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Thursday, 18 October 2012

Wake up and smell the withering roses

I'm sure that by now, the majority of you will have heard of Amanda Todd's tragic story.

A video she made before her death
WARNING: 8.05 - 8.09 may be triggering to those
struggling with self harm.

For those that haven't heard of Amanda Todd before this post, her story goes a bit like this:

Amanda, like many teens, tried to make friends on an online chatroom. One of the boys told her that she was beautiful, and convinced her to flash him. The stranger took a screenshot of this, and later posted them to all of her school friends and loved ones, which resulted in constant bullying. Things went from bad to worse after she moved to another school and started getting close to a guy that she thought liked her... it turns out that he had a girlfriend. The boy's girlfriend, along with a group of people and the boy in question, then surrounded her, pointed out how alone and unpopular she was and then began beating her. She tried to commit suicide later on that night. It didn't work, and the bullying just intensified, people began to suggest that she should try again. She did. Amanda died on the tenth of October, just weeks after posting  her video.

This post isn't about Amanda Todd specifically. In all honesty, it's more about the society that enables a young person to feel so helpless, that they think their only escape is suicide, and also, the society that thinks it is suitable to use the story of these young people to feed their own egos.

I just wanted to point out a few things that very few people are mentioning whilst talking about Amanda Todd and the way her story is being spread around social networking sites like Facebook:

1) Are we focusing on the right person?

Every thirty seconds, someone commits suicide. That's one hundred and twenty people per hour, or roughly one thousand, four hundred and forty people per day. It is suggested that most of these deaths are teenagers suffering from either depression or constant bullying. That's terrifying statistics.

I've seen many well meaning people post Amanda Todd's video onto their facebook profiles along with the message "I would have been there for her!", or something similar. I'm sorry to say this, but focusing on Amanda now will not bring her back. We should be putting our attention into helping those who are suicidal in our towns and cities right now. Hell, we should be helping the people in our lives who are suicidal right now. And don't say "But Lauren, I don't know anyone who is suicidal", because sadly, the odds are that you do. 

Six in ten teenagers think about suicide.
One in ten will go onto try it.

That means, in your average class size of twenty pupils, twelve will have been suicidal at one point in their lives, and two will have tried, or will go onto try, to commit suicide. 

Focus on those people. Focus on your friends. Know the warning signs to look out for in your friends or loved ones and support them in whatever way you can, if you suspect that they may be suicidal. Don't be afraid to ask difficult questions or try to get them to open up to you, if you feel as though that is the best thing to do. Be there for them but try not to cloud things with euphemisms. Something as simple as "I'm worried about you... you seem to be very distant and down. Is there anything that you'd like to speak about?" could end up saving someone's life.

2) The video that people are sharing might be doing more harm than good

Yes, people that are sharing the video are mostly doing it out of good intentions, but the fact is, it might be doing more harm than good.

First off, and most explicitly, the video contains a still of a self-mutilated arm. I've talked about triggering images before on this blog. A trigger, such as a picture of cuts or burns, can cause those suffering or those who have previously suffered from self-harm to harm themselves. Self-injury is an addiction and a coping technique, and quitting can prove to be extremely difficult. Showing a self-harmer an image of cuts can be like showing an alcoholic an entrance into a brewery. You're effectively showing them an entrance back to their self-destructive behaviour. The image is triggering because they may remember the way they felt directly after self-harming. The release of endorphins, the feelings of pressure being lifted from their shoulders... believe me, triggering images are very much real.

And the less explicit reason... which doesn't refer to the video itself, but rather the way we are all treating it.

A large majority of people are mourning a young person's death.

Five hundred and ninety three thousand people 'like' her memorial page on Facebook. She is being treated like a martyr, and I feel as though that is a very dangerous thing. 

The reason that schools are advised against having memorial assemblies for suicide victims is because the overwhelming sense of unified grief can trigger copy-cats. Those who are feeling suicidal see the effect that this person's death is having on people, people who didn't even like the person that much that are now in floods of tears, mourning their death. The way that this person is being treated in death, is the way the suicidal person wants to be treated in life, but isn't. With nothing to lose, the person attempts suicide so they can be treated the same way the original victim was.

Imagine that happening... on a much larger scale.

We are all mourning over the death of a complete stranger. We are mostly saying beautiful things about how lovely she was, and how we would have been there for her if given the chance. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who can't even gather a morsel of that love and affection from the people in their lives, let alone society as a whole. They are already feeling suicidal and as though nobody cares about them, and then they see the way people are treating Amanda Todd upon her death...

It doesn't bear thinking about.

3) Attention seeking social networkers

Tragedies are a fantastic way to get reblogs, likes and retweets. That is a disgusting fact, that many egotistical social networkers with no respect are well aware of. Many people have copied Amanda Todd's video and uploaded it as their own on youtube in the hope to get hits. Others have taken to Facebook and tumblr to create posts, often incredibly offensive, in an attempt to get likes and reblogs. Things such as "What was Amanda Todd's favourite band? The bleach boys" among poems to do with self-harm can make for difficult reading, especially considering that people are genuinely getting some form of pleasure out of laughing at this poor girl's death. And that is just sick.

4) Bullies, bullies everywhere

Many people, almost entirely complete strangers, have taken to Amanda Todd's facebook memorial page. Not all of those strangers have good intentions...
"October 10th 2012 - best day of my life!"
"This whole thing makes me sick. I have no sympathy for it."
"Why are we calling her an angel? She clearly is not an angel, she fucked up and killed herself for it. If we call her an angel, we may as well kill all morals in our society, because an angel would be defined as a home wrecker (sleeping with taken men!) or a slut (showing her boobs online to men.)"
"u all make me sick grieving for this attention whore."
All of the above quotes were comments left on Amanda Todd's memorial page. Let me just add, none of these people knew this girl. They have zero emotional connection to her, good or bad. But the appeal of being a cyber bully has attracted them, due to the fact that there's very little, if anything, that can be done to punish them for the emotional damage that they are causing Amanda Todd's loved ones. And that's just sickening.
Instead of spreading Amanda Todd's video, we should be raising awareness of how to identify the signs of suicidal behavior and we should be taking this opportunity to push our governments into taking action against bullying. More severe punishments should be available for the more extreme cases of bullying (i.e. this) and new materials should be available to schools (preferably starting at a younger age) that focus more on the effects that bullying can have on individuals, rather than the current materials that focus on the different types of bullying that exist and who to speak to in order to put an end to it.

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