July 30th, 2009.
I was twelve-years-old at the time. Everything about my life was innocent and sugary sweet—exactly how life should be for someone that young.
Around 4 p.m. on July 30th, I found out my father had taken his own life. My father, at just 48 years old, was gone by his own accord.
This tragic event has shaped me into a strong, compassionate woman. This event has led me to discuss and raise awareness on suicide and to use this speech to my full advantage.
So what does this have to do with anything? I am here today to inform and encourage each and every one of you to become aware of your actions and to acknowledge the effects they may have on people.
According to afsp.org, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, an American dies by suicide every 12.3 minutes, every day. A 2015 statistic states that 44,193 Americans die by self-inflicted injuries each year; however, it is likely that that number has increased within the past year.
Why are these statistics so high? Are we ignorant to the warning signs of someone in need? Do we not take people seriously?
I urge everyone in this room to recognize the signs of someone who might be considering suicide. Truthfully, you never think that you could lose someone in such a tragic, preventable way…and then you do.
Suicidal people often battle with depression and other serious mental illnesses. Individuals that are thinking about taking their lives often give out personal belongings and money, obtain weapons out of the blue, or say seriously questionable things about their lives or worth. So why do we choose to let these things pass us? Are we truly uninformed, or do we think it’ll never happen to us?
I’m willing to bet all of us in this room right now have been bullied or have bullied others at some point in time. Everyone goes through it and everyone does it—whether you are brave enough to admit it or not. In fact, 49% of kids from 4th through 12th grade have reported being the victim of a bullying incident, while 30.8% of kids in the same demographic have admitted to being the bully.
Whether we want to accept it or sweep it under the table, our words and actions affect other people and how they view themselves. It is likely that bullying and suicidal thoughts have a direct correlation. According to Bullyingstatistics.org, bullying victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide as opposed to non-victims. Even if some suicides are not directly linked to a specific bullying incident- it does lead to emotional distress, only pushing the person farther and farther.
Recently, social media and pop culture references have given the masses the idea that love will help save people who are feeling suicidal. This is false and absurd. We, together, must stop parading the idea that love saves people. This idea promotes the wrong message and ignores the fact that society’s actions and mental health are a huge concern for suicide awareness.
Our generation is more powerful than we realize, and it is imperative that we use our power, resources, and words for the greater good of our future and those apart of it.
When I was 14, I wanted nothing more than to follow in my father’s footsteps. My whole world had crashed around me and a piece of me died along with him. However, the concern and actions of strangers, friends, and my mother kept me from going down that path. The kindness and recognition from people who barely knew me kept me going, and thankfully I am here today to encourage you all to be as aware, as kind, and as informed as the people who helped me were.
I’m sure we’ve all read the internet story about Kyle, the nerd who was bullied by classmates after knocking his books over and making him fall. A popular jock, Mark, helped Kyle get up and befriended him after he saw how hurt Kyle looked after the incident. As the two became closer and graduation arrived, Kyle confesses in a graduation speech that Mark saved him from taking his own life that day—just by being kind when no one else was.
Is this story real? Probably not. But that doesn’t make the lesson any less clear or important—our actions and words have a great impact on emotionally insecure individuals.
Don’t believe me?
In 2013, Angel Green, a 14-year-old from Indiana hanged herself from a tree next to her bus stop because she wanted her bullies to see what their words had done to her.
In 2012, 15-year-old Audrie Pott hanged herself with a belt after three boys gang-raped her and leaked photos of the event and passed them around to students.
In 2010, high school student Phoebe Prince hanged herself in the stairwell of her home due to bullying by “mean girls” over a relationship with a boy.
I could continue, but I think you’ve got the point—and if you haven’t, I don’t think you will by now.
According to an article published by psychcentral.com, approximately 20% of teens experience depression before they even reach adulthood. 6.7% of adults in the United States aged 18 and older experience depression.
Add mental illness with poor actions of those around us, it’s a recipe for disaster. Which leads me back to my main point—stay aware and be kind to those around you, because you never truly know who is dealing with what.
My point is not that every single bullying incident or rude action will lead to someone’s death, but my point is that our actions and words have a lasting effect on people and always will.
I hope that my own experience has opened the eyes of those who think it’ll never happen to them—I thought the same thing. I am now 20-years-old and still face the consequences of my dad’s actions every day.
Please do not be the reason for someone’s death.
Be the reason for someone’s happiness, well-being, and be the hope that we need for our futures. We are in this together.