One morning in November, 12-year-old Mohammed snuck out of his house, climbed to the roof of his two-story building, and jumped.
While the boy’s behavior had changed in recent months, “we didn’t think things would escalate to this,” his father Abu Mohammed tells Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani.
“He was very quiet, but ambitious and full of dreams for the future,” his father says. “The siege denied him everything.”
Mohammed is one of at least a dozen children and young adults in Madaya who attempted suicide this year, Save the Children reported in September.
The report attributes the rise in suicide attempts, virtually nonexistent before the war, to the negative psychological effects of Madaya's air-tight encirclement that began in July 2015.
“The pressure of living under these conditions for years on end without respite is too much to bear, especially for children,” said Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria director, in the same report.
Abu Mohammed says he is terrified that his son, who is now stubborn and violent, will attempt suicide again.
“Rest in Peace,” by Farah Ali. Photo courtesy of Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution.
“I’m frantic with worry about my boy. I never let him out of my sight because I’m afraid he’ll try to kill himself again.”
Abu Mohammed, Madaya resident. His 12-year-old son Mohammed tried to commit suicide one month ago
Q: Describe Mohammed before the siege. What were his hobbies? What was his personality like?
Mohammed was completely different. He absolutely loved going to school and learning, playing with his friends and doing sports. He was very quiet, but ambitious and full of dreams for the future. He was joyful and compassionate. He was an amazing kid.
Q: How have the war and siege of Madaya affected Mohammed’s personality and behavior? How has he changed?
He really changed. He lost everything that he loved to the siege, especially school, which was the most important thing to him. His big dreams for the future have been reduced to a simple wish for a glass of milk and a biscuit in the morning.
[Ed.: Mohammed, whose school is located outside of Madaya, has not attended class since the siege was imposed in 2015. His father did not say why he has not enrolled in a school in Madaya.]
The siege denied Mohammed of everything. As a result, he became irritable, and stubborn. He stopped listening to his mother and even to me. He has a six-year-old sister who is cross-eyed. He used to be warm and affectionate towards her, but now he forcefully hits her. He’s violent and has frenzied outbursts.
The siege transformed my son into another person. He’s doing very badly, and I’m extremely worried.
Q: Did you ever suspect that Mohammed was suicidal?
We noticed changes in his personality, but we didn’t think things would escalate to this. My wife and I never expected that he would try to kill himself because he’s so young.
Q: What happened the day your son tried to commit suicide? Where were you? How did you find out?
About a month ago, I woke up early and left the house to gather firewood for cooking. Mohammed was at home with his mother and two sisters.
At one point he went outside, without anyone noticing, and climbed to the top of our two-story building. Then he hurled his small body to the ground.
His mother heard screams and rushed outside to where neighbors were gathered. She was swept up by a whirlwind of shock, fear and tears. She couldn’t believe that Mohammed jumped off the roof.
When I came home, I heard the news and was stunned—it was the biggest shock of my life. I raced to the hospital. Mohammed was in a coma, which lasted for an entire week. He didn’t recognize anyone; he had lost his memory.
Even though Mohammed is no longer in a coma, I’m still in shock. Every time I imagine what happened that day, I get chills. Fear, helplessness and despair grip me, and I try to erase the image from my head. I hope that God won’t allow this to happen again.
Q: How is Mohammed doing now? How are you encouraging him that life is still worth living? Considering the war and the siege, do you really believe what you are saying?
His condition breaks my heart. He wants to leave Madaya. I don’t know what I can do. Every time I speak with him, he gets agitated, angry, and begins to yell. He no longer accepts my words, as if he knows that I’m lying to myself. I can’t evacuate him. I can’t help my son leave.
I hope someone will hear me. I hope my story will reach international humanitarian organizations that will help evacuate Mohammed. Are you able to help?
I’m frantic with worry about my boy. I never let him out of my sight because I’m afraid he’ll try to kill himself again.
Q: Are there any psychological services available in Madaya? Can your son be treated?
No. We have two dentists and a veterinarian—my son needs a psychologist.
Q: Is your community supportive? Can you speak openly with residents about Mohammed?
Poverty and hunger have exhausted us. Everyone is physically and mentally drained; we don’t have the energy to support one another. All anyone cares about is finding strength to live through another day.
For this reason, I don’t feel supported by the community.
Q: Before the war, did people speak openly about suicide? Can you talk openly about Mohammed with other Madaya residents?
Suicide wasn’t widespread in Madaya before the war, and I never heard anyone talk about it. But this intense siege has put immense pressure on people, some of whom have attempted suicide as a result. Just last week, a young man killed himself.
Life before the siege was amazing. We had everything. We could go to Damascus or any other city in Syria to get whatever we needed.
But now, all people talk about is hunger, sickness and the ghost of death that won’t leave us.