Posts Tagged ‘suicide’

Manti Te’o’s hoax overshadowing legit deaths of women

January 17, 2013

An important read by one of my favorite writers/bloggers, Irin Carmon, this piece details how the Manti Te’o scandal has overshadowed the death of an actual Notre Dame student — a suicide reportedly tied to intimidation by football players regarding sexual assault allegations.

Media-wise, it’s similar to the recent murder-suicide of Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend. Horrific as it was, the way it was spun by many sports outlets was even more horrific — what a terrible tragedy that this football player killed himself, rather than — what a terrible tragedy that this football player murdered his girlfriend and the mother of her child.

And all this Manti Te’o hoopla, mixed with Lance Armstrong nonsense, has likely overshadowed that the autopsy for the Belcher shooting came back a few days ago. His BAC was twice the legal limit, and he had actually been found by police hours earlier sleeping in his idle car. According to Missouri law, they could’ve booked him on driving under the influence. Instead, they let him “go inside a nearby apartment to sleep it off.”

The apartment he wanted to go to was his mistress’s, who he had been with the night before. Instead, he went to a different apartment, slept a few hours, returned home, fought with his girlfriend, and then shot her nine times. Nine.

It’s a terrible disservice to Kasandra Perkins and Lizzy Seeburg that their tragic deaths are overshadowed by a story like this, of an imaginary girlfriend — that they just didn’t have enough shock value to keep people’s attention.

But along the lines of Carmon’s piece — she states “no one should be surprised” by the oversight of Seeburg’s suicide — maybe the saddest part is that these deaths aren’t that shocking considering the circumstances. Football players from a violent game being aggressive and/or violent off the field isn’t much of a stretch. But for some reason, that doesn’t make us any better at predicting the aggressive behavior.

What else can we get better at predicting? Drunk people have poor judgment, so they shouldn’t be let off for drunk driving with just a warning. Offenders will likely offend again, so incidents shouldn’t be quickly dismissed for the sake of a sport. Let’s focus on these cracks in the system — which affect tons of people — instead of one guy’s catfish/ill-fated sob story.

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RHOBH: I’d often say, ‘Just hit me so we can get this over with.’

January 31, 2012

Reality TV shows are often nothing but a cesspool of one or all of the following: cat-fighting, bickering, hooking up, and has-been celebrities (or celebrities who have never made it above the C-list). The reputation that these shows have — that it’s just mindless entertainment — is something I’ve often disputed, especially when it comes to shows like 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom, and the Real Housewives series. I think this is especially true in tonight’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reunion special (part one), during which Taylor Armstrong’s abusive relationship with her late husband Russell was discussed in pretty candid detail.

Yes, these vivid descriptions of emotional and physical abuse — coupled with the psychological trauma they cause — were sandwiched between arguments about Lisa calling Adrienne’s dog “Crackpot” instead of “Jackpot,” and debates about who sells stories to tabloids. But what Taylor shared with the world provides an honest look at domestic violence that people need to know about — it’s not as simple as Russell yelling at her or hitting her, and then her leaving. It’s a continuous cycle that is complicated; that pushes people away; that leaves people feeling empty and lost.

“I would often say, ‘Just hit me so we can get this over with,'” Taylor told host Andy Cohen, concerning Russell’s abuse. She explained that it gets to be routine, that it becomes easier not to fight the inevitable rather than make things worse. That she was at such a loss for how to stop the domestic violence, she invited cameras from BravoTV into her home in hopes that their watchful gaze would reduce Russell’s violent behavior. Adrienne commented that she thinks the cameras saved Taylor’s life — I agree.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one-third of female homicide victims were killed by their partner. In 70 to 80 percent of intimate partner homicide cases, the man had a history of abusing the woman. There are 16,800 domestic partner homicides each year — a number higher than the death rate of HIV, emphysema, or gun-related assaults that ended in death. Russell’s rage was so uncontrollable that, according to Taylor’s new memoir, he once told her that he was afraid he was going to kill her.

