OP-ED: Playing Our Part in Preventing Bullying and Suicide

By Shannon Weller

Last year in Arizona, sixty-three teenagers between the ages of 13-19 took their own lives, along with over 2,200 teens in the same age group nationwide. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Arizona ranks second in the nation for teen suicide rates. I recently read that a 13 year-old boy in New York took his life because he was being bullied at school, and that stuck with me. There is a clear correlation between bullying and suicide, and as this crisis continues intensified through social media we continue to see high suicide rates among teens. September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and as the second leading cause of death among young people ages 15-24, it is an important reminder that this should not be an issue that teenagers should have to deal with.

Working with high school students at Ombudsman Charter Schools for going on 18 years now, it hurts to see teens struggle with suicide. The thought of these kids even contemplating ending their lives keeps me up at night. As educators working with teenagers each day, we play such an important role in helping to shape our students’ lives. It is our responsibility to make suicide prevention a priority, to ensure that our students receive the best education possible, which includes learning in a safe and bully-free environment. While there is no simple answer to end bullying and suicide among young adults, it is our duty to be a part of the solution. We can’t solve this problem alone, but together, we can take action to make a change.

As a teacher at Ombudsman and also through my band, Volatile Minds, we’ve made the pledge to combat suicide. Together, we’ve teamed up with the Arizona Teen Lifeline, a hotline that provides teens with a safe, confidential and vital crisis service, where they can talk to other teens and receive support from counselors to help make healthy decisions. As a drummer for Volatile Minds for more than 12 years, we believe it’s important to use our voices to reach people through our music and address real issues. Our latest single, “Not 4 Me,” was written by our lead singer, Brandon Harris (a former Ombudsman student) and is about a girl who gets bullied at home and school and contemplates suicide.

To illustrate the impact of this national crisis, we filmed a music video for “Not for Me,” accompanied by a public service announcement to promote awareness about bullying and suicide. Our band has also partnered with local apparel brand, to create commemorative #Not4Me t-shirts, with proceeds donated to Teen Lifeline. Everyone can visit our website, volatilemind.com, to view the music video and public service announcement, as well as for information on how you can help join the fight to prevent suicide.

For years, we have asked teenagers who have feelings of suicide to talk to someone about it. It takes courage to seek help, but it is an act of strength, not weakness. Which is why Volatile Minds and Ombudsman joined with Teen Lifeline, to shine light on this issue and provide a support system for teens in need. But, there’s always more to do. Schools and communities can lead in the fight to prevent suicide. We all need to be proactive in our efforts, to prevent another teen from becoming another statistic.

About Shannon Weller

Shannon Weller is a teacher at Ombudsman Charter West. With locations throughout Arizona, Ombudsman Charter Schools offer collaborative learning programs, personalized instruction from caring teachers, small class sizes and flexible scheduling. Ombudsman Charter Schools also help students who need to earn additional credits, who are at risk of dropping out or who have dropped out of school and want to return and earn their diploma.

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