Late one Tuesday night, I received a text from the mother of my son’s friend. She told me that we needed to talk NOW; would I call her? Two weeks earlier, my 15-year-old son had broken down in tears over the harassment he was receiving at school. What I did not know, but learned from the mother who contacted me, was that my son had come very close to attempting suicide the night before.
The actions of friends may indeed have saved my son’s life. My husband and I knew “Jake” was hurting inside. We had started him in counseling. We had talked to his coach, school counselor and several teachers. And yet we did not know just how dark his thoughts had become.
The following day, Jake went to see our family physician. In our town, it can take months to get in to see a quality psychiatrist. We knew we could not wait for an opening to get help. The doctor diagnosed Jake with moderate to severe depression and started him immediately on a medication.
We removed everything possible from our home that Jake might use to harm himself. We made a plan to ensure that Jake is never home alone (at least for now).
And then I began to research the connection between bullying and suicide. I don’t know if Jake was depressed and then bullied, or bullied and then depressed. I am not sure that it matters. What I learned was that when a child has an undiagnosed and untreated mental health issue, and is bullied, the risk for suicide increases.
Some children are able to cope with severe issues of being bullied. But when a child has an untreated mental health issue, such as depression, their coping abilities are severely compromised. They are unable to process what is happening in a healthy way. The bullying is far more significant for that particular child at that particular time.
In Jake’s case, I talked to his coach about the bullying that was happening with the team. The coach saw it as “normal” boy bantering that happened the previous year without Jake complaining. Several of the teachers said that while they saw what was happening, it didn’t seem “all that bad.” But when Jake was severely depressed, HE felt overwhelmed by the bullying.
We are still walking through this battle. Jake has been on medications for one month and is continuing his counseling. His depression is considered to be far less serious than before, but it is not in remission at this time.
One of the biggest changes that has occurred so far is that Jake’s coping skills are beginning to return. While I am not giving up on a bully-free world, I know that “hating on others” is a trend for now.
This has taught me to look comprehensively at our bullying situation. Not only did Jake have traits that led to him being picked on, but also he had mental health needs that we did not recognize. If you are going through this with your child, ask the hard questions. “Are you thinking about harming yourself?” Don’t just think that the “bully” and the school have a problem.
I am grateful to the mother who called me and told me my child had a serious issue. I pray that my son will come through this with renewed health like so many others are able to do. I also pray that this information will help other mothers to find hope and health for their children.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in our national network. These centers provide 24-hour crisis counseling and mental health referrals.