How Matt Richtel talked to teens and their parents about this series.
In mid-April, I was talking to the mother of a suicidal young man whose struggle I was watching closely. I asked how is her daughter?
Not right, the mother said: “If we don’t find anything hard to help this child, this child will not stay here long.” She started crying. “It’s out of our control, it’s out of our control,” he said. “We are trying our best.”
He added: “It’s like waiting for the end.”
In about 18 months of reporting, I got to know many teenagers and their families and interviewed dozens of doctors, therapists and specialists in youth science. I have heard stories of pain and uncertainty. From the beginning, my editors and I discussed how to better manage people’s identities in a crisis.
The Times sets a strict ban on anonymity. Our StyleBook calls it a “last resort” for situations where important information cannot be published in any other way. Often, the sources can be a threat to their career or even their safety, whether it is from the vengeful boss or the opposition government.
In this case, the anonymity requirement was a different one: to protect the privacy of young, vulnerable teens. They have harmed themselves and tried to commit suicide, and some have threatened to try again. As we tell their stories, we have to keep in mind that our first duty is to protect them.
If the Times published the names of these young men, they could easily be identified years later. Will it harm their employment opportunities? Would a teenager – a legal minor – later regret revealing his identity during the pain and struggle? Will the story be published to escalate the ongoing crisis?
As a result, some teens are only identified from the very beginning. Some of their parents are identified by first name or first name. Over the months, I became acquainted with M, J, and C, and in Kentucky, I met struggling young people whom I had only identified as those between the ages of 12, 13, and 15.
Everyone I interviewed consented to, and parents were usually present for interviews with their teens. On some occasions, a parent offered to leave the room, or a teenager asked for privacy and the parents agreed.
In these articles, I hear grief, confusion, and a restless search for answers. The voices of teenagers and their parents, protected from anonymity, deepen the understanding of this mental health crisis.