Yesterday, in my hometown of Buffalo, NY, a 14-year-old boy took his own life, allegedly because of bullying at his high school. You can read the Buffalo News story here:
This little boy, Jamey, had been struggling with his sexuality for some time and was verbally attacked by some members of his school community after he came out. It seems, however, that he also had a huge network of friends and family who supported and loved him. Jamey had also posted a video to the It Gets Better project, an organization aimed at helping LGBTQ youth (and anyone struggling with bullying) to know that it’s better in the long run to be yourself in spite of what the schoolyard bullies say or do. In his video, Jamey (13 years old at the time) talks about all the love and support he had when he came out as bisexual and tells the viewers “just be yourself, and you’re set.” Less than a year later, he was found dead by his own hand. What happened?
What’s most disturbing to me in this story is not the bullying. Bullying is an age-old problem that certainly needs fixing, but it’s not, to me, the scariest part of Jamey’s story. When we talk about suicides, we usually speak in terms of a support network that the victim was unaware of or didn’t take advantage of. The outpouring of support for the victim and his family after the fact comes too late to save the suicide. Jamey, however, seems to have been fully aware of all the people in his life who cared for him and wanted to see him live and succeed. He speaks in his video about how loved he is and how the good people in his life outweigh the bullies. Interviews in the Buffalo News article from his mother and school social workers indicate that he was getting professional help in dealing with the bullying and his emerging sexuality (despite the school social worker’s dodge about not having enough resources). He talked to his parents, and he had a solid group of friends. He’s a textbook suicide prevention case–so why is he still dead today? And what should his story be telling us about the way we identify and prevent suicidal thoughts in children?
I don’t have the answers, but I put the questions out there as something to think about. Why, despite all of our advanced medical care and our progress in identifying and treating mental illness and our schools’ bullying prevention programs and our support of and affirmation for minority communities–why are there still children taking their own lives? And what can we do about it?