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Let's work together against bullying and help bring the teen suicide rate down to zero

Archive for February 2012

More on the Chardon Tragedy

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Sadly, a third student has lost his life after yesterday’s shooting at an Ohio high school.  As expected, as the story continues to unfold, details are emerging, and it’s a tightly wound ball of confusion.  According to a published report today, the prosecutor, David Joyce, says that bullying wasn’t a factor in the shooting, that Thomas “TJ” Lane has admitted to taking the .22 caliber gun, and a knife, into the school Monday morning and randomly shooting his victims.  Yet, in an article also released just today, “students say Thomas was shy and targeted by bullies.”  Again, the pieces of this puzzle are still being sorted and spread across the kitchen table as authorities try to put it all together.

In the court of public opinion, the pendulum has swayed from the “bullying must end” sentiment to the “he’s an animal” wrath.  The bullying card is apparently still in the deck.  And, with all due respect to the victims and their families, (and, with my deepest sympathies and sincerest condolences), the early indication is that TJ is not “an animal”, either.  Rather, there are apparent deep-rooted mental health issues in play here.

What is emerging is that Thomas Lane is a troubled young man.  Tumultuous family life, with his parents divorcing when he was young, and his father spending substantial time behind bars for abusing women, amongst other things, including TJ’s mother.  One of the things that was pointed out from the beginning was that Lane had been looking into information about depression.  Did he WANT help but couldn’t find it?  That answer is yet to come.

I return to my original assertion that somebody, ANYBODY!, should’ve taken his tweets from the previous day seriously.  He allegedly tweeted that he was going to “bring a gun to school”.  No one took him seriously.  If any one person would’ve, this could’ve been prevented.  Would’ve, could’ve.  But, it goes beyond even that.  According to news reports, and as stated in the original post, Lane had posted dark status updates to his facebook page that, again, apparently no one paid attention to.  Gregg Jantz, a psychologist and mental health author from Seattle, says that Lane’s Facebook post from December should have triggered a red flag with any adult who saw it.

“That kind of writing is warning sign of an impending disaster,” Jantz told The Huffington Post. “We don’t need anything more. He was forecasting his struggles right there.”

If we are to avoid tragedies like Chardon High School, if we’re to start preventing teen suicides, it’s absolutely essential that we pay close attention to what’s being said.  And, done.  There ARE warning signs.  It is imperative that every one of us pay attention to the red flags as they pop up.  And, they will pop up.

I posted this link in an earlier blog post about depression:  I think this would be a very effective tool for educating about depression.  I believe this program should be implemented in every school across the country, and around the world.  There’s no way to have enough tools available to fight what’s going on with today’s youth.  That said, I strongly encourage every one to push to get this program implemented in your local schools.  If you’re parents, if you have younger siblings, if you have friends who could be at risk, wouldn’t you feel better knowing that everyone in their school is being educated about depression and how to deal with it?  I know it would certainly give me a little peace of mind.  It’s also a valuable tool to have in the home.  Home is absolutely where all of this begins.  Unfortunately, “home” failed Thomas Lane.  And, as a result, three families must struggle to make sense of the madness that claimed their loved one’s life.  As a result, the small community of Chardon, Ohio has been changed forever.

Rest in peace:

  • Daniel Parmertor
  • Russell King, Jr.
  • Demetrius Hewlin

Written by Ron Kemp

February 29, 2012 at 9:10 am

Massacre in Chardon, Ohio

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This morning, in a sleepy town 30 mile east of Cleveland, Ohio, 17-year-old Thomas “TJ” Lane opened fire on some of his high school classmates, injuring five.  One of the five was fatally wounded.  There’s an unconfirmed report that a second victim has also died.  It has been reported on a Cleveland news channel although no details were given.  Yet another of the victims is still in critical condition.

Initially, the reports were that “TJ” had been bullied by this group of students that he obviously targeted in his rampage.  I personally heard a news report that said that the alleged gunman confessed to stealing the handgun from his uncle and that he’d been “picked on” and bullied by this group for a long time.  Conversely, there was this quote from one of his fellow students:  “Even though he was quiet, he still had friends,” said Tyler Lillash, 16. “He was not bullied.”  I will add here that in a recent suicide, there were those who admonished that, despite what I’d reported, the victim was not bullied when, in fact, he had been.

