Suicide has been getting a lot of focus lately, what with reports of famous people, who at first glance, seem to live perfect lives, deciding to kill themselves. Robin Williams comes to mind; and you also have Tony Scott (director of Top Gun and brother of RIdley Scott) and L’Wren Scott (I will forever associate her with Nicole Kidman’s ethereal dresses at red carpet events) all dying by their own hands in the last couple of months. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24 years old according to a 2014 study by
the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), and second among people aged 15 to 29 years old, per the World Health Organization (WHO).
So when I saw this book by Jay Asher and read the synopsis at the back, I was immediately intrigued. It was unique in that the novel told its story through the taped recordings made by high school junior Hannah Baker and the thoughts of and goings on while her classmate Clay Jensen listened to the tapes. Hannah had consumed sleeping pills a couple of weeks prior to the start of the novel while Clay was one of the recipients of the tapes. Before killing herself, she made audio tapes detailing the 13 reasons (by twelve people) why she was going to commit suicide. She then mailed the tapes to the first person in the list to be passed on to the next, prior to her death. A second set of tapes was sent out to their classmate Tony, to be released to the public if any of the 12 people on the list fail to pass it on to the next person.
I won’t go into much detail about the 13 reasons why (the WIki entry for it nicely listed them all down and you can also go to the official website), but what struck me was that Hannah killed herself because of bullying. Not the outright, name-calling type, but one wherein a guy she dated when she first arrived in their town, perhaps to make himself appear manly and more popular, spread rumors that they did more than just kiss on their first date. This rumor “snowballed” and got Hannah a reputation of being “easy” and unpopular (or popular, for the wrong reasons). Being a newcomer, she didn’t have many friends to defend her and the degrading treatment from her peers made Hannah desperate and alone. Her last resort was to approach their English teacher/guidance counselor and talk to him about suicide. However, after a short session wherein Hannah ended up feeling even more helpless, the teacher just let her walk out of the room without stopping her, knowing full well that Hannah was exhibiting suicidal tendencies.
Her last line in the book was “thank you” which to me was the saddest line in the book, signifying that she’d given up and the thank you was for her classmates, her teachers and everyone around her, for not showing any concern for her. A sort of thanks, but no thanks.
According to a study by Yale University, bullied people are two to nine times more likely to kill themselves, and another study revealed that more than half of suicides among young people are due to bullying.Among the red flags of suicide, taken from the website http://www.bullyingstatistics.org, are:
- Showing signs of depression, like 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
While I have never had thoughts of suicide (thank God that I love life too much and have too many plans to consider that), I myself have been a victim of bullying all throughout my school life.
When I was in fourth grade, an older schoolmate once attacked me and a group of friends with a small knife; it became clear that the attack was centered on me and one other friend of mine. When we reported it to the school officials, our then Asst. Principal was so worried as she knew the attacker and that I was easy prey, she actually asked my parents to move me to another school as soon as possible. Transferring wasn’t quickly achieved in those days so I waited out the entire school year, and had to be taken to and from the school by my nanny (who was built like an Amazonian queen and who would have punched the guy asleep if given the chance) and watched by our teachers while at school.
Going to a new school gave me no respite however, as I experienced a different kind of bullying: name calling. I was born with wavy hair – neither slick straight but not curly enough to be cute. Needless to say, my wavy hair earned me the name “poodle”. I tried taming it with gels or putting water to keep my hair down until I eventually gave up and just wore headbands and tied my hair. Thankfully, my hair is better behaved now (and yes, I do get rebonds and digital perms alternately). The most amusing thing happened to me a few years back when during a reunion with my grade school classmates, a couple of my male classmates could not remember me until I told them, “ako yung tinatawag n’yo na poodle dati” (I was the one you called “Poodle” before) and it was like a lightbulb flashed above their heads. It was almost cartoonish.
Looking back, hIgh school was probably even worse – a lot of people will probably agree with me when I say high school is the toughest place to survive in. And it’s even tougher when you’re an average looking girl studying in an exclusive all-girls school where beauty, more than brains, is the currency. On a side noted, this is probably why I can relate very well to the song At Seventeen. A lot of organizations I wanted to join didn’t get me because I was up against prettier, more popular, or richer girls. I was even handed a note from a higher-batch schoolmate bearing the words “The Simpsons” during a snack break. This same schoolmate (who was also my neighbor a couple of houses over), would sing or hum at the top of her voice the theme song of the said program whenever I would pass by her along the street.
(On hind sight, the grown up life isn’t too different from high school).
Thankfully, I wasn’t raised by my parents to be a pushover and I was too much of a loner (in a good way) to be bothered with such trivialities. My stubborn streak and my pride wouldn’t allow me to suffer in silence either – I reported both incidents to school authorities. I knocked over one of the guys who were bullying me straight into the ground (I was one of the taller girls in grade school). He never called me Poodle again. And I got a public apology over the Simpsons incident.
And I got the sweetest victory when I saw the look on their faces when they realized during our mini reunion that I don’t look too bad now (yes, losing all that acne, buck tooth, and big glasses helped a lot). Yes, the ugly duckling has somehow turned into a swan (come on, this is my blog, so better agree with me on this one!)
So you see, I had my feet firmly planted on the ground and was too level-headed; and I had a lot of friends and family to support me. But I know there are a lot of young people who are not as fortunate as I was.
Bullying, affects not just the victim, but the perpetrator itself. It’s a sort of self-defense mechanism on the part of the bully, to cover up some deep-seated insecurities. It has to stop and the only way I know how is to not be a bully myself.