At 7:50 yesterday morning, 13-year-old Cade Poulos used a gun to end his own life at Stillwater Junior High in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Immediately, the event made national and even international news. Police crews were rushed in, students were bussed out, and people tried to make sense of what had happened. According to a memorial group on Facebook, a reason for Cade’s suicide was bullying.
Bullying. Bullying—negative treatment or lack of positive treatment from his peers—drove Cade to such despair that he presumably believed that killing himself was the best solution.
If only Cade’s story were the exception, but unfortunately his represents a growing trend among today’s adolescents. According to a June 2012 New York Daily News article, 1 in 12 teens has attempted suicide, and many of these suicides have been linked to bullying. Technology also contributes to the problem with the newly coined “cyberbullying,” i.e. bullying through posts on Facebook, via email, text messages, etc. According to PureSight, a company that specializes in online child safety, victims of cyberbullying are three times more likely to consider suicide than their non-bullied peers. And middle schoolers are the most vulnerable.
Within the last few years, efforts have been made to stop bullying in schools. Awareness initiatives have been started, anti-bullying campaigns have begun, self-esteem rallies have been held, and yet the problem still exists and, arguably, is growing. Whatever we are doing doesn’t seem to be working. Motivational speeches, fliers, and Facebook groups aren’t cutting it. But why?
Because bullying isn’t the problem. It’s just a symptom of the problem. And until we recognize that, we’ll just be covering a severed artery with a Band-Aid. Bullying creates—and comes from—a lack of self-esteem. Insecure people deride other insecure people in an effort to feel better about themselves. So to deal with bullying, we have to get to the root issue of self-esteem. But how do we fix that?
Forgive my trite Sunday-school answer, but Jesus really holds the solution. You see, I believe that if every person truly understood that, not only are they made in the image of God, but that God loved them so much to send His only Son to redeem them, then bullying and suicide statistics would look drastically different.
Yes, I realize that complex psychological and emotional issues are involved with both the victim and the perpetrator, and I understand that depression can be caused by chemical imbalances and other biological factors. However, I still stand firmly by my case. If we really understood the Gospel, and if we really believed what God says about us, the world would change. Bullies would disappear because people wouldn’t need to hurt others to feel good about themselves. Kids like Cade would have hope instead of despair and wouldn’t choose to end their own lives. And tragedies like yesterday’s teen suicide in Stillwater, Oklahoma, would never have the chance to happen.
“Yes, that’s a noble idea, Steffi,” you may be thinking, “but more optimistic than realistic. Do you really think that could happen?”
Of course…. But only if we want it to.
As believers, we are called to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We are the living, breathing messengers of the Gospel of God. We are His plan for sharing His life-giving news with everyone, and with bullying statistics and suicide rates increasing more every year, the mission becomes increasingly urgent. Each of us has been put in specific places with unique spheres of influence, so we can share the Gospel.
Here I need to pause and say that I didn’t know Cade. I don’t know what he believed or whether he was a Christian. I realize suicide isn’t limited to non-believers and that professing Christians also decide to end their own lives. I also acknowledge that I am stepping outside my bounds in that I am not a psychologist or an expert on suicide. But I do know this: 1) Despair is the antithesis of hope. Whatever the cause of depression may be, it is always accompanied by a loss of hope, and suicide is the tangible and extreme result of that. Someone like Cade actively decides that death is a better option than life; the despair is consummated. 2) Hope is the antidote of despair. Yes, treatment for clinical depression is more complex than that, but the centrality of hope remains. Hope reminds us that things can and will get better; it’s a positive perspective on the future reflected in our actions. As Christians, we have the ultimate source of hope. His name is Jesus. Only Jesus can give us peace with our past, confidence in our present, and hope for the future. Jesus truly is the answer. But we have a choice: Will we be active in sharing Him with others, or will we let opportunities pass us by?
Choose wisely. As we were reminded yesterday at 7:50 a.m., some decisions can’t be taken back.