What’s harrowing about this great, life-changing tragedy is that the warning signs were in place.  Reportedly, TJ posted on his twitter just last night that “I’m bringing a gun to school”.  And, as a response to that, as a Washington, D.C. news outlet reported, one boy tweeted that he’d probably be one of the first ones to get shot because he’d always been mean to [TJ].  Lots of unanswered questions.  What is known is that there has been a dark side to TJ that has gone unchecked.  A check of his facebook account suggested that he, himself, was interested in learning more about clinical depression.  I’ve been saying for a while that it’s so vital that we as adults pay attention to what’s being said.  No one took TJ seriously when he tweeted about bringing a gun to school.  No one paid attention to the dark posts he made on his facebook page or that he was looking to learn more about depression.  Now, there’s one confirmed death in this unfortunate event and unconfirmed reports of a second.  If someone, ANYONE!, had paid attention and taken that tweet or facebook posts seriously, 16-year-old Daniel Parmertor may still be alive today.

If it’s, in fact, true that Thomas Lane had been bullied, this wouldn’t be the first time that the bullied took matters into his own hands rather than commit suicide.  Just recently, a Florida youth was found not guilty in the murder of a teen who had allegedly been bullying him.  In 2001, I followed the story of a young man who had been bullied at his Maryland school.  His father moved him to a San Diego suburb to get him away from the torment.  However, the bullying continued there as well.  He took a gun to school and killed two of his bullies.  As with Lane, this young man had told someone the day before that he was going to take a gun to school.  He wasn’t taken seriously.  As a result, three young lives were lost:  two boys lost their lives, and the shooter will spend the rest of his life in prison.

If bullying was, indeed, the driving force behind this, there cannot be louder wake-up call.  What that would clearly indicate would be that not only are we losing young lives to bullying because of suicides but also because, in cases like this one, the one in Florida, and the one in the San Diego suburb, sometimes the bully, themselves, pay the ultimate price with their own lives.  In either case, it’s an unthinkable tragedy, one that can be prevented.

What can we do to prevent life-altering events such as what happened in Ohio today from happening again?  There’s a laundry list of things that needs to be done to prevent this from happening again:

  • BULLYING MUST BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY!  It’s a serious issue that is claiming lives at a break-neck pace.  NO LONGER is “boys will be boys” or “kids will be kids” acceptable.
  • Listen to what these young people are saying.  Remember:  hearing and listening are two completely different functions.  In far too many cases, these troubled young people are screaming out at the top of their lungs, like Andy Williams did in San Diego, but no one listens to them.  So, to get their troubled voices heard, they act out.  The result of that action is rarely good.
  • Pay attention to the mental health of your child or even a troubled young person you may know from your neighborhood or through your own child.  I’m no professional, but I would bet that very rarely do events like we witnessed today happen out-of-the-blue.  There are always warning signs.  We have to pay attention, however, in order to see them.
  • Understand that bullying and depression can be a disastrous combination.  It was that combination that claimed Jamie Hubley’s life last year.  It was the combination that caused Andy Williams to go on his rampant is the San Diego suburb in 2001.  And, according to early reports, odds are that it played a role today in Chardon, Ohio.

All of this is so very preventable.  What happened in San Diego in March of 2001 didn’t have to happen; what happened in Chardon, Ohio today didn’t have to happen.  Life will never, ever be the same for the people of that small town in northeast Ohio.  The young people who witnessed the horrifying act will see it play out in their mind’s eye for the rest of their lives.  And, as was the case in Santee, California back in 2001, three families have lost their beloved young ones forever.  To the people of Chardon, I wish you godspeed in your recovery and healing.  To the families of the victims, may you find peace.  The world mourns with you

Is There Such Thing as TOO MUCH Emphasis on Teen Suicide?

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Incredible question, right?  Yet, I was recently told just that.  Actually, on one of the social networking pages that I was running, I was booted by the original owner of the page because I was putting too much emphasis on LGBT teen suicides.  TOO MUCH EMPHASIS!?

Research shows, clearly, that LGBT youth attempt suicide up to 4 times as often as their hetero counterparts.  We witness all-too-often another LGBT teen suicide in the news.  That says that there isn’t ENOUGH emphasis being put on the matter.

