Jason Reid
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It was March 21, 2018. I was in Mexico with my wife celebrating her birthday. We had just finished a wonderful dinner. We were talking about our great live with our kids and the next phase of our lives as our kids are getting older. It was 11:03 p.m. when the text message came in. My wife screamed. I tumbled on my phone and read the text, it ended with "Sorry. Love you. Bye." I freaked out, and I called the house. I woke up my mother-in-law, and I yelled, "Find Ryan!" She ran into the house, and she finally found him. He was in the attic. She screamed - it will be in my head forever. She said, "Jay, he hung himself!" The next couple of hours was a blur. There was text messages and phone calls and ambulances and police and doctors. They revived him and they brought him down to Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego. That started what was supposed to be a three-hour journey, that became a 15-hour-nightmare as we tried to make our way back to San Diego. Ryan was in a medically induced coma for the next three days. The doctors and nurses did the wonderful job of trying to balance hope with reality, but at the end the CAT scan showed that he was brain dead. We were able to spend the next 36 hours with him, saying our goodbyes. I actually got to watch our favorite TV show, the last three episodes of it, where I had one earbud in mine and one in his. My oldest son snuck in with a bottle of wine the last night, and we toasted with Ryan while we hid the bottle from the nurses and doctors. The next day, they came to get us, and they brought us to a special place in the hospital where we all surrounded him, and they took him off life support. We watched as whatever life was left in his body drifted away, and the color of his skin turned to ash. And they pronounced him dead. I want you to imagine a world where disease exist that is attacking our children, where half a million get so sick they come close to death, and where 5,000 die every year. What would you do as a parent to protect your children? What would be on CNN 24/7? What would they be talking about? And what would be blowing up all over social media? I want you to imagine that world because that world exists. Depression is that disease. It's the number two killer of our children. It, too often, ends in suicide. And depression is a disease that we do not talk about like it's a disease. We don't treat it the same way as we treat cancer. We treat it as something you're supposed to shake off and then you'll be fine, or maybe it doesn't exist. It's almost like we're in the dark ages, where you don't want to tell people what's going on in your family or your friends because you're afraid that they might judge you. Well, on March 26, 2018, that disease took my son. How was that for a cold opener? You know, even in the darkness, there is this light, there are funny things that happen. I'm going to share a couple with you, and you can laugh if you want, it's okay. I was in such a rush! I got home that afternoon; I wanted to start a foundation, to change things, because that's the kind of guy I am. So I said, "Choose life." That's what everybody should do, they should choose life, and Chooselife.org was available. So I bought it; I didn't know why it was $10,000, I just paid it. Then I got some rubber wristbands that said "Choose Life" on them, and I'm ready to go. The next week, a buddy of mine says, "Hey Jay, you know that's the old anti-abortion website from the eighties?" I'm like, "Oh!" (Laughter) And that was the first $12,000 I spent. (Laughter) Ryan texted all of us ... at 11:03. He had them all pre-done, including my daughter's boyfriend. He said some really nice things; he said, "If you are not nice to my sister, I will come back and haunt you, Mister." Now, even I feel bad for that kid. (Laughter) My daughter, on the other hand, she thinks it's awesome. Ryan researched everything. That's the kind of kid he was. In his suicide note, he talked about the different ways he planned on doing this. One of the ways, he said, was to throw himself out of my attic office window, but then he said, "You know, I'm only 76 pounds, I was afraid my clothes would act as a parachute." And that was Ryan. So if I'm sitting in the audience right now, I'd be going, "Jay, this is a tragic story." And yeah, it is a tragic story. But I'd be thinking: "That would not happen to me. I know my kids." Well, I thought I knew my kids too. Let me introduce you to my family: my wife Kim, 25 years of marriage, stay-at-home mom doted on our kids every day; my 21-year-old son Derek; my daughter Ashlynn; my 17-year-old son Kyle; and Ryan, my youngest. I wrote the Protector Bug books for Ryan, stories I would make up and tell him as a kid. As a family, dinners were our thing. We would sit around the dinner table for hours and talk, and funny things would happen. There'd be no computers, no phones, none of that, right? Funny things would happen that I turned into a book called "Dinner Conversations" to try to encourage other families to spend more time together. I took all my kids on individual "only-with-dad" trips. Ryan and I were working on his trip to Boston that was supposed to take place in June, and his next year's trip to Dubai, a week before he killed himself. This is Ryan. This is how I remember Ryan: a happy kid who could light up a room. That's what he wore until he was almost 13. At some point, he changed. Thirteen, I feel he is a little bit more withdrawn. As I look back on it I see it, I didn't see it then. He is a little more quiet, more grumpy. I thought he was just another grumpy teenager, I have four! I thought that's all it was. After Ryan passed, I was going through his room and up in his drawers, and the top right hand drawer was empty except for two notes, two sticky notes. One note said, "Here is my username and passwords." The other said, "Tell my story." That's what I'm doing. So if I'm you I'm going, "Okay, Jay, now what do you want me to do?" Well, I'm going to give you a few things that I think we should do. We have to first