In the end, the cameras did put pressure on Russell to shape up, as he lamented Bravo’s painting him as a villain during the show’s first season. He blamed the show for slanderously ruining his life, career, and marriage, but more than anything I think he really blamed the show for putting a spotlight on his abusive ways and for publicizing his abusive actions — something he most certainly wanted to keep private.

Her plan was an interesting twist that showcased both her privilege and vulnerability — few women could end abuse by inviting cameras from a reality show inside their homes, yet her struggle was similar to any woman of any class who is dealing with domestic violence — she was trapped in a state of financial insecurity, destroyed self-confidence, and constant fear.

“Some days I still wake up and think, ‘Am I supposed to be doing this, am I supposed to be doing that?’ because I’m used to someone being there and telling me what I can and can’t do … I’m able to make my own decisions now and it’s hard,” Taylor told Andy. Camille chimed in, citing ex-husband Kelsey Grammar’s emotional abuse and controlling nature, and the complexity of this violence really reared its ugly head. You try to please that person, but nothing is good enough, and eventually your own self-image is tarnished by this abuser ingraining his own ideas in your head — that you’re dumb, worthless, and constantly disappointing.

And even more confusing to the ladies was Taylor’s insistence that, after sharing with them details of Russell’s abuse, they come to be friends with him. “I was very confused by it because one moment she’s telling this story that’s horrific to hear … but on the other end she wants us to like him,” Camille said. Lisa described one of the texts she saw from Russell to Taylor, in which Lisa said that “[Russell] called her an f-ing whore to start off with, he called her a piece of shit.”

It’s a tough road to walk — in trying to piece together her marriage, Taylor really couldn’t undo the months and maybe years of confiding she had done, telling her friends about Russell’s violence. She might’ve thought things would be better if Russell felt more welcome around her friends, that maybe even being around her friends more and at more social events could help reduce the violence — no one knows but Taylor. Some of the women took this as evidence of Taylor’s dishonesty, but really it speaks to her really hoping that starting from scratch would provide a different outcome — that her friends and Russell getting along would ease tension and change the abuse. But it was merely trying to put a band-aid in the wrong place, not an attempt to deceive her friends. Perhaps in convincing her friends it wasn’t that bad, she was hoping to suppress the abuse in her own mind, too.

Something Taylor said at the beginning of the episode was very telling: Russell was extremely narcissistic, often telling Taylor how much everyone loved him. This self-importance and ego perhaps drove him to react violently when questioned, to demand control over every aspect of Taylor’s life, to think that Bravo was the reason that his life was tumbling down — not able to see the wrong in his own actions or take any responsibility for them. When it comes to dating, this extreme narcissism is a definite red flag.

And so I’ve been writing about domestic violence for paragraphs and paragraphs, and I know it might not be as scintillating as the gossip about Adrienne’s chef, Bernie, dissing Lisa. But it’s important that this show, the epitome of glitz and glamour, not shy away from these real life problems that people of all classes face. What am amazing, public platform for raising awareness about domestic violence — its complexity, its heartache, its tragedy.

I don’t care if people are attracted by the drama of it all — I just hope they leave the reunion special with more education on the topic. Yes, it’s ridiculous that one of the housewives’ friends owns a pair of $25,000 sunglasses — but it’s also ridiculous that so many women are assaulted and murdered each year by their partners. And I’m glad this realty show is at least introducing this conversation into the world.

College-aged veterans 6 times more likely to attempt suicide

August 4, 2011

Today USA Today reported that college-aged veterans are six times more likely to attempt suicide than other college students, and are at an even higher suicide risk than veterans who go to the Veterans Affairs (VA) office for help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

As the article notes, research on veterans and PTSD is usually done on veterans in general, but not focused on young, college-aged people specifically. Though the results of this research are jolting, they aren’t necessarily surprising. Studies show that the brain doesn’t fully mature until a person reaches their mid-20s, and that adolescent brains have more difficulty dealing with stress than adults whose brains have fully matured. Coping with trauma is that much more difficult for a younger veteran.

