Tag Archives: teen suicide

Grand jury indicts roommate in Rutgers suicide

A New Jersey grand jury on April 25 returned an indictment against a Rutgers University student who used his webcam to stream video of his roommate kissing another man. The broadcast of the romantic relationship allegedly drove freshman Tyler Clementi to commit suicide.

Days after roommate Dharun Ravi broadcast the encounter between Clementi, 18, and a man identified in court papers only as “M.B.,” Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge. It was the start of the 2010-11 school year, when more than a dozen boys and young men committed suicide after being bullied and harassed.

Ravi and another student were arrested for invasion of privacy for turning a web camera on Clementi’s bed and then boasting via Twitter about cybercasting another possible same-sex encounter.

One of Ravi’s Twitter messages said, “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”

A couple of days later, he tweeted, “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again.”

About a month earlier, Ravi had tweeted, “Found out my roommate is gay.”

Clementi also used social media tools. After learning about the webcam, he posted on Facebook, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”

The grand jury, in its 15-count indictment, alleges that the 19-year-old Ravi committed hate crimes that could result in 10-year prison sentences if convicted.

“The grand jury charged that the invasion of privacy and attempt to invade the privacy of T.C. and M.B. were intended to intimidate them because of their sexual orientation,” read a statement from the Middlesex County, N.J., prosecutor’s office.

The indictment also accuses Ravi of a cover-up, of tampering with evidence.

The prosecutor maintains that Ravi deleted a Twitter post alerting other students to watch a second encounter involving Clementi and “M.B.” and then created a replacement post intended to mislead investigators.

Further, according to the prosecutor, Ravi encouraged witnesses not to testify.

Clementi’s parents, in a joint statement, said, “The grand jury indictment spells out cold and calculated acts against our son Tyler by his former college roommate. If these facts are true, as they appear to be, then it is important for our criminal justice system to establish clear accountability under the law.”

New Jersey Attorney General Paula T. Dow said the indictment was “an important step in this heartbreaking case.”

Since Clementi’s suicide, a number of developments have taken place in New Jersey and at the national level to protect students from anti-gay bullying and harassment. New Jersey lawmakers enacted a broad anti-bullying law, a measure considered the strongest in the nation. The White House convened a conference on bullying, and the U.S. Education Department has initiated several programs and policies to counter bullying.

Bullied best friends take lives during sleepover

Best friends Haylee Ann Marie Fentress and Paige Lee Moravetz took some secrets when they took their lives.

The eighth-graders at Marshall Middle School hung themselves on April 16 in a home in rural Lynd, Minn., in the southwestern part of the state. The Lyon County Sheriff’s Department said Paige was on a sleepover at Haylee’s house.

The double suicide prompted a rumor of a planned pact, which Marshall Public Schools superintendent Klint W. Willert said was unfounded. “There is no evidence of any kind of a suicide pact,” he told an ABC affiliate.

The suicides also brought out assertions that the 14-year-old girls had been bullied by other teenagers. Haylee, in a Facebook post, said kids were cruel. She told family members that other students made fun of her weight and red hair and she was struggling to fit in after moving to Minnesota from Indiana about a year ago.

Appearing on NBC’s “Today” on April 14, relatives of the two girls suggested they might have been more than friends. Haylee hyphenated her last name on Facebook to include Paige’s last name, and Haylee was expelled from school for defending Paige in a fight.

“I’m so nervous and I just want to get it over with … I love you, Paige,” Haylee posted on her friend’s Facebook page shortly before their deaths.

Haylee’s mother and older sister, in a joint statement, said, “We need to stop pretending this isn’t happening or that it is just a cry for attention because obviously it is not. This needs to be talked about, and we need to try to prevent this by teaching kids in school, community and at home. They need to know that they are not alone. It shouldn’t take more tragedies to realize this.”

Both girls suffered depression, but their mothers have said they saw no indication the girls planned to take their lives.

“There was nothing,” Paige’s mom, Tricia Behnke, said on a broadcast of NBC’s “Today.”

A service for Haylee took place April 23 in Highland, Ind.

“Haylee was a compassionate, loving, big-hearted person who will live on through her family,” her family wrote in her obituary.

Paige was buried April 20 in Wilno, Minn.

“Her enjoyments in life included playing hockey, snowmobiling, fishing (especially ice fishing), helping out and spending time on the farm, camping and tubing on Lake Shaokotan, camping and knee boarding on Lake Herman, playing music, going to concerts, playing with her dog Daisy, spending time with cousins and her brother Jake, spending time with friends and traveling,” Paige’s family wrote in her obituary.