realize that we're living in a world and parenting in the way our parents used to parent us, but the world has changed. Suicide amongst teenagers is up 70% since 2006, and Facebook started in 2004. I'm not blaming social media. I don't want to get into a battle with every PhDs about causation versus correlation, I'm not going to do it. I'm just saying the world has changed, and we haven't changed. Our kids are bombarded with social media, and so much more stimulus than they ever were when we were kids. I was bullied as a kid. I was sickly. I was an easy target. But you know what happened? At 3 p.m. everyday when that bell went off, I went home to a very safe place where the bullies could not reach me. For kids these days, the bell never rings. And I'm sorry, but the bullies are in the room with them for 24/7. And the cool kids who sit at the lunch table? Well now, they're not at the lunch table, they're in your room, and they still won't let you join. So we need to understand our kids' social media. We need to understand who their so called "friends" are, who are they following. We need to understand that for some kids - not all kids, but for some - it's too much. Your need to make sure your kids understand that everyone else's life is not better than theirs, and that the real fake news is that Instagram post they just looked at. Second thing you want to do is to watch for change. What was your child like three years ago, two years ago, one year ago, whatever the time frame is? Are they different? Are they more withdrawn? Are they more quiet? Are they more combative? Are they arguing with you more? Are they not hanging out with their friends? If you see change you need to address it, and you need to get them talking. And when you say, "Hey, how are you feeling?" and they go, "I'm fine... Yeah, I'm okay," and your gut says, "No you're not," you can't take "Yes, I'm okay" for an answer. I took "Yes, I'm okay" for an answer. We need to get them talking, and part of getting them talking is to be approachable as a parent. Ryan likely saw me ... as a CEO, as an entrepreneur, as an author, as an iron man who's a black belt, a guy who'd get anything done - you give me any problem, I'll solve it - a guy who never, ever complained, and above all never cried. He saw that of me because that's the image I showed him. That's the image I thought as a dad I was supposed to show (Choking) my son. What did Ryan show me? The same thing, a kid who had his act together, good grades, always smiling, always happy. I wish I was more vulnerable with my son. I wish I shared with him my fears and my concerns, and what I was afraid of, and maybe, just maybe, he would have shared that with me. I spent so much time trying to be my son's hero, that I missed out on being his dad. You know, as parents we want the best for our kids. And sometimes, we want them to toughen up, and we'll say things like, "When getting going is tough, the tough gets going," or, "You think you had it bad? Shake it off, you're going to be fine." And you know what? Some of you are going, "Jay, they need that." I'm like, "Yes, some of them do. Some of them do." But in those kids who are truly depressed, in those kids who are truly sick, that doesn't help. And yes, I probably said some of those things. I have parents who tell me, "Jay, you want me to go talk to my kids. You want me to say, 'Have you ever thought of hurting yourself? Have you ever thought about suicide?' I can't do that, Jay, because I don't want to put that idea in their head." Well, the reality is that idea is already in their head. Not talking about it is the problem. Not talking about suicide with your kids, not talking about hurting themselves, is most likely not talking about the elephant in the room. The only way to help this is to get them to talk. Next thing I want you to understand, and this is hard for me, is that people who are depressed, kids who are depressed do not see the world through the same lens that we do. On the sunniest of days, when the sun is shining and there's not a cloud in the sky, they will still see gray skies. And we don't get that. Those of us who have never been depressed will never understand that. My journey started on March 21, in Mexico. It brought me to this stage. And the next phase of what I'm going to do is a documentary film called "Tell my story," about teen suicide, In hopes that I can get all of you to see it a little differently. So what can you do? Well, I want you to take action now. You need to understand that suicide is at an epidemic level, amongst teenagers today. You need to pay attention to their social media. You need to look for change, and if they change, you have to address them, talk to them. Be their parent, not their hero. Talk to them, make sure they know it's okay to feel sad. Realize that they see the world through a different lens. And if you're worried, get them to talk to a mental health professional. Half a million kids a year try to commit suicide, and 5000 succeed. We need to change that. I need you to go home and hug your kids. And ask them how they feel, not in the tummy, but in their hearts and their minds. I need you to get them talking, and don't just take "yes" for an answer. Don't take "Yes, I'm okay" for an answer, but dig deeper. One more thing. It's kind of like a superhero movie, and you think I was done, but I'm not quite done. People ask me, as I've been doing this, "Jay, this must be really healing for you to go through and prepare this talk?" The answer is no. Over the last 60 days, I've had to relive my son's death at least a thousand times. There is nothing healing about this. So why am I doing it? I'm doing it because Ryan ... (Crying) Ryan asked me to. And I'm doing it in hopes that at least one of you, maybe a whole bunch more of you, will go and have that conversation with your kids that will change their lives and save someone. And I need your help because I can't change this world by myself, and this world needs to change. I need you to start the conversation, and I need you to share this talk with anybody and everybody you know. Thank you. (Applause)