'The devastating reason my 12-year-old wants to die'

'She felt like an outsider.'
'She felt like an outsider.' Photo: Shutterstock

Last week, my daughter Sophie* attempted to end her life.

Sophie is 12 years old.

I raced her to the local emergency room, and she was under close observation over the next two days.

Eventually, as her father – my ex – and I held desperate vigil at her bedside, Sophie's pupils returned to their normal size. Her jaw stopped shuddering. Her legs stopped involuntarily shaking. The physical side effects of my baby's suicide attempt had abated.

But Sophie's struggle to get well is so very far from being over.

Sophie has never been all that different from her friends. I haven't known all along that her life would be a challenge. She was always a bright, outgoing, vivacious kid.

Even now, as she sits in a secure mental health ward in hospital – where all bags have to be searched and all doors are locked from the outside – doctors tell me she's a bright, articulate, sensitive young woman. But a young woman who has an "ambivalent relationship with living".

As puberty hit – and it hit hard and early – Sophie turned from a chatty string bean of a girl with golden brown ringlets into a tall, curvy young woman. With this change has come a massive shift in her demeanour. She became withdrawn. She didn't want to go outside, to be active, to see her friends on the weekends. She is easily overwhelmed, and prefers not to talk to people she doesn't know well.

Sophie suddenly realised she was different from her friends. She felt different from the person she thought she should be. She felt like an outsider.

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When Sophie came to me a few months ago and told me she was gay, it wasn't news that surprised me. I told her how much I love her, and how proud of her I am that she is who she is. I told her I would support her always, no matter what, and that she's a good person.

But Sophie also knows that a life of being "different" is a difficult one – especially for a sensitive person like her. Even her psychiatrist recommended Sophie keep her sexuality a secret at school. "Middle schoolers can be cruel," the doctor said. "I wish it was different, and by the time you get to senior school you will probably be fine, but in middle school, kids will find any reason to point you out – to make fun of you."

She's right, of course, in a tragic way. There is nobody nastier than a spiteful 12-year-old girl.

And so as our nation debates what kinds of messages our children are being sent about sexuality when we discuss marriage equality, my girl sits alone in a secure hospital room that locks from the outside, with the blinds closed.

While ads air on TV with outraged parents concerned their son may be allowed to wear a dress to school, my daughter is staring at a white wall and wishing she was dead.

And me? I'm just hoping that I can keep Sophie alive long enough to allow her to blossom into the incredible person I know she is destined to be. I wish I knew how to do that.

* Names have been changed and the writer has chosen to remain anonymous to protect privacy.

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