OUR KIDS ARE KILLING THEMSELVES AND IT’S NOT OK.
Last night I called a family meeting on our cozy gray couch. My two girls (ages 11 & 9) turned off their devices and sat down next to one another. They watched Justin and me expectantly with their beautiful, innocent eyes. I said a quick prayer in my head and told them I needed to talk about something that recently happened to a girl in our community.
I did not want to have this conversation. I also felt that I had no choice. A beautiful, talented 14-year-old girl recently took her life after being bullied online and in person.
I STARTED THE CONVERSATION WITH A STORY
I was bullied on the bus in middle school, and the memories never go away. I still feel the sticky pleather bus seats and the bone-deep pit in my stomach. I desperately kept my nose buried in a book and prayed the older girl wouldn’t turn her attention on me. Because when she did, I knew the rampage wouldn’t stop until the tears came, and she saw my physical reaction to her sting. I also told them about the horrific feeling of hearing hurtful words behind my back in high school french class (loud enough for me to hear) and the most important thing about both instances: I never said a word.
And then I just came out and said it: A lovely, wonderful girl in our community was bullied at her new school and she took her own life because of it. Then we asked the girls what they would do if they were bullied or they saw someone getting bullied (or heaven forbid they were part of the bullying). And we listened. And we talked. And we shared.
We have a rule in our family. If you are feeling mad, sad, hurt, shamed, anxious, worried, depressed or confused, the very first thing you do is tell someone. You are a precious child of God and you were not meant to go through life alone. Other than the Golden Rule, it’s what we stress the most. Don’t suffer in silence. You are loved, and we are here.
THE POWER OF “ME, TOO.”
Unfortunately, telling someone may not be enough and the war can rage on. So, we talked to the girls about the power of empathy. Hearing the simple phrase, “me, too” can be a lifeline for someone who feels isolated and alone. We aren’t responsible for fixing anyone, but we can let them know that we see them and acknowledge their pain.
BE OPEN AND HONEST ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH
I detest the phrase “mental health,” but I don’t know what else to call it. One out of four people will struggle with anxiety or depression in their lifetime and those are just the ones who report it. I do, and I’m honest with my kids about it. We talk about what it feels like to be anxious and how it’s ok and good to see a therapist. They know I take medication and that I write and talk about my struggles to help others. As parents, we have to let our kids know that there is help available. They need to know it’s not weird or abnormal to get help, so they’re more likely to reach out when they need it.
LEAD WITH LOVE
I don’t pretend to have all the answers here. This is simply my attempt to share my experience and continue the conversation. I think we’re often quick to blame and judge in these situations when what we really need is love. Love for the hurting. Love for the parents. Love for the teachers. And yes, love for the bullies. Remember how I didn’t tell anyone when I was being bullied? Well, I also didn’t tell anyone when I saw others being bullied. I did not stand up for the girls who were feeling the same way I did. I wish I had because love wins. It really does.
There are free resources for any child or adult who thinks they might hurt themselves. You can get immediate crisis help for free. Do not hesitate to call 911. Every life is worth saving. If you are thinking about suicide or want to get help for someone considering suicide, call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). For information and help regarding suicide, go to metanoia.org/suicide or visit our suicide prevention resources.
What happens when a carefully crafted life crumbles?