And it’s unclear whether colleges have the health services needed to help treat PTSD symptoms. Some colleges have VA offices, and the VA has a program called “VetSuccess” to help veterans transition back into civilian life, complete with an on-campus arm, but this program is only at eight campuses nationwide. Student health services alone can’t be relied on — at my alma mater, the counseling services available carried a two- or three-week wait time and were only free for the first few visits.

Aside from a lack of treatment options, trying to assimilate back to civilian life at college — possibly away from your support system — heightens the feelings of isolation that already come with PTSD. Luckily, there are chapters of Student Veterans of America (SVA) across the country, which help fight that feeling of isolation and the stress of adapting to a new environment by connecting student veterans on campus and providing other college- and career-related resources.

Some cities do have specialized programs for young veterans, such asVetSTRONG in San Francisco, and in 2008 the Department of Labor started the “American’s Heroes at Work” project to help veterans with traumatic brain injury and/or PTSD find jobs after returning to civilian life. More attention is being paid to young veterans, especially as they are re-deployed for multiple tours of duty, but a lot of these organizations are still in their infancy. This means the programs themselves might be smaller and less accessible to some vets, or that young vets might not be aware they exist.

So while there has been progress recently (likely in response to research that said one in five veterans returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan have symptoms of PTSD), many college campuses still simply don’t have the proper tools to deal with combat-related PTSD. The authors of the study suggest colleges increase screening for PTSD if students have been in the military, possibly catching signs of suicidal tendencies or behavior early on. That, along with a widespread and dedicated attempt to raise awareness about student veteran support groups and access to treatment resources, will be key to lowering this high rate of attempted suicide among college-aged veterans.

Do you think you might have PTSD symptoms, or know someone who does? Click here and read about the symptoms of PTSD.

Do you think someone you know is suicidal? Click here and read about suicide prevention, and pay special attention to signs of suicidal behavior that are specific to veterans. Click here for more information and resources about suicide prevention.

The VA has a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline that you can call if you are either contemplating suicide or a family member or friend might be contemplating suicide: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Click here to start your own chapter or affiliate a current student veteran organization with SVA. 

Find your local VA center by clicking here.

Bullying has led to a suicide epidemic at my alma mater

October 8, 2010

Reading that bullying is so bad at Mentor High School, my alma mater, that suicide has become an epidemic makes me feel a wave of emotions — shock, sadness, anger, frustration, confusion. Initially I can’t believe that four people in the last few years have killed themselves because bullying at Mentor High is so bad — but after thinking about it for a bit, the atmosphere there is ripe for intense and unregulated hate.

If you aren’t familiar with Mentor, it’s a suburb of Cleveland that has a little more than 50,000 people. It’s mostly white — and when I say mostly, that’s an understatement — Census data show that it’s 97.3 percent white. The second highest ethnicity in Mentor is Asian, with 1.2 percent. Mentor is not a diverse place — it’s a place where if you’re different, you stand out — whether it’s your ethnicity, your class (median income is $57,230), or your personality.

Mentor High is gigantic — it used to only be grades 10-12, and there were more than 2,000 students there. Now it’s grades 9-12, with almost 3,000 students. My graduating class had 831 people in it. Not only is this crowd of teenagers very one-dimensional, but it’s also huge — not fitting in becomes exponentially more noticeable, and the pool of bullies becomes larger.

Bullying in school is unfortunately common, but bullying at Mentor High is out of control. I wasn’t bullied at Mentor High — I was picked on in elementary school and junior high, but never to the extent that these teens were. People didn’t throw food at me, push me down the stairs, smack me, or knock books out of my hand. But I don’t chalk that up to Mentor not being a place where bullying thrives — I chalk that up to mostly taking AP or honors classes where everyone was a nerd and becoming good at fitting into the crowd.

