Teen Suicide Cluster in Pennsylvania
In a span of one week, beginning September 18th with the suicide death of Joshuah Delos Santos, there have been 4 confirmed teen suicides in a 7 day period. That’s 4 confirmed teen suicides within 30 miles! Map out a 30-mile radius in your own area, and you’ll see the significance of that troubling graphic
- September 18: 13-year-old Joshuah Delos Santos commits suicide in Nanticoke, with bullying being a contributing factor;
- September 21: 16-year-old Matthew Montagna, pictured, ends his life in Pittston. Classmates and friends cite bullying as a contributing factor;
- September 24: an unidentified 15-year-old cheerleader ends her young life in Duryea. Classmates and friends cite bullying as a contributing factor;
- September 25: an unidentified 13-year-old boy ends his life in his home in Hazelton. The Hazelton Chief of police said, in a news conference, his suicide was not “bullying-related”. We’ve heard that before.
Seven days, four teen suicides, all within 30 miles of each other. Is there a problem there? The obvious answer is “yes”. Just the Joshuah Delos Santos suicide was horrific by itself, but to add three more in the next 6 days is just unfathomable. Then, to add salt to the gaping wound, 3 of the 4 have a strong possibly of being bully-related. Is there a problem there? Yes, there is.
In our typical, knee-jerk reactionary society, suddenly there are town hall meetings to address the issues of bullying and teen suicides. Parents are alarmed, and rightfully so. If I had a school-aged child in that area, (s)he wouldn’t be back in school until I was certain, 100% certain, that the school environment was safe enough to return to. What does that mean? To me, that’s a very simple answer:
A safe school environment is one in which students can attend, interact, and learn without the specter of being taunted, for whatever reason, picked on, or otherwise minimized. It’s an environment where they can intermingle with whomever their social circle may be without the fear of being ridiculed, feel secure and develop the social skills they’re going to need as they move into the adult “workaday” world without the fear of being discriminated against or taunted, and be able to have an environment conducive to learning as opposed to living in fear of being picked on just because of who they are. That’s not too much to ask.
Is there a problem there? You can bet the farm on it. I have recently seen with my own eyes exactly how deeply ingrained this problem of bullying and teen suicide is. The mindset is so fluid, because its deep-roots, that many, many young people don’t even realize the repercussions of their words and actions. I know that, now, for a fact. I watched it unfold. And, more than ever, I’m convinced that the ball is being dropped in the homes, by the adults in these young people’s lives, and by (in some cases) the parents. If for no other reason than the fact that some parents don’t even know that their child is a schoolyard or cyber bully, they have to be held accountable to a degree.
On the other side of the coin is the authoritative figures who run…no…sprint from the issue of bullying. Where is the accountability in that? If not for the 3 suicides that followed Joshuah Delos Santos, within the next 2-3 weeks, the whole issue and question of bullying would’ve been swept under the carpet just like many have before it. That’s been made impossible, sadly, with 2 of the 3 suicide victims that followed were reported to involve bullying. And, yet, it has become redundantly customary for the school officials and, often, law enforcement officials to very quickly erase the bullying possibility (probability?) from the equation. Why? Better question: why are we allowing it to continue?
Here’s a reality check: if a young person’s friends and social circle says, “yes, (s)he was being badly bullied”, it really doesn’t matter what the adult figures say about it. It was happening. Period. It doesn’t matter if the teachers, principles, or school superintendents say “there’s no evidence…” of bullying. It happened! It doesn’t matter that the Chief of Police or just the school police liaison says “there’s no evidence…” of bullying. It happened! And, in reality, it doesn’t always matter if mom and dad says their child wasn’t being bullied because, the bare-boned fact of the matter is they spend much more time with their friends and social circle than they do with you! Did you really tell your parents everything about your life when you were 13, 14, 15, 16 years old? No. You didn’t. Neither did I. Neither do they. But, their friends, their social network, their peers…they know! And, if they say it was happening, to believe otherwise is just plain silly. And, obviously, deadly.
In response to the recent spate of suicides, officials have said:
“We need to respond. We just want to try to reach out to the parents in the community and make them understand we all need to work together. This is not a Pittston Area School District issue only. This is an issue that is bigger than the school district,” Pittston Area superintendent Michael Garzella said early Tuesday afternoon. “This is a community issue. This is a national issue. This is a problem that has to be dealt with. The only way we’re going to be able to prevent these things from happening is if we all work together.”
Congratulations on your epiphany. This is what many of us have been trying to get “you” to understand for quite a while. We’ve got an epidemic on our hands, it’s costing the lives of young people, and it’s time to stop dodging this issue and start the dialogue. It’s just regretful that it’s taken you these four young lives to finally realize that this is real.
IF YOU, OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW, ARE STRUGGLING WITH BULLYING, DEPRESSION, OR SUICIDAL THOUGHTS, PLEASE TALK TO SOMEONE! It could be the difference between life and death.
Written by Ron Kemp
September 28, 2012 at 6:01 pm
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