Responding to the deaths, the school district provided counseling for students and hosted a forum April 19 for parents to learn how to help a children cope with their grief.

“Marshall Public Schools remain concerned about the safety and well-being of our students and staff at this difficult time,” Willert said.

The district also issued a warning to parents and teachers that publicity surrounding suicide can lead to additional suicides or attempts. The district, in a statement released April 20, cited a World Health Organization conclusion that “some forms of non-fictional newspaper and television coverage of suicide are associated with a statistically significant excess of suicide; the impact appears to be strongest among young people. Repeated and continual coverage of suicide tends to induce and promote suicidal preoccupations, particularly among adolescents and young adults.”

From the schoolyard to the Internet to the workplace, bullying extracts a deadly toll

The impact of childhood bullying can last long into adulthood. For example, just look at Great Britain’s new princess, Kate Middleton.

“One of the wedding presents they wanted was for donations to charity, and one of the major charities they wanted donations for is called Beatbullying,” says Dr. Thomas Wright, chief medical officer for the Rockford, Ill.-based Rosecrance Health Network. “That’s because Kate was bullied as a youngster, because she was skinny and very pale.”

It’s bad enough when you’re a kid, but adults may continue to suffer the effects of childhood bullying years or decades later, leading to clinical depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

“A lot of people think that bullying is just part of growing up, that it’s sort of something kids will work out,” Wright says. “Sometimes that happens. Oftentimes it doesn’t, and it ends up being a chronic trauma issue. It has pretty serious consequences down the line.”

For members of the LGBT community, adolescent bullying can lead to self-loathing. “It makes what already is a difficult sexual developmental process in adolescence that much more difficult,” Wright says.

According to Mental Health America, a nonprofit advocacy organization, U.S. teens hear slurs such as “homo,” “faggot” and “sissy” about 26 times a day or once every 14 minutes. One study found that 31 percent of gay youth had been threatened or injured at school in the last year alone. As a result, LGBT students are more likely to skip school due to fear, threats and property vandalism.

In the wake of several high-profile cases of suicide by young people who were the targets of bullying, parents, educators and behavioral health professionals have turned their attention to the effects, interventions, treatment and support for those who are affected.

Wright and other health professionals addressed the growing crisis at “Peeling Back the Layers of Bullying,” a day-long workshop held April 29 at Lussier Family Heritage Center in Madison. The workshop featured sessions led by clinical staff from Madison’s Connections Counseling and Rosecrance, both of which treat individuals with substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Topics included “Bullying: A Crisis in Mental Health.” “Cyber Attack: Bullying and Social Media,” “Growing Pains: Healthy Ways of Coping with Stress and Anxiety as an Emerging Adult” and “Creating Connections: Mentoring and Peer Support.” About 30 healthcare professionals from Madison, Milwaukee and Rockford attended.

According to Mental Health America, 22 percent of gay students skipped school in the past month because they felt unsafe; 28 percent drop out – more than three times the national average.

But bullying doesn’t end with adulthood. Wright, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who lives in the Madison area, identifies three general forms of bullying that can occur throughout life.

Direct bullying is obvious. Indirect bullying is subtler. “It’s where the bully sabotages those around you – to you,” he says. “They talk badly to coworkers about you, but they won’t do it to your face. They might plant rumors about you. They might imply that you’re not a good worker. They sabotage your ability to succeed. A lot of times, victims don’t even know where the source is.”

Finally, there’s bullying of exclusion. “People are left out of social groups or social situations that they really ought to be included in, but they’re left out to lower that person’s self-esteem,” Wright says. “That certainly is a kind (of bullying) that happens with adults in the workplace.”

For both adults and children, bullying is an equal-opportunity problem, Wright says. There are no special identifiers for potential victims.

“It happens across the board,” he says. Still, there are some characteristics that many victims share. “They tend to be a little more socially withdrawn, more sensitive, maybe quieter or passive.”

Bullying was not studied much before 2005, when the rise of cyber bullying attracted attention. Current studies are just beginning to examine long-term effects, but depression and anxiety already have been identified, sometimes leading to suicide and self-injury, or “cutting.” Bullying can also be a contributing factor in alcohol and drug addiction, as victims attempt to self-medicate.

“Whatever psychological processes are still going on in your own head about self-esteem, your own self-worth, it can really be helpful to look at that as an adult, about what happened to you as a child,” he says. “It is important to look at it throughout the cycle. Part of the problem is that we want to ignore it: ‘That’s something I went through. That’s just something kids do, I don’t want to go through that again.’ Awareness doesn’t happen once we put our heads in the sand.”

