Friday, May 25, 2012

Unfathomable? Sadly, No

For crying out loud, now seven year-olds are hanging themselves.

The suspected reasons? Depression. Bullying.

Neither should apply to a second grader. The latter shouldn't apply to anyone.

A poor 14-year-old girl in Detroit found her seven year-old brother dangling from his bunk bed. The child had managed to fasten a noose from a belt and hanged himself.

How do seven year-olds even know about hanging, much less how to do it? How does a child of that age pull this horrific act off, physically?

The mental and emotional aspects are just as chilling.

The child was, according to published reports, despondent over his parents splitting up, and there was some bullying going on at school, for good measure.

Enough of each, apparently, to cause the boy to grab a belt, climb onto his bunk bed, and do himself in.

Think back to when you were seven years old. It may be fuzzy but you ought to have memories.

To do so is also an exercise in futility, because most readers of this blog (if I have my demographics right) were likely seven years old in the 1960s, '70s or '80s. All decades before the Internet and before bullying became more than a shakedown for lunch money on the way to school.

So it's an apples and oranges comparison, I know, to recall your life at age seven and the lives of kids today. Maybe not even apples and oranges. Probably apples and liver.

But I ask you to recall age seven in order to start a path to the answer to this question: Where did it go sideways? When did being seven years old become tantamount to being a corporate CEO after Black Friday?

What kind of bullying is going on among seven year-olds that could drive one to kill himself? And how does a child of that age become so mentally broken by his parents' breakup that he figures his life is over anyway, so might as well accelerate it?

My parents separated when I was 11, got back together twice, then divorced when I was 14. That's not an ideal age for a boy to lose a father's influence at home, but there you go. The implications of the divorce on me as a person, I believe, didn't manifest themselves until well into my adult years.

But at 11 and 14, suicide wasn't even on the radar for me. There was some shame and embarrassment that my folks weren't living together, but nothing remotely suicidal.

At half that age, this boy in Detroit hanged himself.

I know I'm asking a lot of questions in this post, but that's always the bi-product of terrible stories like this---questions, which are plentiful. What's in short supply are answers.


The 7 year-old hanged himself in this Detroit house


The story being reported says that the boy had been counseled by a pastor and that in addition to the bullying, he was teased constantly for being the only boy in a home with eight girls.

A knee-jerk reaction to suicides which point to bullying is to dismiss the victim as being weak emotionally and/or overreacting to what was being done/said to him.

At least lately, there seems to be more of an accounting of the tormenters. Anti-bullying campaigns have been ratcheted up in recent years. But there's still the whispered opinion, "It can't be THAT bad."

Everyone has a different level of tolerance; that much is true. And, indeed, what might drive Person A bonkers might roll off Person B's back.

But one thing is certain: if there was no bullying, levels of tolerance wouldn't matter.

Bullying will never go away completely. But I hope it's being reduced, thanks to the levels of awareness being raised almost daily.

Bullying, alone, didn't cause this Detroit youngster to kill himself, according to reports. There is the recent parental split to consider as well.

Yet I have a feeling that the bullying and teasing played more of a role than the breakup.

Was it THAT bad?

Yes---for that little boy.

And if you think his case is an anomaly, consider this.

Of the 36,951 suicides recorded in the U.S. in 2009 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 265 involved children ages 5-14.

Two-hundred and sixty-five. That's five a week, and that was three years ago.

"It's just a tragedy on so many levels," Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. said Thursday, calling the situation "unfathomable."

Yes, but clearly one that isn't as unusual as you might want to think.

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