(as a side note, I was told by the owner of the page that “I’m all for gay-related issues…I have lots of gay friends.”  That’s akin, in my mind, to the old catch phrase “hey, I’m not racist.  I’ve got a black friend.”)

Just in the past month, we’ve seen in the news how certain politicians are attempting to pass bills that would make life even more difficult for LGBT students.  Stacey Campfield, (R) Tennessee, is determined to get his “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed in a district that already has an anti-bullying law in place that excludes discrimination because of sexual orientation.  The teen, and primarily LGBT teen suicide rate in Michele Bachmann’s district got so bad, a national publication thankfully ran a must-read article about it.  There are jurisdictions in this country that are still attempting to pass bills that would sanction the bullying of LGBT teens by adding the language that would permit the bullying if it’s done for “religious, philosophical, or political beliefs.”  That’s amazing in this day and age.  And, I can’t put enough emphasis on the issue of LGBT teen bullying and suicides.

To be fair and see things through her eyes, the owner of the page I was running points out that there’s many different forms of bullying:  bullying in the workplace and domestic violence.  That’s very true.  There IS an issue of bullying in the workplace.  And, domestic violence is very much a serious issue.  Bullying on all levels needs to be addressed.  We have a tendency to be a very mean-spirited people.  My only point, which I stand by, was that mixing all of them together in one place would be awkward, at best.  A community for ending domestic violence?  I’m on board.  Bullying in the workplace?  Sign me up.  Teen, and especially LGBT teen bullying and suicide.  I will die on the front line of that battle.  What rattled me, and rattles me still, was being told that I was putting too much emphasis on the issue.  There’s no such thing as the Easter Bunny; there’s no such thing as the Tooth Fairy; there’s no such thing as too much emphasis on LGBT bullying and suicides.

“Bully”

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There’s a powerful movie coming out in March called “Bully”.  Since this blog pertains to that subject, and its tragic results, I’m sure many people who read this blog are already aware of its impending release.  Judging by the trailer, alone, it’s a must-see movie.  What I’m not sure everyone is aware of is that the MPAA, that autonomous group of people who decides what is appropriate for us to watch, has deemed “Bully” inappropriate for teens to watch without parental supervision.

On the surface, this isn’t a bad thing:  this is one of those movies that parents should watch with their kids so that they can have an open dialogue afterwards.  The problem with the rating is that it assures that the movie will not be screened where it needs to be seen the most:  in the classroom, where the worlds of the bullies and the bullied collide.  The precise audience that really needs to see this won’t be able to unless their mommy or daddy takes the to see it.  Why?  Because, according to MPAA, “Bully” contains strong language.  See, in their world, they still pretend that teens don’t hear, or USE, that kind of language.  I haven’t seen the movie, yet, so I don’t know just how strong the “strong language” is.  However, I would bet that it’s no stronger than anything they’re not already hearing in school.  Or, in some cases, even at home, for that matter.  Does that make it right?  No.  Does it make it reality?  Yes.

Here’s the issue, as I see it:  this is a movie that desperately needs to be viewed in every school across this country and around the world.  The classroom is the perfect “theatre” for this film, for reasons stated earlier.  That’s bringing both sides together on the battlefield in an effort to end the war.  That’s showing the aggressor, the bully, the consequences of his/her deeds.  The impact would be potentially enormous.  Forget the language!  Lives are being lost.

To be sure, two of the five teens featured in this movie have committed suicide already.  That, alone, speaks volumes to the need for this to be viewed, universally, in the classroom.  Perhaps the members of the MPAA aren’t attuned to the severity of the situation.   The Weinstein Group, producers of the movie, has already met with the MPAA in an effort to convince them to reverse their decision.  No dice.  What will it take?  More teen suicides?  The suicide of a teen close to them because of bullying?  I don’t know that answer.  What I do know is that this problem is real.  This is a problem that needs to be addressed.  And, make no mistake:  there are efforts worldwide to address it.  Now, we need people like MPAA to stop putting up roadblocks to slow down the movement.

