By Valerie D. Lockhart
SUN EXECUTIVE EDITOR
Tears streamed down 14-year-old Kameron’s face, as he told his mom of his terrifying experiences at school.
Visits to the school and private talks with teachers and administrators failed to stop constant taunts the eighth grader faced when walking down the school’s hallway, where his peers would yell out, “little turd” and other derogatory names.
The name calling escalated into shoves into lockers and eventually led to incidents of torture and his jaw being broken.
“He said, ‘the kids in school are picking on me. They shove me into lockers. They say all kinds of things to me, how little I am. They laugh at me. I don’t want wanna live like this mom,” Wanda Jacobsen tearfully recalled.
Sadly, Kameron went to his room and ended the bullying by committing suicide.
“He was in his room…and that’s where I found him,” explained Jacobsen. “It was all in a matter of minutes. It went by so fast, so quickly. He took his life in his room. He must have been so hurt by people that he even called friends.”
Kameron’s parents hope that no family has to ever experience their child being bullied to death and are taking actions to stop bullying in school.
“We don’t want Kameron or any of these kids to have died in vain,” said his father, Kevin Jacobsen. “We want society to recognize that there’s a problem.”
To bring greater attention to the problem, October is designated as National Bullying Prevention Month.
Students in Michigan are encouraged to report bullying and cyberbullying as part of the OK2SAY statewide student safety initiative.
"Our students learn best in a safe environment, but bullying and cyberbullying incidents threaten to disrupt our schools, sometimes with dangerous consequences," said Attorney General Bill Schuette. "OK2SAY creates a confidential early warning system in our schools and communities to ensure our schools are places of learning, not violence."
Bullying hindered Jana from getting an education. The 15-year-old says it started, when she was in the first grade and was teased for being “fat”. Despite of switching schools several times, the bullying continued. If she wasn’t teased about her weight, she was teased by students she befriended about her father being in prison. She eventually resorted to cutting herself, attempting to release her pain.
“The bullying got so bad that I became severely depressed. I missed a lot of school,” she said. “What no one knew was that I was staying home because I could barely walk and was scared. I could barely walk because at that point, I started cutting myself. It was horrible. I stayed in bed all say. I cried myself to sleep at night. No one had the slightest clue. My mom just thought I was sick. All the shame and the pain was marked on my arms, wrists, and legs. It was awful. I just couldn't stop. When my mom found out, she put me in counseling. If you are ever struggling with self-harm in any way, you need to get help immediately! It is not a healthy way to cope. And if you're ever thinking about it, don’t! You are beautiful and are worth more than harming yourself.”
Victims of bullying may be targeted because of their sexual preference, gender, religious affiliation, socio-economic background, intelligence, disabilities, talents, interests and other reasons.
While some turn to self-harm, others like Kameron commit bullycide to end the abuse.
About one out of every four teenagers has been bullied. Experts say that students who experience bullying are at risk of committing suicide.
“Children and teens who are bullied live in a constant state of fear and confusion in their lives. Many feel the only way to escape the rumors, insults, verbal abuse and terror is to take their own life. Bullycide is clearly a serious issue,” states one report.
According to the CDC, “suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it.”
Signs that a child is the victim of bullying and may be considering suicide include:
• Ongoing sadness, withdrawal from others, losing interest in favorite activities, or trouble sleeping or eating.
• Talking about or showing an interest in death or dying.
• Engaging in dangerous or harmful activities, including reckless behavior, substance abuse, or self-injury
• Giving away favorite possessions and saying goodbye to people.
• Saying or expressing that they can't handle things anymore.
• Making comments that things would be better without them.
To prevent school bullying in Michigan, Matt's Safe School Law was passed that requires every school to adopt an anti-bullying policy. Schools must identify and notify parents or guardians of a child who is the target of bullying. They must also set up a procedure for reporting bullying and investigate all claims.
“Matt’s Safe School Law,” was named after Matt Epling, a 14-year-old honor-roll student who committed suicide in 2002 after being bullied and assaulted at school.
Those who are targets of bullying or may see someone being bullied are urged to speak out. Tips can be submitted by calling 1-8-555-OK2SAY, 1-855-565-2729.
A hotline is also available to help those considering suicide at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
While parents like Kameron’s hope their deaths won’t be in vain, Jana uses her experience to help other youths get on the road to recovery and offers encouraging words.
“I feel like I was meant to be an advocate for anti-bullying, and help make it stop. I feel like that is one of my purposes in life,” she said. “Always, remember you are beautiful and worthy of life. You deserve a healthy happy life. If you are struggling with the same things I struggled with, know that you are worth recovery. There isn't just one type of beautiful. You are beautiful.”