A Texas Teen From a Good Family Committed Suicide, and His Family Wants the World to Know Why; Parents Say He Had Hundreds of Friends on Social Media but Was Always Alone

Cathy and Mark Speed lost their 18-year-old son, Braden, to suicide in October and, with the start of the new school year, they want to share a message about tragedies such as theirs — one that people too often will talk about in the aftermath but then seldom take action to prevent. They are pictured with their daughter, Caitlin, 12, at their Prosper home.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

The family stories and photos that chronicle Braden Thomas Speed’s all-too-short life portray a joyfully adventurous and kindhearted boy. They also reflect a kid who asked piercing questions from a young age, yet even as an 18-year-old retained an out-of-step innocence.

Braden wasn’t wired like other teenagers — getting to know him and staying comfortable in his space could be a sizable challenge. As he tried to find his way through the sometimes thoughtless world of high school, Braden increasingly saw himself as an outsider looking in, someone with no place and no purpose.

Braden died by suicide last Oct. 30, not long after beginning his senior year at Prosper High School.

Stories such as Braden’s are, grimly, all too common. In 2017, the last year complete data is available, suicide claimed the lives of 5,016 males and 1,225 females between ages 15 and 24 in the U.S. Researchers writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association said the youth suicide rate — 14.6 per 100,000 — appears to be the highest since the government began collecting statistics in 1960.

Since Braden’s death, his parents’ unwavering Christian faith has been the spine that has allowed them to stand each day. The Holy Spirit is the backbone of Mark and Cathy Speed’s determination to remain unequivocally transparent as they tell their story in the hope that they are the last in their community to endure this unfathomable grief.

In the hours after Braden’s death, Mark called out to his son, “What would you want me to tell people?” The response he heard: “I needed people to invite me into their lives, to care about me, to make me feel valued, and to stay with me even if it was uncomfortable.”

Every day since, the Speeds have told Braden’s story with unflinching honesty and transparency.

They also have put action behind their words, opening their home to teens who need to talk, helping organize and fund counseling and teen-peer advocacy work, and telling their story at local churches.

Their message to teens — and to their parents — is not an indictment but rather a challenge to be more inviting to everyone whose path they cross — to look beyond an established group of friends for the kid who feels left out. They hope adults will encourage their children to take time to, at the least, say hello to that student they have never spoken to — maybe even ask how life is treating him or her.

Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always. That was the simple but potentially life-changing message printed in Braden’s memorial program.

As students try to find their footing in these early days of the new school year, the Speeds’ message is among the most valuable lessons parents can give their kids: Look for the Bradens in our midst and give them a hand up.

“Circles of friends are beautiful, but they can be painful if you aren’t in the middle of one,” Cathy said as we sat at their kitchen table Wednesday. “Look outside the circle, widen it. You can’t be best friends with everybody, but you can be nice to everybody, you can look up from your phone and notice the kid sitting alone.”

The Speeds told me that in the 10 months since Braden’s death, they have heard many stories from young people who feel a similar isolation and struggle to find a place to belong. Kids, for example, who sneak home at lunch or eat in their car in the parking lot. Teens who create false dating narratives on social media to cover up their loneliness.

“Those kids who look like everyone else are struggling — they smile and joke and nobody knows unless they watch closely,” Cathy said.

The Speeds are starting these lessons in their own home with 12-year-old daughter Caitlin. Like her parents, the seventh-grader copes better some days than others. Her dance team is her refuge and, Mark said, those routines and practices allow her to work through the tough and still-emerging emotions from her brother’s death.

At the end of each day, she and her dad play a game: Did they spot someone who needed an encouraging word or a small gesture of kindness — and did they reach out in response?

We don’t know that more connections could have spared Caitlin’s beloved brother. Suicide is a complicated topic that still too often defies even the best experts. In Braden’s case, he had been treated for depression and anxiety and received both counseling and responsible medication. His parents seemingly tried every available avenue to get him appropriate help.

From his earliest years, Braden was charming, athletic and sweet — a boy with twinkling eyes and a beautiful smile who always looked a tad younger than his true age. His growing-up years resemble those of many Texas boys: baseball, tubing, fishing, taekwondo, Disney World, dogs.

“He taught me everything there was to know about every shark, dinosaur and reptile on the planet,” Cathy recalled.

But many of his conversations, even as a child, were far more difficult. Mark gently rubbed the tabletop where we sat Wednesday and recalled his elementary-school-age son asking him, “Why are we here?” Braden wasn’t talking about the card game they were playing on that same table or even about the family’s current home — he was talking about that tough, existential “why.”

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Source: Dallas Morning News