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Wayne Independent - Honesdale, PA
  • Mom of teen suicide says bullying not always the issue

  • Teenage suicide is a growing problem nationally, with studies showing nearly 1 in 6 high school students having seriously considered killing themselves, and 1 in 12 actually attempting to do so.
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  • Teenage suicide is a growing problem nationally, with studies showing nearly 1 in 6 high school students having seriously considered killing themselves, and 1 in 12 actually attempting to do so.
    At the same time, bullying has become such a prevalent issue for teens that many people assume it is the primary — or even the only — cause of suicide these days.
    But that is not the case, as city resident Debi Baldwin knows all too well. Her son, Justin Ormes, took his own life last October at the age of 19, battling depression and anger issues.
    "Everyone thinks it was because of bullying," Debi related. "I know that's a big problem, and kids have killed themselves or attempted suicide over it, but with Justin and lots of others it was never an issue."
    "Justin played football in school and he was very popular," she explained. "Everybody loved him. When we held his viewing, over 800 people came through."
    Nor would you know anything was wrong by his demeanor, Debi added.
    "He was always smiling and laughing, joking around," she recalled. "He struggled with depression and anger, but he didn't show it to the outside world."
    Debi said she tried to get Justin help for his emotional problems when he was younger, to no avail.
    "I took him to Tri-County, but after a little while they told me there was nothing wrong with him," she recounted.
    She pointed out that Justin didn't show any signs of trouble in those sessions because they were conducted in a controlled environment.
    "So there was no reason for him to be angry or depressed while he was there," Debi explained. "They probably thought I was crazy or something for bringing him in the first place."
    "Then, when Justin got older and I wanted to get him into anger management, he simply refused to go," she stated.
    Even on the day of the incident — Oct. 26, 2011 — he showed no signs of wanting to hurt himself. Earlier in the day, he had passed out in the sauna of the YMCA and was taken by ambulance to the hospital, but was discharged shortly thereafter. However, he asked for a note from the hospital to take to work with him — Justin had been working third shift at Weis Market — and he also picked up a prescription for a sinus infection which had been diagnosed as a result of the tests he underwent.
    "By him getting the note for work and picking up his prescription, it's clear to me that he didn't have anything planned," Debi stated, pointing out that a little while later Justin was singing, dancing and clowning around with her sisters at her mother's house.
    Justin returned to his friend's house, where he was renting two rooms while saving up for his own apartment, and he was alone there for the next several hours. During that time, Debi said he made several calls to her over a two-hour period and he was also arguing with his ex-girlfriend by phone. Ultimately, Justin shot himself with one of the guns that his friend who he was living with had in the house.
    Page 2 of 3 - "He didn't have the guns locked up," Debi noted. "And they were loaded, too."
    Police told her that no charges could be pressed in the matter since Justin was 19 at the time, and therefore an adult who was responsible for his own actions.
    In the end, she said her son simply made an unspeakably terrible decision.
    "I think he just felt overwhelmed that day by a lot of things that were going on, and he acted really quickly without thinking it through," Debi offered in trying to explain it. "Things weren't working out, and in that one moment he couldn't see beyond that."
    The Bible tells us that life is but "a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away" (Js. 4:14). Yet when someone dies so young, and so tragically, the consequences are truly devastating for those who must continue living with the dreadful consequences of that final act (as the survivors always do) — his family members, friends, and all those who loved and cared for him.
    And so, Debi is left with questions and doubts: Should she have pushed the issue with Tri-County? What if those guns hadn't been left out and kept loaded? What about Justin's ex-girlfriend, who thought they had a stable relationship and everything was fine (or at least told people that) when in fact they were broken up? Would the anger and depression that always plagued Justin eventually have consumed him anyway?
    She knows she'll never have certain answers to all her questions, but she is sure of one thing — she now wants to bring awareness to the issue of teenage suicide in any way she can. After Justin's death, she and her family, along with his friends and other supporters, held a balloon release in his honor at the Carbondale Area High School field where he played his football games, then held balloon releases at the cemetery where he was buried on his birthday and the first anniversary of his passing.
    Debi said many of them also participated this October in the "Out of the Darkness Walk," the annual suicide prevention fundraiser which is held in Scranton. Ironically, Justin had taken part in these same walks with two sisters he was close friends with, whose father had committed suicide.
    In the upcoming year, Debi will be looking for other activities or events which raise awareness for and help prevent teen suicide, saying she wants to do all she can to bring attention to the issue and get youngsters the help they need.
    "I know a lot of adults take their own lives, but I think it probably has an even bigger effect on teenagers because of all the pressures they're under," she offered. "They haven't fully matured yet, so their thinking isn't the best or the clearest at that age."
    Page 3 of 3 - Indeed, for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death — and more young people survive suicide attempts than actually die. In many cases (as in Justin's) there are no obvious signs leading up to the act, or the attempt of it.
    Still, there are several risk factors which medical experts point to — among them, a history of previous suicide attempts, bouts of depression or mental illness, alcohol or drug abuse, a stressful life event or loss, and easy access to lethal methods.
    Debi stated that parents, siblings, friends and others should pay close attention to the people they know who are struggling in life, particularly those who battle with depression or anger.
    "Don't just start and stop with bullying," she insisted. "Too often, we look for bullying and if it's not there we just assume everything is all right, when it's not."
    "Watch out for everything, and don't take anything lightly," she offered. "Any signs whatsoever, especially through their teenage years, whether they're actually talking about taking their own lives or not."
    Suicide is something that Debi said she "never really paid much attention to before this happened."
    "Now I see what a really big thing it is, especially with young people," she noted, "and now I know how much devastation it can cause in a family and among the loved ones of the person who takes his or her own life."
    "That's what I'm trying to get other people to see," she explained, "so they don't ever have to go through this."
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