By Senator, Lena C. Taylor
Young people around the country sharpened their pencils and strapped their backpacks on for the start of another exciting school year. As I joined others in greeting students at Maple Tree Elementary School this week, the significance of the day was not lost on any of us. I thought about dropping off my own son, 14 years ago and remembered how nervous we both were. I told him that it was okay to be anxious given the idea of sitting in a new classroom, meeting a new teacher, new friends, and taking on difficult topics. Anyone, parent or student, would be crazy not to feel some butterflies going into that. These are things we expect to deal with, but for some students, there are other concerns that lie ahead. Take the story of Jamel Myles.
Jamel Myles was a nine-year-old boy who should have had his first day, this week too. Yet, he didn’t get that chance. Instead of feeling excited and inspired, he went to school last year, often afraid, anxious and troubled. It was more than Jamel could take and at the age of nine, he made the decision to take his own life. Jamel was struggling with issues of sexual orientation and trying to figure out who he was. As a result, he was bullied and instead of reaching out to his parents, he tried unsuccessfully to deal with it on his own.
As a parent dropping your child off, or a student taking part in the greatest thing our country has to offer, an education, there shouldn’t be concerns that bullying could lead to this tragic outcome. For Jamel and many of the students that are confronting bullies for a variety of reasons, I need parents to understand that September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. It’s a time to check in with your children, talk to their teachers, coaches and other school staff to see how your child is getting along. It’s a reminder to do more than just ask, how was your day, but to really sit down and take a deep dive into understanding what is going on with the youth in your life.
In the U.S., 44,965 people commit suicide every year, but Jamel’s story is particularly heartbreaking because of his age. It’s hard to imagine that child spent a mere nine years out on earth, and decided that he had had enough. His mom said she never saw any signs that her son was dealing with such depression and angst. Suicide doesn’t have one single sign, but there are things you should look for that are risk factors or a possible warning. They include talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose; talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain; acting anxious, agitated, or reckless; sleeping too little or too much; withdrawing or feeling isolated; or displaying extreme mood swings.
Last Session, I introduced the Hopeline Bill, a 24/7 suicide prevention hotline, so that we could provide support to everyone fighting this battle. We didn’t get it passed, but I am working on it again this year. In the meantime, if you need help for yourself or a loved one, please call 911 or Lifeline (USA) at 1-800-273-8255. And remember to share your personal stories of hope and positive outcomes when going through a difficult time with others. Hope heals, helps, and matters.