A Sobering Thought
Warning: The following blog discusses the subject of teen suicide which may be triggering to some readers.
It was a Saturday afternoon. My wife and I had been out for most of the afternoon getting our hair cut, shopping for yarn and soaps, and grocery shopping. After we got home with our groceries and dinner (because, really, who cooks after buying a bunch of groceries?) and we turned on the evening news.
On the evening news, there was a story about a candlelight vigil being held in Elkhart, IN for a 12-year-old girl named Rio who was taken way too soon. Even sadder still, the young girl took her own life after dealing with constant bullying from her classmates because of her alopecia, a medical condition that causes hair loss.
In the news story, the mother, Nicole Ball, discussed how cruel the students were as they would pull Rio’s wig off of her head and smack her in the head.
My daughter is 11.
According to the article, the young Ms. Rio was a bright and talented child that enjoyed writing and herald as a good friend with an infectious laugh.
I turned to my three school-aged children and pointed to this story as the reason I was so protective over them and forever encouraged them to discuss any issues they may be having at school.
Just the day before this, a friend of mine was discussing bullying at her daughter’s school. To my understanding, the bullying was sparked by a school project her daughter was assigned. For this, her daughter is being called a racist (the project warranted the use of the word ‘nergo’) and is being threatened.
Mrs. Ball believes the school failed her daughter. My friend believes the school is failing her daughter. I would tend to agree.
With four total children of my own, I cannot begin to fathom the pain felt by parents that have endured the death of a child. This is amplified when you consider children who are the victim of murder, whether it's at the hands of law enforcement, gang violence, enraged family, deranged friends, or circumstances that led to the child being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is furthered by the idea that your child would be suffering so greatly internally, that they would take their own life.
Curious, I wanted to look for other stories about teen suicides to really get a grasp on the true range of this growing problem.
I came across a story from El Paso, TX. In April of 2020, Michelle Tennen buried her husband due to complications with a chronic illness. While obviously painful for her, her daughter, Charley Tennen, seemed to take it much harder. Michelle Tennen said that her daughter would say to her, “I want to die. I want to be with Daddy.”
Michelle, as any loving parent would do, reached out for help. She reached out to doctors, teachers, family, and friends. Sadly, despite her efforts, in July of 2020, Charley would end her own life.
Another story out of Miami County, Ohio tells of Julie Gillespie and her son Liam, who died of suicide in 2015. It’s thought that he suffered from suicidal thoughts as a side effect of his Attention Deficit Disorder medication. The young man was a scout leader, an athlete, and a youth leader at his church.
[ While there was no GoFundMe account for Liam, I'm linking the story from the Dayton Daily News where his mother shared her story HERE ]
This problem is not exclusive to the United States. In London, England, 14-year-old Molly Russell, after enjoying an evening laughing and watching TV with her family, ended her life that night after viewing images related to self-harm via Instagram.
And just as this problem isn’t exclusive to the US, my hometown of Louisville, Ky is not immune to this plague. In January of 2019, ten-year-old Seven Bridges committed suicide while his mother, Tami Charles, was away at the store. She suspected the bullying her son endured because of a birth deficit that required him to have a colostomy bag. The young Mr. Seven dealt with everything from teasing to physical attacks.
The common thread that I found in these and other tragic stories of young people taking their own lives surrounds mental health. All of these children were driven to such a headspace, they felt that death would be their only escape from pain. All the children here had family and friends involved in their lives. The parents did what they could to help and many are working to help other children who may be suffering the same way.
According to kidsdata.org, in 2019, 6,500 youths between the ages of 5 and 24 committed suicide in the United States. Of that 6,500, 2,210 were between the ages of 15 and 19. 546 between 5 and 14.
I feel like this is the part where I say something to the effect of, “So, what can be done to prevent this from happening? Here’s the answer:” and as much as I’d love to manifest a solution from my Great Moon mind, I don’t have one. I don’t know what to do.
As I mentioned before, I have children in this age range. I have two sons, ages 5 and 8, and I have the aforementioned, 11-year-old daughter and I can’t help but think that she’s between the ages of Seven Bridges and Rio Allred. Both of my sons have come home this school year with complaints of bullying including teasing and threats of attack. I, like any parent, would worry about the pain that my kids withhold from me. I talk to my kids about issues at school and give advice regularly in hopes of keeping the lines of trust and communication open so that I may stop those negative thoughts from manifesting into tragic and irreversible actions. My wife communicates any concerns with their assistant principal and we maintain a relationship with their teachers. What else is there to do but to pray that the well-laid plans work.
I don’t know how I planned to end this. I suppose the only purpose that this can serve is to remind ALL parents that these are conversations that we all need to have. Whether it’s what to do about a bully or how not to be a bully.
Or maybe the conversation is one we need to have with ourselves. We all know how adults behave in public when things don’t go quite our way. We’ve all witnessed someone place themselves on a pedestal when they see someone they’ve deemed inferior. Even worse, we’ve seen how grown adults behave when they feel protected by the Shield of Anonymity that we call the Internet and Social Media. People believe there is no harm in a “mean tweet”, but we can see in the story of Channing Smith, a 16-year-old from Tennessee, who took his own life after two classmates publicly shared explicit texts between himself and another young boy, that a “mean tweet” or “just a prank” can impact a person far worse than expected
Hana Kimura, age 22, was a professional wrestler who committed suicide after being bombarded with hateful messages online, is another example of how someone who felt invincible behind their keyboard with their identity hidden on the other side of a monitor could affect a person, a total stranger to them, in such a way that death felt like their solution to a problem that wouldn’t otherwise be present.
[ There is a page set up with the United Nations Population Fund about Hana and Cyberbullying and its impact. CLICK HERE. It's also worth exploring ]
To anyone who is reading this: We are the only ones who can make the moves to prevent these tragedies from continuing. How we behave and what behavior we allow around us and our children has a grand impact on what they accept from others and how they choose to handle uncomfortable situations. We must set the tone. We must do this for Rio, for Charley, for Molly, for Liam, for Seven, for Channing, for Hana, for your kids, and mine. For all the kids we know and all the kids we will never meet. Let’s all work to change accepted behavior, both private and public, so we will never have to use the term “teen suicide again.
If you ever need help, please reach out. There are people who care. If you have no one to turn to, please contact the people at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Also, you can visit any Emergency Room and ask for help and they will get you in touch with the proper professionals. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Do not feel shame for seeking counseling. Everyone needs help at some point.