On May 22nd, Gabrielle Molina, a 12-year-old Fil-Am from Queens, NY, took her life. She left behind an apologetic note to her family, which explained that she endured relentless bullying, both at school and on the internet.
Gabby's story is not an anomaly. Across the country, and the globe, bullying has become quite commonplace. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, 43% of all teens in America are victims of bullying. This includes cyberbullying, which is done over the internet and through other digital means.
The accessibility and anonymity associated with the internet allows hurtful messages to be sent and seen instantaneously. Thus, the internet incubates open battlegrounds for bickering, name-calling, and downright nasty arguments. These attacks appear on social media sites, comment sections and forums. Today, kids and teens have technology at their disposal, and can engage in unethical conduct, often without care or knowledge of the consequences. In the wrong hands, this technology becomes dangerous, and in Gabby's case, deadly.
Though we cannot blame Gabby's peers entirely for her passing, they did trigger her decision. As kids, we're taught the following phrase: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." But what if this isn't the case? Our words certainly have the ability to inflict greater pain than we intend.
In addition to cyberbullying, we must consider the state of Gabby's mental well-being. Kids and teens, like adults, may be living with a mental illness. Often overlooked or unidentified, these illnesses intensify, especially without attention or proper treatment.
As mental health becomes more visible in today's media, I'd like to send out a plea for help. Earlier this month, President Obama held the National Conference on Mental Health. The conference brought various mental health professionals and advocates together, in hopes of addressing the conversation at a national level. While there has been some criticism of the conference, I have faith that we're headed in the right direction. In addition to the conference, the Obama administration launched MentalHealth.gov, a comprehensive site for those seeking mental health services and resources. Furthermore, there are many other organizations out there that have been supporting and advocating for those living with a mental illness. My hope is that this conversation continues, and is not forgotten by the media. I believe it is up to us to equip ourselves with the right attitude and knowledge in order to truly change our culture's perception of mental health. We have to realize that anyone around us could be suffering in silence. By understanding the stereotypes and stigmas against mental health, we can help our friends, family, and even ourselves, during difficult times.
In the meantime, here's a letter I wrote to Gabby. It's signed "The World." I hope you will all join me in being part of that world.
We’ll never know how much you suffered nor will we know the truth. We’ll never know just how hard you tried to live freely in your youth. We know it must have been hard to fight the demons deep within. We know you couldn’t take the pain, nor the hell you were living in. But there are some things that you should know, even if it may be too late. Please know that we are sorry that you endured such cruelty and hate.
We apologize that we did not filter the toxins from our freedom of speech. The jagged grains tossed from our own hands went beyond our reach. For the poisonous words and bullying crept right into your very heart; You were physically and mentally tortured, your peace was ripped apart. We apologize that we’ve progressed to this: crimes can reach us in our homes. Perhaps unwelcomed claims and criticisms are worse than sticks and stones.
We apologize that our society has taught us how to turn a blind eye, For media and pop culture tells us to keep quiet when all else goes awry. We know cultural expectations left you amongst many doubts and fears, And that you were afraid ask for our help, lest a soul witness your tears. We are aware that we did not help you, we may have ignored the signs. We are sorry we did not think to look beyond the curtains nor the blinds.
We hope one day you’ll forgive us, and that you do not blame yourself. Because we’re all responsible for each other’s happiness and health. For now is the time to be courageous for those who have only an ounce of hope. It is us who must speak out, and broaden our conversation and our scope. We should help others out of the darkness, the shadows and the grief. We will stand up for all, friend or foe, who cannot find their own relief.
For each of us have been touched by mental pain, illness, or misdirection. So we have the responsibility to elevate and change our perception. We must encourage those around us to find the solace that they seek. We must be a beacon for those who’ve fought until their body’s left them weak. It is our hearts you have touched, though it’s been a tearful goodbye. We know we might not erase the stigma, but hey, it’s worth a try.
With Love, The World
Photo credit: Classic Soul Radio