A video recently shown on TV was unbearable to watch, seeing a 14-year-old school girl being viciously assaulted by four other students. The victim survived physically but not mentally. Two days later she committed suicide at home.
Her name was Adriana Kuch, described as a lovely and loving young girl who had been bullied repeatedly by some students.
That attack happened in a public school in Bayfield, N.J. Adriana was walking with her boyfriend down a locker-lined hallway when the students attacked. They pushed her against the lockers. She fell to the ground as they proceeded to kick and punch her. One girl slammed a water-bottle into her face repeatedly. Meantime, a school girl, using her cell phone, recorded the attack while laughing about it. The video was posted on social media, complete with nasty comments aimed at Adriana, who was terminally devastated by the video posting.
The school’s officials later called the attack “horrible” but did nothing about it at first. They didn’t even call the police. After a public outcry, the superintendent resigned, and the four perpetrators were charged.
Watching that video can enrage you and break your heart at the same time. And it should set off loud alarm bells in everyone’s heads because it’s a horrific warning that such attacks against children (physical and psychological) can – and do – happen anywhere, everywhere. If this growing wave of children’s suicides is not a national crisis, what is?
A recent report by the National Centers for Disease Control, based on a 2021 survey, revealed extremely disturbing results. Among 17,000 teenagers surveyed, almost half of them had experienced ongoing sadness and hopelessness. Far more girls than boys reported feelings verging on utter despair (57 percent compared to 29 percent for boys). Nearly one in three girls had considered suicide, and 13 percent said they had attempted suicide during the previous year. Just as horrific is that 14 percent of girls reported they had been raped that year, an increase of 27 percent from results of a 2019 CDC survey.
One obvious villain causing these mental-health catastrophes are social-media postings — a virtual ‘round-the-clock barrage of negative images and comments aimed at young people. And it’s not just online cyber-bullying; it’s also texting, videos and “selfies” of glamorous beauty, popularity and social success that make many teens feel inadequate, lacking self-worth, as if they are invisible, unloved and do not matter.
In many cases, there are other negative factors: families’ economic stresses, food insecurity, fears of violence in schools or on the streets, gloom-and-doom in the world (wars, famine, catastrophic effects of climate change). Is it any wonder so many children feel vulnerable and depressed? Those factors are hard enough for adults to endure, much less young people.
Parents, guardians, teachers, legislators and others must learn to network and learn to recognize the symptoms of danger: social withdrawal, a drop in grades, frequent absences from school, loss of interest in previous fun activities, sleep disturbances, lack of ability to concentrate, weight loss or gain, irritability, angry outbursts and comments about dejection, of being “worthless” or remarks such as “You’d all be better off without me.”
There is a good website called “Families for Depression Awareness” that informs adults on what to do and what not to do when they see young people in psychic pain. One “must do” is to encourage children to talk, to listen and to acknowledge with gentle compassion their feelings. One “never do” is to tell children, “Oh, just snap out of it. It’ll get better, it’ll all go away.”
Visit that website (www.familyaware.org) to learn about teen depression; share the information with others.
Also remember the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Dial or text 988. Another good resource is the National Alliance on Mental Health’s Helpline at 1-800-950-6264. Its email is [email protected].
There is help, there is hope. But only if all people begin to recognize the appalling crisis and then work together to do something about it.