Too Close to Home

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Those of you who know me know about my surrogate son, Marty.  He’s a wonderful, very sensitive, sometimes obnoxious 22-year-old.  Tonight, I received a panic-laden phone call from him that went like this:

“Ron.  I’ve got a very serious problem, and I don’t know what to do.  My friend, ‘Carol’ just told me that she wants to die and that she took 50 sleeping pills.  What should I do?”

He gets flustered easily.  This time it was warranted.  Being as closely involved with this anti-suicide mission as I’ve been since the onset of this blog paid huge dividends.  I knew exactly what needed to be done.

“You need to get off the phone with me and call the police immediately!  Tell them exactly what you just told me.  Give them all of the information you can about where she is right now.”

Reluctantly, he hung up and followed directions to the “t”.  “Reluctantly” because he didn’t know what to expect from his friend.   “Reluctantly” because dealing with the authorities makes him nervous.  I guess.  Whatever the reservations, he got the job done.  Shortly thereafter, the police called back and told him that they’d contacted his friend Carol and that she’d told them that she was just fine.  This was confusing.

There was also some apprehension on his part because he knows his friend and knows that, well, she’s cried wolf before.  In fact, he became a bit agitated.  I reminded him that “this is not about you; it’s about Carol.  What if she’s telling you the truth?  What if she really did take the pills.  You cannot chance the possibility that she COULD be telling you the truth this time.”

A phone call from her confirmed that she had, indeed, told him the truth.  He could hear the grogginess in her voice.  He called the police again.  This time armed with an address he could give them, they were able to send a squad car to her home.

They reached her before the pills had time to take full affect.  Stomach pumped, Carol is now recovering in a local hospital.  An exhausted, dazed and confused Marty helped save his friend’s life.  Of course, never to miss out on a dramatic moment, now he’s concerned that she’s going to be mad at him when she gets out of the hospital.  He’s concerned that his actions tonight may have ended their friendship.

For myself, this was a learning experience, given up close and personal.  First of all, knowing what to do when you’re faced with an in-the-moment crisis is absolutely crucial.  If someone has already swallowed a bottle of pills, or is standing in front of you with a gun in their hand pointed at their head, there’s no margin for error.  Knowing what to do in the heat of the moment is imperative.  This is why I repeatedly list resources that can be used if ever faced with that situation:

Suicide Support
STOP Teenage Suicide
Befrienders
1-800-273-8255(TALK)

Needless to say, there are more resources available.  However, having these handy will save lives if used.  And, of course, if the urgency is there (as was the case with Carol), dialing 911 is critical.

When do you take a suicide threat as a bluff?  Easy answer:  never.  Even in a case where you know that the person has a history of crying wolf, or is prone to drama, you never know when “this” would be the time when they’re telling the truth.  Had Marty followed his intuition, and his history of dealing with Carol, chances are pretty good that she’d be gone, now.  This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve dealt with someone who raised questions as to whether or not they were being sincere or just having fun at my expense.  However, I treated each case as if they had the loaded Glock pointed at their head as we spoke.  There is no alternative.  We don’t have a choice.

People who have suicidal ideation have no intent or desire to wake up in the hospital.  I surely didn’t.  And, I was quite unhappy to wake up in ICU and learn that a.) I was still here; and, b.) that my sister had saved me.  Unhappy, yes.  Mad at her?  No.  Conversely, I do know that there are times when the unsuccessful suicide victim becomes very angry towards the person(s) who saved them.  They get over it.  Eventually, they come to the understanding that life is good and that they’re glad that someone intervened.  When a person is to the point in their life where the only viable option to them is suicide, they’ve given up all hope for any semblance of a bright future, of being happy, of things actually getting better.  To have someone “ruin” their well-thought out plan of suicide is maddening.  The bright side is that, as time goes on, we start putting the pieces of our lives back together.  All of a sudden, new opportunities arise and we see hope for a brighter future.  We get in touch with things that make us happy…maybe even learn some new things that accomplishes that goal.  Little-by-little, things actually do start to get better.  And, that’s when we realize how happy, and grateful, we are that someone had the courage to risk our relationship for that sake of saving our life.

It probably won’t set in with Marty for quite some time the role he played tonight in Carol’s life.  Without him, her family would most likely be making funeral arrangements right now.  Because of him, they’ve possibly been saved, even if only for now, from a lifetime of debilitating grief.  I’m mighty proud of him.

It’s feels good to write a happy ending.

