I was recently in Jourdanton, Texas – a community south of San Antonio that was and is suffering from the loss of one of their own to the forever decision of suicide. In this case, it was a very young man, a seventh grader just 12 years old.
Joe Alvarado took his own life after school on Monday, October 1 – an event that garnered national attention. Many are saying that bullying was the cause of this tragedy, and in fact an investigation into possible bullying is underway.
We also had a fourth grader who recently committed suicide in Birmingham, Alabama.
I was brought in by the Jourdanton Independent School District to speak to high school and middle school students, as well to the parents later that night.
The first thing I always hear when it comes to a teen suicide is bullying.
I am here to tell you that suicide is very rarely the result of just one thing, and I am not saying that bullying or cyberbullying is not the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It certainly can be, and I don’t want to discredit that – but 90 percent of the time, suicide comes down to mental illness.
Today with teenagers, the diagnosis of depression is so much more broad than it has ever been. You can look at young people being overwhelmed. You can look at the expectations thrust on them, and a very real lack of coping skills and a seeming inability to process what is going on in their lives. Some make that forever decision because they see the solutions to their problems as being so far out in the future that they simply cannot take action in the here and now.
A dangerous line of thinking for teens is this: “If I can’t be perfect, then what’s the point?” This is unrealistic and most certainly not how life works.
I challenged NBC affiliate News 4 San Antonio to come out to the school to see things for themselves instead of making such a spectacle of the situation and casting a cloud over the Jourdanton community in regard to possible bullying. They might have seen a different community than they may have originally thought.
I realize that this is a very sensitive situation.
There is a difference between bullying and kids being mean. I’m not saying either one is right or that either one is OK. Absolutely not! But when it comes down to it, young people need better coping skills. They need better problem-solving skills. And parents need to be more involved in their kids’ lives – helping their children to understand that some people are just mean. Sometimes it’s bullying, and if the bullying is verbal, that’s one thing. Physical bullying is a police matter that could be a felony.
Verbal bullying? Listen - we need to teach our young people to ignore these people. I realize that this can be tough, but do not ever, ever allow people to have the power over your emotions.
None of the above is meant to overshadow my sensitivity to the situation – and especially to family of Mister Joe Alvarado: I’m sorry. I wish I could fix it and take it all back.
Unfortunately, Joe made a forever decision and he will not be walking through those school doors again.
I offer my prayers to his family and to the Jourdanton community.
My goal in Jourdanton was to inspire the kids and the community that it’s OK to move forward – and that it’s important to go through the process of grieving.
The teen suicide epidemic continues to grow, and I believe it ties into mental illness – what I believe is quickly becoming the largest public health crisis of our time. My latest book, Teen Suicide: The "Why" Behind America's Suicide Epidemic, covers these topics in depth. I encourage you to order your copy HERE.