There’s at least one other tragic reason to look at the effects of bullying.

“Interesting enough, there are about 10 to 20 percent of victims who turn into bullies themselves,” Wright says. “That contributes to the cycle of it.”

Right-wing areas have more suicides

Suicide attempts by gay teens – and even straight kids – are more common in politically conservative areas where schools don’t have programs supporting gay rights, a study involving nearly 32,000 high school students found.

Those factors raised the odds of suicide attempts,  even when known risk factors such as depression and being bullied were considered, said study author Mark Hatzenbuehler, a Columbia University psychologist and researcher.

His study found a higher rate of suicide attempts even among kids who weren’t bullied or depressed when they lived in counties less supportive of gays and with relatively few Democrats. A high proportion of Democrats was a measure used as a proxy for a more liberal environment.

The research focused only on the state of Oregon and created a social index to assess which outside factors might contribute to suicidal tendencies.

The State of Wisconsin does not provide statistics that would allow for a suicide analysis here that’s comparable to the one conducted in Oregon, said Diverse & Resilient executive director Gary Hollander.

Teen health experts told the Associated Press that Hatzenbuehler’s suicide analysis is a powerful, novel way to evaluate a tragic social problem.

“Is it surprising? No. Is it important? Yes,” said Dr. Robert Blum of Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The study “takes our relatively superficial knowledge and provides a bit more depth. Clearly, we need lots more understanding, but this is very much a step in the right direction,” he said.

Blum serves on an Institute of Medicine committee that recently released a report urging more research on gay health issues. Blum said the new study is the kind of research the institute believes has been lacking. The independent group advises the government on health matters.

The new study was published online in the journal Pediatrics.

Previous research has found disproportionately high suicide rates among gay teens. One highly publicized case involved a Rutgers University freshman who jumped off a bridge last year after classmates recorded and broadcast the 18-year-old having sex with a man.

The study relied on teens’ self-reporting suicide attempts within the previous year. Roughly 20 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual teens said they had made an attempt, versus 4 percent of straight kids.

The study’s social index rated counties on five measures: prevalence of same-sex couples; registered Democratic voters; liberal views; schools with gay-straight alliances; schools with policies against bullying gay students; and schools with antidiscrimination policies that included sexual orientation.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual teens living in counties with the lowest social index scores were 20 percent more likely to have attempted suicide than gays in counties with the highest index scores. Overall, about 25 percent of gay teens in low-scoring counties had attempted suicide, versus 20 percent of gay teens in high-scoring counties.

Among straight teens, suicide attempts were 9 percent more common in low-scoring counties. There were 1,584 total suicide attempts – 304 of those among gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

Hatzenbuehler said the results show that “environments that are good for gay youth are also healthy for heterosexual youth.”

The study is based on 2006-08 surveys of 11th-graders that state health officials conducted in Oregon classrooms; Oregon voter registration statistics; U.S. Census data on same-sex couples; and public school policies on gays and bullying.

The researchers assessed proportions of Democrats versus Republicans; there were relatively few Independents. Information on non-voters wasn’t examined.

Zachary Toomay, a high school senior from Arroyo Grande, California, said the study “seems not only plausible, but it’s true.”

The star swimmer, 18, lives in a conservative, mostly Republican county. He’s active in his school’s gay-straight alliance, and said he’d never been depressed until last year when classmates “ostracized” him for being vocal about gay rights.

Toomay said signs of community intolerance, including bumper stickers opposing same-sex marriage, also made him feel down, and he sought guidance from a school counselor after contemplating suicide.

Funding for the study came from the National Institutes for Health and a center for gay research at the Fenway Institute, an independent Harvard-affiliated health care and research center.

Michael Resnick, a professor of adolescent mental health at the University of Minnesota’s medical school, said the study “certainly affirms what we’ve come to understand about children and youth in general.

“They are both subtly and profoundly affected by what goes around them,” he said, including the social climate and perceived support.

Teen leaves note saying bullying drove him to suicide

A high-school freshman in Pennsylvania who killed himself by running into the path of a tractor-trailer in the early morning hours of Nov. 6 left behind a note that said he wanted to draw attention to the problem of bullying, his mother said.

Fourteen-year-old Brandon Bitner was the 14th gay youth to commit suicide in the U.S. since the summer, according to multiple sources.