Written by Ron Kemp

February 23, 2012 at 10:06 am

Spencer Watson Seupel 1990-2012

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Making sense of a suicide is a daunting task at best.  In many, if not most, cases, it’s an impossible one.  Friday, Spencer Watson Seupel, 21, ended what promised to be a brilliant, productive, happy life.  He wasn’t bullied.  There’s no indication anywhere of him being gay.  Still, in a moment of impulsivity, he’s gone.

Spencer’s suicide was the result of binge drinking.  Alcohol.  That cunning, and quite legal, drug that claims thousands of lives annually.  At the root of the suicide, however, was something deeper.  I certainly cannot tell the story any better than his own mother.  It’s a very compelling story, indeed.

In the media, and in the circles of social media, we hear a lot about bullying as it pertains to young people ending their lives.  And, make no mistake, bullying is an issue that demands a lot of immediate attention as it truly is playing a large role in many, many teen suicide.  However, bullying is not the only reason young people commit suicide.  Understanding that is a vital baby step in the right direction.  Knowing some of the other issues that leads young people to feel suicide is the only answer is an essential quantum leap in that same direction.

Depression has been named in many teen suicides even since I began this blog in November.  In some instances, even if there’s been bullying, depression was the actual root.  The bullying simply exacerbated an already volatile situation.  Understanding depression isn’t restricted to just the psychiatric field by any stretch.  We can educate ourselves, as well.  We can, and we must if we’re to save lives.  But, the vast majority of us are not professionals in the field of mental health.  Therefore, how would we know?  How could we spot it?  And, better still, what do we do when we do recognize it?  That’s where educating ourselves comes in.

See, if we’re to truly make a difference, if we’re really serious about bringing about change, it’s going to take so much more than just ranting about how bad it is that all these beautiful young souls are killing themselves or how horrifying it is that these young people are being bullied.  And, that’s not said in a derogatory manner by any means.  I do as much ranting as any two people combined!  That said, and beyond the ranting, it’s going to take real action if we’re to rein this back in.  It can be done.

Sometimes, something as simple as a kind word, or an attentive ear can make a difference in a young person’s life.  Far too many of these young people feel disconnected, a sense of worthlessness even as their families and friends surround and shower them with love and attention.  Self-esteem appears to be a major factor.  So, giving them positive reinforcements regularly helps bolster their low sense of worth.  As non-professionals, we can still help reverse that by reminding them, constantly, of the positives in their lives.

For Spencer, perhaps it was a mixture of all the above.  Certainly, the drug we call alcohol delivered the final blow.  But, there were already mechanisms in place that created the environment, if only in his own mind, that made Spencer feel suicide was the answer.  His loving family is left to attempt to put the pieces of this puzzle together.  I hope Spencer can now find the peace that eluded him here on Earth

Stopping Intolerance in Tennessee

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As I was preparing to leave the house to go to work, I ran across this post from a girl who regularly posts in one of my favorite facebook communities.  It stopped me in my tracks.

I ask everyone to check this out. This is my home state, and I believe this bill will negativly effect the LGBT youth in TN. This will also prevent any LBGT facing discrimination to seek a supportive teacher for information. The bill has already been passed by the senate and the K-12 subcommittee. Give ‘em call?

It grabbed my attention because I love the things she posts in this particular community, so I always pay attention when I see her name.  It grabbed my attention because I’ve already written about Stacey Campfield’s myopic bill that he’s trying to push through legislation in Tennessee.  And, I’ve posted links to a petition put in place to get this bill killed.  This particular bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill will have a devastating effect on the LGBT students in their school system, in a state that has already had 2 LGBT teen suicides since early December.  So, I will post the link to the petition again and hope that every single person who reads this article will sign it.  Remember Power in Numbers?  We can change things.

By clicking the link in her post, “check this out“, you will see a list of phone numbers to call and voice your complaints and opinions.  Wouldn’t it be great to find out that their switchboards were overloaded with incoming calls on this matter!?  Whatever it takes.

Call it a “Call To Action”; call it “getting involved”.  Whatever.  I called it zero tolerance for intolerance and hatred.  This is “bullying” at a high level.  We can stop it if we all work together.

Written by Ron Kemp

February 22, 2012 at 12:50 am

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