Content warning: This post deals with suicide.
The body of an eight-year-old boy is in the ground.
Before he died, Gabriel Taye was in grade three and had a smile consisting of nothing but baby teeth and cheeky dimples. He had beautiful fuzzy hair and big brown eyes and perfect skin. He loved reading and making friends. He was gorgeous; like all little children are.
But on the 26th of January, hours after dumping his heavy school bag on his bedroom floor, Gabriel suicided on his bunk bed.
“I was in the living room at the kitchen table, and I went back to check on my son and I found him,” Gabriel’s mother Cornelia Reynolds told Ohio media in the days following her tiny son’s death.
“I guess he didn’t know how to tell me stuff was happening.”
On Thursday it was revealed what was happening is bullying – vicious bullying – carried out by children at Gabriel’s Cincinnati primary school. CCTV footage shows that in the week he died, Gabriel was hurled against a bathroom wall and knocked unconscious for seven minutes before an assistant principal and school nurse came to his aid.
The school didn’t tell Gabriel’s mum about the physical assault; instead, they told her he simply fainted.
Cornelia had no idea her boy was being bullied. He took his life two days later.
“He probably didn’t want to say, ‘Ma, somebody’s bullying or picking on me,’ you know?,” Cornelia said. “He just didn’t know how to tell me.”
Every time these horrific stories pierce our attention they strangle us with fear and grief despite happening thousands of kilometres away, in foreign places and to people we do not know.
But when it comes to suicide, matters of location and distance are irrelevant.
Why? Because Gabriel was a child. A child who shouldn’t have been concerned with anything more serious than losing his left shoe, forgetting his school lunch, or not liking the contents of the dinner plate in front of him.
He was a child so silently traumatised he ended his life. And that stifling silence? That feeling of not knowing where to find help? Or not even knowing how to? That doesn’t discriminate.
According to Kristen Douglas, the National Manager of Headspace School Support, the way Gabriel was feeling is something countless Australian children suffer with every day.
“We’re at the highest rate of suicide we’ve been at for 10 years," Kristen told me over the phone. "[And the people dying by suicide] are getting younger.
"We respond to the suicides of 10, 11 and 12-year-olds. I genuinely think life for kids is too stressful, and I don’t know if we’ve given them the tools to cope with all the information that’s bombarding them all the time."
The root of the problem? We continue to focus exclusively on our children's physical health - broken bones, sore tummies, headaches - at the expense of their mental health.
"We need to give kids language around their mind," she said. "We're not building help-seeking skills, and that's a serious problem."
Because in reality, Kristen says, conversations about mental health shouldn't start at a certain age or school year, they should begin from the moment a child begins to communicate.
"We need to build help-seeking skills... in Australia we tend to think we suddenly know how to help seek when we reach a certain age, but it’s a skill, and one we need to put more emphasis on.
"Parents need to implant help-seeking skills in kids and talk to them about when they should seek help, who from, and what for."
To do precisely that, Headspace recommend mothers and fathers begin using the "NIP" strategy - which stands for Notice, Inquire, and Plan.
While parents tend to have an innate suspicion their child is struggling - it may be that they're not eating properly, or suddenly don't want to go to school - what they do struggle with is the second step of NIP: inquiring.
“We are great at the notice part, but we’re not great at inquiring because it’s an awkward conversation to start and we don’t always know how to have it," Kristen said. "We can also tend to make statements that come across as judgemental, or shut our children's feelings down.”
As hard as it may be, inquiring what's on your child's mind is the most important thing you can do.
"I know a huge amount of adults who wouldn’t know how to start the conversation, but they need to," Kristen said. “We’re never going to stop the internet, we’re never going to stop social media, so we've got to give kids the skills and the confidence to ask for help from day one."
Once talking about an issue, parents and their children can embark upon a plan together - whether that be talking to the school, making an appointment with a GP, or arranging to see a counsellor.
Because when Cornelia Reynolds said 'Gabriel not wanting to go to school was his way of trying to communicate with me. That was his way', she pointed to the problem that's poisoning our schools and our kids.
Little children like Gabriel want help. They desperately want help. They just don't know how to get it.
If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health, Mamamia urges you to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit this website.
Headspace is dedicated to improving the mental wellbeing of young Australians. You can find their website here.