s a Wonderful Life struck me, this time, as radical: Mental anguish is there, in the open. The word “suicide” is uttered openly. And it’s clear that good people with wonderful lives can (and do) struggle with scary thoughts.

This holiday season, let’s give one another — and ourselves — grace. Let’s stop expecting perfection and learn to pause and take breaks as needed. Let’s be real. If you’re hurting, say so. (The U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255); it’s free and available 24/7. You’re also welcome to connect with other parents via our BuildingBoys Facebook group.)

Below, I’ll share a few important links to ON BOYS podcast episodes and articles about depression, anxiety and suicide. I know these are heavy topics, but I want you to have the information on hand, should you ever need it.


In the News

The Miseducation of the American BoyAtlantic article by Peggy Orenstein (Her book, Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity, comes out January 7)


  • “While a 2018 national survey…found that young women believed there were many ways to be a girl—they could shine in math, sports, music - …young men described just one narrow route to successful masculinity. One-third said they felt compelled to suppress their feelings, to ‘suck it up’ or ‘be a man’ when they were sad or scared, and more than 40 percent said that when they were angry, society expected them to be combative.”

  • “When I asked my subjects, as I always did, what they liked about being a boy, most of them drew a blank. …’That’s interesting.’ [said Josh] ‘I never really thought about that. You hear a lot more about what is wrong with guys.’”

  • “Boys routinely confided that they felt denied—by male peers, girlfriends, the media, teachers, coaches, and especially their fathers—the full spectrum of human expression.”

How Parents Can Address the Spike in Tween DepressionU.S. News article by Phyllis Fagell and Susan Newman


  • “The suicide rate for children ages 10 to 14 nearly tripled from 2007 to 2017, while the number of 12- to 17-year-olds who experienced a major depressive episode in the past year increased by more than 50%.”

  • “Don’t minimize your child's concerns no matter how ridiculous they seem. Listen carefully and neutrally, then ask your child what he or she needs from you.”

  • “About half of adolescent depression looks like irritability or rage, and we see those young people as bad instead of sad, and therefore miss the opportunity to support them.”

How to Help a Teenager Handle the Death of an IdolNew York Times article inspired by the death of JuiceWRLD

  • “When it comes to grief, particularly with teens, the impulse for the support person is to try to make them feel better…But by jumping in and attempting to assuage the grief, we are really communicating that their grief makes us uncomfortable.”

  • “Teens respond better when parents and other adults choose to be companions in the grieving process rather than attempting to direct it. The parental instinct to try to make everything O.K. can actually backfire.”

  • “Start with a simple question: ‘What do you need from me?’ Other well-intentioned questions, such as ‘Why are you upset?’ or ‘What’s wrong?’ can come across as dismissive to grieving teens.”

ON BOYS talks about mental health

What You Need to Know About Boys & Suicide (w Katey McPherson)

Katey got involved in suicide prevention after a slew of teenage boys in her immediate area committed suicide within just a few months. (“Just in my 20 mile radius, we’ve lost 32 boys in 20 months,” says McPherson. )

Helping Teens Cope with Anxiety, Depression & More (w Kristi Hugstad)

Kristi is the author of Beneath the Surface: A Teen’s Guide to Reaching Out When You or Your Friend Is in Crisis.

Anxiety & Depression in Boys

We parents like to think that if we “do everything right,” our kids will be mentally and physically healthy with nary a care in the world. But that’s not the case. The truth is that mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety, affect people of all ages from every segment of society.

This holiday season, aim for openness and honesty.

Here’s to building boys!