BOSTON (CBS) – The most recent data on teen suicides in Massachusetts suggest we have the lowest numbers of any of the 49 states studied. However, the State Public Health Department reports the rate is climbing.
As she continues her series “Cries for Help,” WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Mary Blake reports on the problem of bullying and teen suicide:
The community of Templeton, Massachusetts points to its high school sports teams with pride.
“We have a great sports system,” boasted Templeton Police Officer Steven Flis.
Flis serves as the full time School Resource Officer for the Narragansett Regional School District.
“It’s one of those things where they were going to do an article about how every one of our teams, except for one, made the playoffs this year,” said Flis.
Flis also coaches basketball.
“There are a lot of good things goin’ on in town, and we don’t want to overshadow all that stuff because we have great kids,” said Flis.
Overshadowing the positive news, however, are several recent deaths among the student population at Narragansett Regional High School, including a non-fatal suicide attempt earlier this month.
“We had a recent attempt. That’s no secret,” said Templeton Police Chief David Whitaker. “There is a current investigation into what happened in that incident.”
The tragedy brought dozens of parents together a week later at Narragansett Regional High School for a presentation on teen suicide prevention.
Michelle Moss, who has a 12-year-old son in Templeton’s school system, left that meeting dissatisfied. “I was shocked because I didn’t think it was just going to be on suicide. I thought it was going to be more on bullying, and what the school was gonna do,” said Moss.
Meeting leader Larry Berkowitz has concerns about oversimplifying the complex tragedy of suicide and bullying.
“We want to change bullying. It’s an awful thing and nobody should endure it. But, we also don’t want to mistakenly give the message that people who are bullied, then commit suicide,” said Berkowitz.
Moss says her son is being bullied at school.
“As soon as he gets off the bus, I know,” she said. “I just see that look and it tears me up inside because I know I can’t do anything.”
Last April, Moss set up a Facebook page called Parents Against Bullying Templeton Massachusetts. She says she was surprised to find 75 people joined within a couple days.
Rebecca, which is not her real name, counts herself among students bullied at Narragansett Regional High.
“If you don’t wear the right clothes, if you, like, bum it to school and don’t do your makeup, you get talked about,” she said. “And if you mess with someone and say you don’t like them, then it starts a giant problem that will last for months.”
Narragansett Regional School District Superintendent Rosalie Weiss says there are no bullying problems at Narragansett High.
“Parents will say to me that there is a lot of bullying going on in this school district and nothing is being done about it. And I will say that I have had no reports of bullying in the fashion it’s supposed to go through,” she said. “I think people will say almost anything is bullying and of course the definition of bullying isn’t simply name-calling. It’s basically a conscious act to cause harm to someone or someone’s property and it’s a planned and continuous action, not an isolated, I don’t like you, statement.”
But Dr. Weiss also said, in Rebecca’s case, “It’s probably not accurate, but if it’s accurate in that person’s eyes, then we have more work to do, but not just the school, we have community work to do, and that’s where it is.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number is 1-800-273-TALK.