Dear Kelly McBride: Suicide baiting does lead to suicide
In my new world, big news is what is being said in the media about suicide, and nothing rocked it more than last week’s little gem by Poynter journalist Kelly McBride, Bullying is not on the rise and it does not lead to suicide. Let the fireworks and the trolls ensue! And they did. Aplenty.
I dislike people who misinterpret the “experts” on suicide, quoting some little fact and tacking a whole theory to it. In fact, I dislike many of the experts anyway, a dislike that started as soon as I read the highly touted 2001 book by grief counselor Iris Bolton, My son… My son..: A Guide to Healing After Death, Loss, or Suicide. “Finally, I saw that my son’s death was his choice,” declares Bolton, repeating that mantra throughout: “his choice about his life,” his “chosen exit,” and so on.
This did not seem right. My son Dylan and I had talked about vacuum sweepers on Saturday. On Tuesday he was dead, bullied to death in a public suicide baiting in Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco, 2-16-10. Everyone who knew him was devastated. We have talked and read nonstop since his death. Dylan had had to be convinced to jump to his death after 45 minutes of taunting. His death was against his will.
From the beginning I knew that the lawsuit I brought to the table (Yount v City and County of San Francisco) was not about what had been wrong with Dylan, but rather about what had happened to him. There is no choice in mental illness. We also do not commit diabetes; we do not commit cancer. Dylan died in a suicide baiting. There was no will or intent to die. He wanted to make the pain stop. He needed help. Instead, he got encouragement to die.
First researched in the 1960s by Leon Mann, suicide baiting most certainly does lead to suicide more often than not. For the victim, a suicide baiting is an experience that obliterates rational thought, the proverbial last straw for the despondent. Suicide baiting illustrates the worst downside about the human condition. Suicide baiting confirms that some people are predatory assholes.
There is absolutely no “false narrative” in the media about suicide bullying/baiting as McBride claims. There is, indeed, a definition connection. If ever there was a firm predictor for suicide — for failing to find a reprieve from hopelessness and despair — nothing would rank higher than a suicide baiting.
I remember I used to love teaching “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” by Whitman. His ideas about how we learn through indirect and direct experience — astronomy, in this case, in the lecture hall or outside under the stars — excited students. To me, the poem is even more relevant today after reading many suicide “experts” (read that as “learn’d” with a hint of sarcasm). I know there is no singular approach to suicide prevention. No suicidal brain or mind.
All of us are capable of being pushed beyond our resources for coping at one time or another. If anyone ever tells you that he or she has never thought about suicide, you will be looking at a liar. With help, most of us pass through crises. I certainly do not claim to be an expert on suicide. On the other hand, I have gone outside to look at the stars since Dylan’s death.
And I have read everything out there about suicide baiting. No one else in the world has thought, read, or talked more about the narrow field of suicide baiting than I have since Fat Tuesday, 2010. The only possible exception might be the mother of Shaun Dykes who died in a suicide baiting on September 27, 2008. You can Google my friend’s son’s death using these words, “how far can you bounce?” similar to Googling my son’s death with, “a man jumps to his death and people laugh?”
At our Suicide Baiting Prevention page, we are a clearinghouse of information and support. We are documenting suicide baiting incidents worldwide. In each, the jumper must be poised at a height, the taunter(s) must be below, there must be a police presence. Our only exception so far is a story of a man who had stabbed himself nine times at the behest of a cheering concert crowd at L.A.’s Forum in 1986. As the cheering became louder and louder, the survivor said he had been able to “shove the knife blade deeper and deeper.” Since Dylan’s death in 2010, suicide baiting has occurred 15 more times (Suicide Baiting Prevention, see Notes).
Having a reporter declare that bullying does not lead to suicide is exactly the “irresponsible journalism” McBride says offends her. While bullying/baiting is the stressor that the vulnerable cannot overcome, no one has ever suggested that baiting/bullying was the sole cause of suicide. All of us, too, are cognizant of insensitive remarks when we see them. McBride says, “Every other month or so a story about a child bullied until he or she commits suicide rises into our national consciousness. This month it’s Rebecca Sedwick from Lakeland, Florida. Before that it was Gabrielle Molina of Queens. And before that it Asher Brown.” The survivors of these deaths are just pilgrims beginning a journey to understand the unthinkable! Their children’s deaths should not be an occasion for the “rising” of anything into our national consciousness except our love and sympathy.
If McBride also believes that social media has not affected the frequency – the very “rising” of incivility in our society – an hour on the Internet might prove beneficial. Equally offensive: “Parents, teachers, and school administrators are rarely qualified to describe research or trends.” Believe me, the very people in the trenches are quite qualified to speak about the research and trends.
There is simply room at the discussion table for all of us. We need input from everyone, both kinds of knowledge. The Holier Than Thou’s can sit in the lecture halls for as long as it takes to get it. They will not save lives with all their intellectualizing or the unbelievable comparison of suicide McBride makes to how we once approached the problems of “rock ‘n roll”! Those grieving for their loved ones will be the ones who will champion change.
Finally, never, not once did McBride mention that the malicious encouragement of suicide is illegal in all 50 states. In only three states can physicians assist with a suicide. The Massachusetts Supreme Court will soon hear a free-speech challenge to suicide encouragement brought by the Final Exit Network. This challenge will appeal the same laws used to convict suicide nurse William Melchert-Dinkel in 2011 of encouraging his chat “friends” to kill themselves. He bragged that he knew what he had done was immoral — he just didn’t think it should be illegal. I wonder if McBride has researched that.