Carl Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old, went upstairs in his Springfield, Mass. home, found an electric cord, and hung himself from a stairwell.
His mother, who found him, talked to millions of mothers days later on national TV. She shared that her son was a good child, played sports, and attended church with her each Sunday. Ms. Walker had been a diligent mother, visiting his school often.
What would cause a child to commit such an act? This student was teased and harassed day after day, sometimes to the point of violence. He finally told his mother and teachers.
But the harassment continued.
Name-calling began, and even though Sirdeaner Walker says her son was not gay, since he easily hugged her and his teachers, the other children thought he was soft.
The mere perception that he was gay led to a continual spray of gay epithets. Carl had enough. This is bullycide.
Simply put, it is a suicide caused by bullying. For every child who commits bullycide, there are dozens who attempt it, perhaps thousands who entertain the thought.
Children feel that they have less to lose by casting off their painful past through death rather than risking a more painful future. When children commit suicide, those immediately around them often express that they are not surprised.
Some visible signs are:
• Child is withdrawn
• A loner, no apparent friends
• Grades deteriorate
• Refusal to say what’s wrong
• Doesn’t want to go to school
• Restless sleep
• Inconsistent appetite
The child may initially tell an adult, but then stop talking about the situation because he or she is afraid of retaliation, or sees nothing being done. In the interim, the parent or teacher assumes the harassment has stopped, and forgets about it, when actually the situation has deteriorated.
The bullying increases to physical threats or violence; more children have become involved, friends have withdrawn.
The child begins to feel hopeless. Long-term effects experienced by the bullied child include depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
Cathy Swartwood Mitchell, director of BullyPolice, a watchdog organization for bullied children, asks, “At what age does teasing become harassment, taunting become tormenting, follow-stalking, punching-assaulting or a fight become battery?”
When do we stop calling bullying teasing, or characterizing it as “normal child’s play?”
Parents, teachers and church and organization leaders need to take a closer look at what children are doing and saying to realize the seriousness of their words and actions…and that these can lead to such detrimental results as child suicide.
Priscilla Dames is founder and president of Wingspan Seminars, LLC, specializing in strengthening relationships through conflict resolution and crisis management. Her website is www.wingspanseminars.com.