A 12-year-old boy took his own life by hanging himself in his bedroom after Covid lockdowns made him feel ‘sad and lonely.’ His body was discovered by his little sister, Kinlee who was only 8 years old at the time. Hayden Hunstable, who lives in Aledo, Texas, tragically killed himself in April 2020, just three days before his thirteenth birthday.
The heartbroken father, Brad, still remembers the ‘horrific’ moment he found himself trying to save his son’s life. ‘Covid killed my son. I think Hayden would still be alive today if Covid had never happened,’ he said. Brad, who has been sharing the story of his son’s death, hopes to raise awareness about mental health and prevent future suicides.
The father of two other children said he wasn’t aware of Hayden’s depression and says there were no warning signs of his suicidal mental state. ‘I had no idea he was struggling or depressed, he was such a happy kid and loved his friends and family.
‘But Covid is a perfect storm for suicide and depression. I think everything just got on top of him, he felt overwhelmed and he made a tragic decision.
‘On April 17 our water went out at the house and my dad came over, Hayden helped us fix it. It was a beautiful sunny day and I gave him a hug and a kiss on the head.
‘Then when my dad left there was just me, Kinlee and Hayden at home. There was only a 30 minute window, Hayden had gone upstairs.
‘Then my daughter ran downstairs and said Hayden has hung himself. I ran up there, pulled him down and tried to save him. I performed CPR but I couldn’t save him. He was gone. I saw something horrific that day and I don’t wish it upon anybody. I still get nightmares about it.’
Hayden, who loved going to school and seeing his friends was hit hard by the pandemic lockdowns, which prevented him from doing those things. The young boy also took a strong dislike to virtual learning when his school shutdown in March, and Brad said he thinks the separation from his friends coupled with his struggle with homeschooling led to Hayden feeling down.
But Brad believes Hayden’s ‘tragic impulse decision’ may have been triggered by an accident at home involving his brand new computer monitor. Brad, who is married to April, said: ‘He loved football and he loved being around people, he was very social.
‘He was a little guy but he had the heart of a lion. He was beloved by his friends and family. We got him a big curved monitor for Christmas in 2019, just before lockdown, and he loved it. But he broke it by accident, he did something bad on a game, got frustrated and threw his controller. It hit the monitor right in the middle.
‘We told him he would not get another one, but then lockdown hit and I told him he would have to work to get a new one. He did some chores around the house and we got him a cheaper one in April because it was his birthday on April 21st and he wanted to play with his friends. Because of Covid he couldn’t have a party so we got him a monitor for that.
‘Then when the police were investigating after April 17, they found out he broke his monitor again, right in the corner. I don’t know if he was scared about getting into trouble of anxious about not being able to speak to his friends and ruining his birthday. He either did it in impulsive anger or he got himself in a situation he couldn’t get out of.’
Brad regrets never having had a proper conversation with his children about their mental health or how to deal with depression. He believes if Hayden was taught what depression is and how to beat it, he may have been able to seek help that could have saved his life.
As a result, Brad launched an organization in Hayden’s name – called Hayden’s Corner – set up to encourage parents to talk to their children about mental health and how to deal with their feelings. He has made it his personal mission to help prevent what he thinks will be a ‘mental health tsunami’ brought on by the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, Brad also made a short film on the subject called Almost 13, which shares Hayden’s story and discusses how to help kids live positively.
Brad said: ‘I am on a mission to solve youth suicide. Parents need to have conversations with their kids about their feelings. We need to talk to kids about suicide and talk to kids about how to deal with depression. Kids get depressed and they need to be taught how to deal with their problems. I believe there is a mental health tsunami coming. We need to save this generation.’
Brad also went on to say that Hayden’s story has already helped many parents and their children in the US and across the world. He has paid tribute to Hayden as a ‘hero’ and hopes his son’s legacy will lead to a reduction, no matter how big or small, in youth suicide rates.
Brad said: ‘He was my best friend, we were buddies. I still cry every day and I can’t change what happened. I don’t want anyone else to go through this so I want to try to save other people.
‘Hayden is a hero because I think he has already saved so many people across the world. I just hope I can do him justice.’
Raising Mental Health Awareness
The ongoing stress, fear, grief, and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic can wear anyone down. Young children and teenagers are no exceptions. In fact, they may be having an especially tough time coping with this situation. If you’re worried that your child may be struggling with depression, here are some things you can do right now to help.
1. Try to open up a conversation about what’s going on. You might start by letting them know that you’ve noticed they don’t seem very happy at the moment, voicing your concerns in a caring and non-judgmental way. You can find more tips on starting a conversation with your child here.
2. Listen and provide emotional support. Try not to ask too many questions, come up with quick solutions or gloss over their sadness. Empathise with how they’re feeling – letting them know they can talk to you as often and for as long as they need to.
3. Try again another day if they don’t want to talk. Finding it difficult to talk or reach out is often a part of feeling low or depressed – and it can be especially difficult for young people to talk about these kinds of feelings. Let them know you’re there when they’re ready to talk.
4. Think together about whether there’s anything in particular that’s making them feel this way. This could include a problem with a friendship or family relationship, feeling bullied or left-out at school, feeling overwhelmed by school work, struggling with a change such as divorce or separation in the family, or a combination of things. Are there changes that could be made at home or school that would make things easier?
5. If they don’t feel able to talk to you, encourage them to speak to someone else – while reassuring them that you’ll still be there. Let them know about the phone, webchat, email and text support they can access from the services listed at the end of this guide.
6. Support them to keep routines, activities and connections with other people going as much as possible. Make opportunities for seeing friends and family, and encourage them to do the things they enjoy – whether that’s exercising, listening to music, doing something creative like colouring or drawing, watching a favourite film, reading a favourite book or going for a walk with you.
7. Help them to do the daily things that support our wellbeing. This includes getting up at a regular time, eating regular meals, doing exercise, drinking water, spending quality time with loved ones and getting enough sleep.
8. Reassure them. Let them know you love them, these feelings won’t last forever, and that you can find support to help things feel better.
9. Don’t ignore worrying signs, hoping they’ll go away. Trust your gut feeling – you know when something’s just not right.
10. Seek professional help if you’re worried about your child’s mental health. Some children and young people will need professional and specialist help to feel better. They may benefit from a specific diagnosis or a treatment such as talking therapy. You can find more information about this below.
What are the symptoms of depression?
While every young person is different and will express their feelings differently, your child may be feeling depressed if they are:
- withdrawing, or avoiding friends or social situations
- finding it hard to concentrate, or losing interest in schoolwork
- not wanting to do things they previously enjoyed
- feeling irritable or angry
- feeling tearful, miserable, lonely or hopeless
- feeling empty or numb
- being very self-critical
- sleeping more or less than normal
- eating more or less than normal
- feeling tired or not having any energy
- wanting to self-harm
For more information, support and advice on suicide prevention visit the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 800-273-8255.