Bitner had complained about teasing and name-calling when he was in middle school, but after he entered Midd-West High School in Middleburg this year, he began concealing his pain from school officials and his family, his mother said.

“He didn’t want to burden other people with his problems,” Tammy Simpson said in a telephone interview as the family prepared for his funeral in the rural central Pennsylvania community. “I’m sure he felt that, if somebody said something, (the teasing) would get even worse.”

Simpson described her only son as a soft-spoken youth who aspired to be a classical violinist and had many female friends. His note said he was tired of being called names like “faggot” and “sissy,” according to The Patriot-News in Harrisburg.

Simpson said her son “never told us” what his sexual orientation was but that she didn’t care.

“He was the most wonderful child anyone could ask for,” she said.

In his note, Bitner cited an encounter with another student in the school cafeteria several days before his death as “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Simpson said.

Wesley Knapp, the Midd-West School District superintendent, said the suicide prompted him to re-evaluate the safeguards that the school district has set up to prevent bullying.

“When you lose one of your students, it’s painful,” he said. “We all ask ourselves what could we have done perhaps to have prevented it.”

But students at the high school told The Daily Item that bullying is rampant at the school and that school officials refuse to address it.

– Staff and wire reports

Officials deny Cody Barker was bullied

Officials with the Schiocton school district refute charges that the suicide of Cody J. Barker, 17, was related to anti-gay bullying.

Barker was the third gay teen to commit suicide in Outagamie County since May 2009, and his death came amid a spate of national stories about gay youth taking their lives after being harassed.

”Right now everybody’s looking for someone to be the poster child for this issue,” school Superintendent Chris VanderHeyden told the Post-Crescent. “As soon as it was announced that this young man was gay and that he killed himself, everyone immediately started connecting dots that weren’t there.”

However, Barker’s mother Darla said she suspects that bullying did play a role in her son’s death. She told the Post-Crescent that she was “dumbfounded” at how quickly the school district acted to quash the allegation.

“(Teens) are smart about when they do it,” Barker was quoted as saying. “They don’t do it in front of a teacher. I know there was name-calling and dirty looks in the hallway. I know that went on.”

Darla Barker said she even witnessed teens taunting Cody at their home. She asked students to look out for each other.

“(When) you see somebody in the hall and they look like they’re having a bad day, ask them how they’re doing,” she said. “If you see somebody getting picked on, stick up for them. Just help each other.”

From WiG and AP reports.

Gay suicide reported

A 19-year-old openly gay Oakland University student took his own life Oct. 19.

The Oakland County, Mich., medical examiner’s office confirmed that Corey Jackson’s death was a suicide, but police said that anti-gay bullying did not play a role.

His family disagreed.

“I believe (it happened) because he recently realized he was a homosexual and he was getting pressured at school by his peers because he told his family and nothing changed here,” Jackson’s grandmother Carolyn Evans told ClickOnDetroit. “Corey was the most loving, giving, funny person. … When he went to school and he realized his sexual preference had changed, he changed completely. He withdrew.”

Evans told the website that her grandson was outgoing before becoming self-conscious.

Jackson’s aunt Kim Jones said he was having a difficult time.

“He said, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong. Ever since I came out people are treating me different. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where I belong,’” Jones said.

Student legislator Darrell Boyd said the campus has a very accepting environment.

“Oakland’s an accepting school and we’re pretty broad and diverse so it’s pretty shocking something like that would happen here,” he said.

From WiG and AP reports.

Gay Mich. student commits suicide

A 19-year-old openly gay Oakland University student took his own life on campus Oct. 19.

The Oakland County medical examiner’s office confirmed that Corey Jackson’s death had been ruled a suicide

While police denied that anti-gay bullying played a role in Jackson’s death, his family disagreed.

“I believe (it happened) because he recently realized he was a homosexual and he was getting pressured at school by his peers because he told his family and nothing changed here,” Jackson’s grandmother Carolyn Evans told ClickOnDetroit. “Corey was the most loving, giving, funny person. He had the most wonderful personality. He had cousins from ages 14 down to 2 and he never said a bad word about anybody. When he went to school and he realized his sexual preference had changed, he changed completely. He withdrew.”

Evans told the website that her grandson was outgoing before becoming self-conscious.

Jackson’s aunt Kim Jones said he was having a difficult time.

“He said ‘I don’t know what’s wrong. Ever since I came out people are treating me different. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where I belong,’” Jones told ClickOnDetroit.

Student legislator Darrell Boyd said the campus has a very accepting environment.

“Oakland’s an accepting school and we’re pretty broad and diverse so it’s pretty shocking something like that would happen here,” he said.

