it-gets-better

Teen contributor to 'It Gets Better Project' found dead

Sep. 21, 2011 at 1:56 PM ET

Last May, Jamey Rodemeyer added his video to the It Gets Better Project, the Internet video site where adults share hope with LGBT teens, a minority likely to be bullied by even the adults in their lives and suffer a disproportionately high suicide rate. On Monday, the 14-year-old teen from Buffalo, N.Y., was found dead outside his home, having apparently taken his own life.

"People would just keep sending me hate, telling me that gay people go to hell," Jamey Rodemeyer said in that video, in which he also thanks Lady Gaga for her support for the gay community. "Just love yourself and you're set. And I promise you, it'll get better."

 Jamey's mother, Tracy, said of the bullying her son received, "People would say, you're like a girl or whatever and then even some of them would say, 'What are you, gay?' And he did not like when he was being called those things."

Predictably, the abuse Jamey reportedly suffered wasn't just in school, but online as well. On Formspring, an Internet outlet that is popular among adolescents, and known for its verbally violent posts from anonymous users, Jamey received such messages as JAMIE IS STUPID, GAY, FAT ANND UGLY. HE MUST DIE!” and “I wouldn't care if you died. No one would. So just do it :) It would make everyone WAY more happier!”

Friends reported the Formspring taunts — cruel, but not uncommon communication between kids and teens on the Internet — to their middle school counselor, and according to Jamey's parents, bullies seemed to back off.

Jamey, who continued to write on both Tumblr and Formspring about the bullying he received for being perceived as homosexual, had just started high school three weeks earlier, and his parents told WGRZ News that he seemed to be doing better. Suicide and bullying, however, seemed to remain at the forefront of Jamey's mind and in his writing, and and on Sept. 8 he posted online about Suicide Prevention Week (Sept. 4-10). "No one in my school cares about preventing suicide, while you're the ones calling me [gay slur] and tearing me down."

"I always say how bullied I am, but no one listens," he wrote the following day. "What do I have to do so people will listen to me?"

Both his family and friends were aware of Jamey's suicidal thoughts for some time, his mother told the Buffalo News. "He was totally against bullying," she said. "He has had issues since fifth grade. He had suicidal tendencies back then." She says her son was in the care of both a therapist and a social worker.

"It sounds like Jamey had help — he was seeing a therapist and a social worker and his family was supportive — but it wasn't enough," wrote Dan Savage, editorial director for the Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, and author of the syndicated column "Savage Love." Savage launched It Gets Better project with his partner Terry Miller last September, after a series of suicides by youths who reportedly suffered homophobic harassment.  

Savage invited gay, bisexual and transgendered adults to post videos sharing their coming-out and coming-of-age stories, and how their lives definitely got better after high school. The thousands of contributers include everyday people as well as celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres and Tim Gunn, politicians including President Barack Obama, and company-produced submissions from employees of Apple and Google.

Although James was just 14 years old, and in retrospect, still in a bad place, this is the project to which he contributed his video, now viewed over 100,000 times since the time of his death.

"The point of the It Gets Better project is to give kids like Jamey Rodemeyer hope for their futures," Savage wrote on The Stranger blog. "But sometimes hope isn't enough."

Jamey's suffering, and the abuse he received, is indeed regrettable, but experts caution that suicide and suicidal ideations are far more complicated than outside stressors or a single event. More than 90 percent of people who die from suicide suffer from mental illness and/or substance abuse. This is no different for young people.

"For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death," according to the Centers for Disease Control. Further, more young people survive suicide attempts than actually die. "Each year, approximately 149,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at Emergency Departments across the U.S."

"Suicide is a serious public health problem that can have lasting harmful effects on individuals, families, and communities," the CDC advises.

Warning signs of suicide:

  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or reckless
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:

  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

Resources:

For online support for LGBT teens, visit:

The Trevor Project, a national 24-hour, toll free confidential suicide hotline for gay and questioning youth.

GLSEN: Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, an organization for students, parents, and teachers that tries to affect positive change in schools.

 Related:

 Helen A.S. Popkin writes about the Internet. Tell her to get a real job on Twitter and/or FacebookAlso, Google+.

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