TEEN suicide should never be romanticised and young people need to know that taking their own lives is never a legitimate choice, the next Catholic primate of All- Ireland has warned.
Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin – a secondary school principal for eight years who counselled teenagers – believes we have to be clear in making our youth aware of the terrible pain it leaves in the aftermath.
He believes "glamorising" such sad deaths only risks triggering copycat tragedies.
The 51-year-old said he saw increasing levels of depression in those attending secondary education over the years and experienced the tragedy of students taking their own lives while he was head of St Columb's College in Derry up to 2008.
His words of warning come after schoolgirl Chloe Kinsella was laid to rest last Monday. The 15-year-old from Limerick had been missing for a week before her body was found in the River Shannon.
Chloe's uncle, Matthew Franklin, made an emotional appeal for young people going through tough times in their personal lives to seek professional help.
Archbishop Martin, who takes over as leader of Ireland's Catholics next year, said: "One of the things I cannot accept is how suicide is glamorised. We have to be careful after such a tragedy that we do not romanticise it in any way.
"I would be very clear in trying to get across to young people the terrible pain it leaves in the aftermath. Society's response (to suicide) must be a compassionate one – you realise people's responsibility for what they are doing is very diminished. But it is not a legitimate choice."
Archbishop Martin said: "I am saddened to meet youngsters suffering from depression. I was involved in counselling in the school, it was terribly sad to find young children who could not cope with life at 13, 14 and 15...
"It is an awfully traumatic thing for a parent to see young people take their own lives. To see suicide becoming part of the life of teenagers, to have them witnessing it, being in the same class as people who took their own lives. Then you go into the class as principal and try to talk to them and help them understand it."
It is heart-breaking to see parents blame themselves, he says. "You see parents exasperated, wondering: why? why did they do this? It is such an awful thing the way it just tears a family apart.
"But teenagers are subject to influences outside of home influences. In many ways, their childhood lasts a short time, catapulted into the adult world at a very young age. That brings a lot of risks. You are living life at a high-risk level." He believes a lot of such sad cases stem from a cry for meaning.
"A lot of young people maybe have been sheltered an awful lot from knocks in their lives. To see a young boy where a relationship breaks down, suddenly he feels his whole life has no meaning.
"It is a cry for meaning. It is a cry for purpose. I would always be a very strong believer in a faith-based education system. It tries to give young people a sense of direction in their lives, it's not just about churning out grades, getting points in exams.
"This pretence that your sense of direction in life is not the business of school? It is, very much. In the aftermath of suicide, to be free to talk about God and faith, it is a really important thing."
Archbishop Martin will take over as the Catholic primate next summer when Cardinal Sean Brady retires.
Archbishop Martin sparked controversy earlier this year when he publicly stated that TDs had "ex-communicated themselves" over their support for the abortion legislation and should not go up to the altar to receive Communion.