Federal action urged after suicides

Federal action is being advocated as activists campaign for new and improved tools to counter bullying in schools.

The push comes in the wake of at least six gay-related suicides since the start of the 2010-11 school year, including a Wisconsin teen who advocated for a gay-straight alliance, a Rutgers University student outed in an Internet video, an Indiana teen who hung himself in his family’s barn, a California boy who hung himself in his back yard, a Texas kid who shot himself and a Rhode Island University student who hung himself in his dorm room.

On Oct. 12, more than 70 organizations urged Congress to pass the pending Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act would require schools that receive Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act funding to implement comprehensive anti-bullying policies.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act, modeled after Title IX, would provide nationwide comprehensive prohibition of discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

The organizations also endorsed the Make It Better Project, a video-focused effort intended to inspire LGBT youth on their darker days and to educate youth and adults on how to counter school-based harassment.

“Our community has suffered a terrible loss in the past month,” Carolyn Laub of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, which launched the Make It Better Project, said Oct. 12. “We can’t afford to wait another day and lose another life to the epidemic of anti-LGBT bullying in our schools. This is the moment for all of us … to do everything in our power to make schools safer.”

Several days earlier, at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala in Washington, D.C., senior presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett said in an address that the White House is advocating federal action.

“On behalf of President Obama, I want to make clear that this administration is firmly committed to working with you and other advocates,” Jarrett said. “For we all have to ensure that we are creating an environment in our schools, our communities, and our country, that is safe for every person, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

She cited work in the U.S. Department of Education, which created a federal task force on bullying and, in August, held the first National Bullying Summit.

The Education Department also has “reinvigorated the office for civil rights to help stop harassment in our schools based on race, disability, sex – and bullying of LGBT young people who may not conform to gender norms,” Jarrett said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department has announced a National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention that brings together public and private partners.

“And it’s going to make sure people have access to help, and to resources when they are in crisis,” said Jarrett. “One of its specific goals is preventing suicide in at-risk groups, including LGBT youth.”

Tammy Aaberg of Anoka, Minn., was in the audience at the HRC dinner. Her son Justin killed himself in July.

Aaberg said she was aware of one incident of bullying against her son, but she “had no idea how horrible it was and I’m learning that this harassment happened in the company of teachers.”

The mother said she had wanted “Justin’s legacy to be that he’s the last gay child to take his life because of bullying.” He wasn’t.

Acceptance is the best suicide prevention

Thank you to Wisconsin Gazette for excellent coverage in the Oct. 7 issue of the critical problem of suicide among LGBT youth. Certainly the personal tragedy of friends and family of Tyler Clementi at Rutgers University resonates with LGBT people and our allies.

Diverse and Resilient’s board and staff are saddened by the news of these deaths. These private tragedies also have a public cost. Each death by suicide points to reduced contributions to society and a diminution of life for us all.

Thanks, too, to Lisa Neff for including examples of national programs addressing suicide and anti-bullying efforts. It is notable that these national programs actually have a limited ability to meet the needs of Wisconsin youth and families. Similarly, national education campaigns on bullying provide useful information for classrooms, but this puts interested classroom teachers in the unenviable position of trying to implement programming without coaching, consultation, administrative supports, program planning and evaluation or funds.

For 11 years Diverse and Resilient has advocated for the inclusion of sexual behavior, sexual orientation and gender expression and gender identity questions to be added to local, state and national health data surveys. We have had some success with the Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the Wisconsin Behavioral Risk Factor Survey. These have shown us that Wisconsin teens who engage in same-sex behavior are significantly more likely to have considered suicide, made a plan to kill themselves, attempted suicide and made an attempt serious enough to require medical intervention.

But supports to take action remain minimal. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services website shows no program supports to aid in prevention of suicide among LGBT youth. Mental Health American Wisconsin Chapter is the same. In fact, the latter quibbles over the reliability of the data that the state itself collects about mental health needs.

Diverse and Resilient, together with our colleagues at FORGE, the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, SAGE Milwaukee and Pathfinders, all do our part to address the mental health needs of LGBT people. But we do so with woefully insufficient resources to meet the magnitude of the problem. LGBT youth and adults still live in communities and families where they are socially isolated. Even those among us who enjoy optimal family supports reside in a state that amended its constitution to limit our right to pursue happiness.

Wisconsin residents, particularly its voters, must decide to stand as witnesses to the poor treatment LGBT people – particularly youth – receive in our state. Then  they must take action to support us in making all of our lives worth living.