Breaking news: Teenager commits suicide by hanging. Man found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot. Woman gets attacked on social media for a picture of her Christmas tree. Ryan Reynolds is parent-shamed for the way he wore his baby carrier. Mom of two small children takes her own life by overdosing on a cocktail of meds found in her home.
What do these stories all have in common besides the obvious tragedy of the loss of life in some? What comes out after social media has blasted only half of the details all over the internet? That the incidents stem from bullying, mostly of the cyber kind because that’s where fake courage comes from, much like tequila.
The most recent headline involves a 14-year-old girl from Warrenton, Missouri, Destiny Gleason, who killed herself by wrapping an extension cord around her neck and hanging herself from a pull-up bar in her bedroom. Destiny’s mother, Stephanie Clark, said her daughter had suffered months of relentless bullying at school from a group of girls. Cosmopolitan reported Clark saying the girls “at one point took some photo of some random person’s private parts and put Destiny’s name across it and spread it around the school.”
Suicide related to bullying stems from any type of bullying, according to Bullyingstatistics.org. These include “physical bullying, emotional bullying, cyberbullying, and sexting, or circulating suggestive or nude photos or messages about a person,” which is what happened with Destiny Gleason. Suicide from cyberbullying specifically is yet another dimension that is growing in its insidiousness, specifically because of social media and technology making it so easy.
How many times have you heard about a friend breaking up with somebody via text or about a marriage ending via email? It’s happened. Communication takes effort and a little finesse, but it is mandatory in human relationships. Words are powerful, and their power can be used for good or evil. Sometimes people say things they shouldn’t simply because they don’t know any better or don’t care what they convey. Sometimes they don’t want to have a face-to-face conversation with somebody because of unhappy or uncomfortable subject matter. But we all have to learn how to have those kinds of conversations. It’s called being an adult.
However, there are those who use words as weapons because they are too immature to stop themselves, and it’s not only teens or tweens. Those weapons have a powerful effect.
How much easier is it to pick at somebody from behind a keyboard, an app, or an anonymous posting? There’s no responsibility, no accountability, and no direct contact or impact of the consequences. In the old days, bullies had to be right next to their victim. Nowadays, you don’t even have to be in the same country.
According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24, which results in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year. But for every “successful” suicide, for lack of a better term, hundreds more have attempted it and thankfully been unsuccessful. The link specifically between bullying and suicide has risen in recent years.
In 2012 and 2013, nine teenagers killed themselves as a result of cyberbullying directly linked to the Ask.fm app. The app, which allows posters to ask anybody any question or post any comment, also allows for the interactions to be completely anonymous. This app is popular among the 11- to 14-year-old crowd, the “tweens.” These tweens are therefore the ones who end up killing themselves due to cyberbullying when someone anonymously posts something like “every1 will be happy if u died.”
Adults also face this problem, however. In a study done by Pew Research Center, they found that “forty percent of adult internet users have personally experienced some variety of online harassment,” i.e. cyberbullying. And nearly 40 percent of that cyberbullying was done by a stranger! Although adults aren’t well-versed 100 percent of the time on how best to deal with cyberbullies, they do have more experience than children do. And since reports of cyberbullying have doubled in the last 10 years, we really need to do a better job monitoring and teaching our kids about internet and social media safety, both as parents and as school officials.
While Destiny Gleason’s story is a tragic one, this is an opportunity to spread awareness about cyberbullying, especially at the teen level. It is also an opportunity to be aware of triggers that might lead up to you or somebody you know considering suicide. If that is the case, you can contact the Teen Suicide Prevention Hotline at (614) 294-3300 or the Lifeline national organization for suicide prevention at 1-800-273-8255.
A GoFundMe account has been set up by a friend of Destiny Gleason’s family to cover funeral expenses, and on the page, it says that all of her organs were donated and have already been placed. The young lady was able to help others even after her death.
[Photo by Danny E. Martindale/Getty Images]