"Whatever you do, don't dare them to do it," that was one they told us, in the small groups walking through the training scenarios before the students were due to move in for the start of their University life. We were the Residence Advisors, or "Dons" as they used to be called, the live-in landlord, surrogate older sibling, and sometimes fuzz of the campus dorms.
The "it" to which our trainers were referring was something none of us had realized we'd encounter in our new job, but once is was spelled out it seemed obvious. "When the conversation moves to this point, you'll know to ask very calmly so they don't feel judged or cornered, ask them the question that will decide what happens in the next 24 hours of both your lives: Are you thinking of ending your life?"
They trained us to be the "first-responders" to our peers, the kids living under our charge, as we were expected to build a rapport with them so that they felt they could approach you when the shit hit the fan and, sometimes more importantly, so you could approach them. These kids were teenagers, adjusting to a new life at school, from small towns, many away from home for the first time in their life, leaving high school and its war wounds behind. Wounds like those inflicted on Amanda Todd, the BC girl who the world now recognizes as the face of teen suicide after years of bullying, sexual harassment, and violence from peers and on social media drove her finally last week, to take her own life.
For this 15 year old girl, there will never be the chance to go to college or university, to leave home and find a new social life of friends. To present herself as she wants others to see her. And again we ask, how, why?
Suicide rates in Canada, for more info click here.
Teen suicide is nowhere near a new trend, as it for decades has been one of the major causes of death among young people (not hood surfing, hooping drugs up their ass, or taking a single puff of the devil's lettuce, contrary to what most sensational newscasts and prime-time dramas would have you believe).
But the landscape upon which bullying, especially in high school, now occurs has changed, the explosion in social media has brought the school yard brawl into kid's homes, the one place you use to be able to hide from that shit. Since the story broke of Amanda's death and her gut-wrenching cry for help in her Youtube video a month earlier, a lot of backlash has been directed at her by the eldest of the "youngish" generations. Some folks remarking that "we all got bullied but we move on, you deal with it, you grow up."
Now I can say that would be true in my personal experience, having been called a fat-ass, a faggot, all sorts of other colourful things when I was in elementary and even a bit in high school. I never got the worst of it like others around me sometimes faced, but I sucked it up and moved on and came out of my shell to better defend myself.
But that was before Facebook, where now someone can write WHORE and BITCH, on someone's wall and their friends can click LIKE, and add comments like YOU SHOULD FUCKING KILL YOURSELF, like people did on Amanda Todd's Facebook page. Now they can post pictures of you, about you, or referring to you that are embarrassing or outright sexual harassment, as was the case for Amanda Todd. This is an animal altogether new to those of us who graduated before social media like Twitter and Foursquare and Facebook. I mean it was bad, but it was never like this.
I simply cannot imagine what it must be like now to be the "fag," the "creepy kid," the "strange girl." To have the words follow you home and flash across the screen in your bedroom computer, insults, threats in public, txt messages, google maps of your house so they can be fucking waiting for you to kick your ass.
And if you can't fucking take it anymore, can't see a way out like Amanda Todd could not because the violence and the threats and the vicious words are as ubiquitous as the fucking air you breathe --from which these children have not a moment's respite, -- a constant onslaught that tangles your adolescent mind and heart up so bad, you cut your flesh to bleed out the pain because you don't have enough fuckin tears to purge all the poison -- that you take your own life just to make it all fucking stop ONLY to have it continue in death in images posted by strangers like this:
The only solace that we can take, the lesson to learn today, is that with the willing surrender of more and more personal information and all of us more emboldened and connected by social networking tools, as easy as it has made it to post an insult or vicious comment -- it has made it just as easy to reach out to someone's call for help.
Amanda Todd posted her video on Youtube, recounting her ordeal over the past months and years. She told somebody she felt alone, she was telling everybody she needed help. You and I can help. We can send a stranger a message, make a positive connection, don't be shy, don't skip on to something else.
Youtube and Facebook -- they aren't passive mediums, they're conversations and they are now an irreversible landscape upon which the positive and the negative aspects of our social interactions take part. There can be no denying the extent to which bullying and harassment can reach - the times have changed.
We are all involved and, like they trained us just before the kids moved into the dorms, you can't be afraid to approach someone, to be the first-responder in someone's life in that moment they're on the knife's edge. Maybe you don't know how, not everyone is a trained counselor or a psychotherapist --you don't have to be, it's easier than you think to message a stranger in distress, you do it like this:
"Hey, you want someone to talk to?"
And even if you never hear anything back, it will still mean the world.