We should be listening to Amanda

Amanda Todd struggled in a frightening, dark world of depression that nobody could penetrate or fully understand before she took her life on Oct. 10. A month shy of her 16th birthday, the Port Coquitlam, B.C., teen, haunted by loneliness and helplessness, ended it all to escape bullying at school and over the Internet. She was a taunted prisoner shackled to a personal hell.

Amanda Todd struggled in a frightening, dark world of depression that nobody could penetrate or fully understand before she took her life on Oct. 10.

A month shy of her 16th birthday, the Port Coquitlam, B.C., teen, haunted by loneliness and helplessness, ended it all to escape bullying at school and over the Internet. She was a taunted prisoner shackled to a personal hell.

Families and friends of those who take their own lives desperately search for answers.

Often the tragedy is called a “selfish act,” and it is suggested that suicide victimizes the loved ones left behind.

But Amanda Todd was the victim. She was not being selfish — she was desperate for peace.

And in an eerie way, she explained why.

At wit’s end in September, she posted a cry for help in a YouTube video. During the nine-minute footage, she showed almost 60 flash cards on which she detailed her personal dilemma to an audience of — now — hundreds of thousands.

The cards told of a world of depression, as she was relentlessly bullied over the Internet, blackmailed and physically beaten. “I wanted to die so bad . . . I drank bleach,” one of the cards read. “It killed me inside and I thought I was gonna actually die,” read the next card.

After that attempt failed, cruel messages posted on Facebook continued to taunt here. “She should try a different bleach. I hope she dies this time and isn’t so stupid,” read one message.

And the hate messages haven’t stopped. Bullies are posting garbage on Facebook memorial pages set up in her honour. One referred to suicide as “Todding.”

Amanda’s death triggered an outpouring of sympathy, grief and anger — and yet another examination of the stark realities of the cyber- and at-school bullying.

Her school was aware of the video before her death. She was taking counselling and anti-depressants.

But the bullying continued.

This story is far from isolated. Bullying, online and off, makes the headlines far too often.

And Amanda Todd is not the only young person who felt compelled to take her life to find peace.

“Cyberbullying is so new that we just don’t have the research to tell us if it’s increasing or decreasing,” said Faye Mishna, dean of the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto in the Yahoo commentary.

Mishna said such behaviour must be confronted by the entire community.

Such steps are being taken in Central Alberta. Recently in Lacombe, more than 350 area students and adults took part in a walk to raise suicide awareness. One placard carried by a student read You are not alone. Let’s talk.

Statistics Canada reports that one in 10 adults in 2009 said their child (aged eight to 17) was being cyberbullied.

Before the Internet took over young people’s lives, parents were asked to monitor what their children were watching on television. But in today’s world, dominated as it is by social media, experts say it’s next to impossible to lay down rules. “It’s not feasible to take away a kid’s Internet privileges, because that’s their whole social world,” said Mishna.

Amanda Todd’s video asking for help tells how a girl threw her to the ground and punched her several times after somebody in a crowd of about 50 schoolmates “yelled, just punch her already. So she did,” wrote Amanda. “Kids filmed it. I was alone and left on the ground. I felt like a joke in this world . . . I just layed in a ditch and my dad found me.” Once home, she drank the bleach.

“I have nobody, I need someone,” she said in her second last flash card, on which two eyes and a big frown were drawn.

But her plea went unheeded.

“My name is Amanda,” read the final card.

We should not forget her name, nor the lessons she so desperately wanted us to teach about tolerance, respect and understanding.

Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.

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