Each of the teen’s story is a little different — one was being called a slut, one was being called gay, one was being bullied for her learning disability, and one was enduring name-calling. Two of these teens killed themselves within three weeks of each other. What they all have in common is that, even though half of them had been pulled out of school in favor of online classes — the bullying was so intense that it made these young people’s lives unbearable.

My mom works at the cafeteria of a local community college where Eric Mohat took classes (many students took post-secondary education classes in high school that would transfer to college). She remembered he would always come in and order an entire pepperoni pizza, probably because his nickname was “Twiggy” and he looked too thin to be able to eat the entire thing.

When she found out he had shot himself, she was extremely upset. She recalled that on the day he killed himself, he came through the cafeteria line as always, but when he went to pay for his food, he just had a drink. She thought this was bizarre, since he always got the pizza, and she noticed that he looked especially down. She lamented to me that she should have said something to him, and wondered if she could have done something to brighten his mood and stop him from taking his own life.

But it shouldn’t be up to my mom or other strangers to these kids to stop the bullying or convince these kids not to kill themselves. If a total stranger can be intuitive enough to see that Eric was distraught, why aren’t teachers and schools more aware? Probably because large class sizes make it more difficult for teachers to notice students individually; teachers and all education workers are overworked and underpaid; the Internet — particularly Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter make bullying even more prevalent, viral, and embarrassing (and unseen in schools); and schools aren’t equipped to deal with bullying, or perhaps have decided it is kids “just being kids” — the rule rather than the exception.

It’s important to note that, unfortunately, Mentor High exemplifies, rather than serves as an outlier for, suicides among young people. There have been four recent suicides because of gay bullying, which came to light after Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers University, jumped off the George Washington bridge in New York because his roommate outed him online, live streaming video of Tyler being intimate with another guy. One of the Mentor students was very publicly bullied because people thought he was gay, and people suspected another of the students was also gay but it’s unclear whether she was bullied because of it.

Mentor is a breeding ground for bullying, and anyone who denies it is either living in denial or was of the crowd that fit in to the preppy, white, middle-class atmosphere. You’re not a terrible person if you didn’t get bullied — but if you did the bullying, then yeah, you are a terrible person. It’s disgusting how teens treat each other, and the age at which I hear about teens killing themselves keeps getting lower and lower — some don’t even make it to their teens without committing suicide to escape the bullying.

Yes, teenagers are hormonal. Teenagers are awkward. But they shouldn’t be feeling so trapped in the bullying and the negativity that they feel the best solution is to just stop living. Bullying needs to be more heavily punished. Teachers and counselors and aides need to be trained to spot bullying and catch it before it consumes these kids. These kids need to feel like they have someone to talk to, that their complaints won’t be ignored or just lead to more bullying.

Parents need to be more involved — and I mean the parents of the children who are doing the bullying. Parents of the bullied can only do so much, the most extreme being home-schooling or online classes. But what about the kids doing the bullying? It shouldn’t be up to the person being bullied to just leave because they don’t fit in — what kind of message does that send to the student? That the only way they’ll find peace is being alone? How does that help them?

This blog might jump around, but I’m writing it fueled by the emotions that I described initially. I know so many people, my peers, who could’ve been these people. I watched them get bullied, heard about them get bullied, and myself even would gossip about them. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but peers standing up and against the bullying helps those being bullied feel less alone; bullies getting stricter punishment helps; schools taking bullying more seriously helps; parents taking their kids as bullies more seriously helps; and not enabling the behavior by expecting it to happen helps.

Like Ellen said in the video I linked to above, “One death lost in this senseless way is tragic. Four is a crisis.” The Mentor school system can’t ignore that suicide is a big problem, and it needs to be addressed immediately — especially at the high school. And just because students aren’t killing themselves doesn’t mean other school systems should breathe a sigh of relief — everyone should be on alert for bullying, because people can still harm themselves without ending their lives.