The suicide of 16-year-old high school sophomore from Hudson provides a tragic illustration of the emotional abuse too frequently heaped upon children by cyber bullies.
Jessica Laney, a student at Fivay High School, ignored her friends' advice to shut down her account at a social networking site that allows anonymous posting. Instead, she replied to the insults head on and appeared bubbly and happy to her friends. But, Sunday evening she hanged herself, becoming the sixth child to commit suicide in Pasco County this year. The Sheriff's Office is investigating her death, but said the teenager had not reported the Internet taunting to school authorities and there was no evidence she was bullied in school.
However, her on-line account at ask.fm showed messages that characterized the slender, popular soccer player as fat and friendless and urging her to die. A 15-year-old friend told Times staff writer Erin Sullivan that Laney had battled depression in the past.
Her death has renewed a call for victims to report cyber-bullying and for parents to be vigilant in monitoring their children's on-line activities. Mental health experts note easy access to social media can encourage children to act in isolation rather than having personal contact with others.
Awareness is the key. Troublesome signs that parents should look for include fatigue, anxiety, performing poorly in school, disinterest in favored hobbies or sports, and radical changes in eating or sleeping habits.
Suicide isn't just a problem among adolescents. To recognize suicide prevention month in September, law enforcement and mental health advocates released statistics showing Pasco County with a startling suicide rate of 19.8 per 100,000 people, or 50 percent higher than neighboring Hillsborough. The Pasco statistics reflected 256 self-inflicted deaths over a three-year period. Officials listed substance abuse and troubled combat military veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder as contributing factors.
Suicide is a communitywide issue that knows no socio-economic or demographic boundaries. Teenagers can lack the maturity and emotional development to make rational decisions. Adults in crisis may not recognize their own situations. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help is available. Take advantage of the assistance to prevent more grim statistics from compiling.
For help, call 911, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Pasco information and referral line at (727) 992-9653 or Veterans Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.