How Matt Richtel spoke to adolescents and their parents for this series
In mid-April, I used to be talking to the mother of a suicidal teenager whose struggles I’ve been closely following. I asked how her daughter was doing.
Not well, the mother said: “If we are able to’t find something drastic to assist this kid, this kid won’t be here long run.” She began to cry. “It’s out of our hands, it’s out of our control,” she said. “We’re trying every part.”
She added: “It’s like waiting for the top.”
Over nearly 18 months of reporting, I got to know many adolescents and their families and interviewed dozens of doctors, therapists and experts within the science of adolescence. I heard wrenching stories of pain and uncertainty. From the outset, my editors and I discussed how best to handle the identities of individuals in crisis.
The Times sets a high bar for granting sources anonymity; our stylebook calls it “a final resort” for situations where necessary information can’t be published some other way. Often, the sources might face a threat to their profession and even their safety, whether from a vindictive boss or a hostile government.
On this case, the necessity for anonymity had a distinct imperative: to guard the privacy of young, vulnerable adolescents. They’ve harmed themselves and attempted suicide, and a few have threatened to try again. In recounting their stories, we needed to be mindful that our first duty was to their safety.
If The Times published the names of those adolescents, they could possibly be easily identified years later. Would that harm their employment opportunities? Would a teen — a legal minor — later regret having exposed his or her identity during a period of pain and struggle? Would seeing the story published amplify ongoing crises?
Consequently, some teenagers are identified by first initial only; a few of their parents are identified by first name or initial. Over months, I got to know M, J and C, and in Kentucky, I got here to know struggling adolescents I identified only by their ages, 12, 13 and 15. In some stories, we didn’t publish precisely where the families lived.
Everyone I interviewed gave their very own consent, and fogeys were typically present for the interviews with their adolescents. On just a few occasions, a parent offered to go away the room, or an adolescent asked for privacy and the parent agreed.
In these articles, I heard grief, confusion and a desperate seek for answers. The voices of adolescents and their parents, while shielded by anonymity, deepen an understanding of this mental health crisis.