Challenging Suicide and Bullying Through Communication

Emphasizing the importance of open communication in challenging bullying and suicide during the first presentation of MADRN is Ashley Pesek of AMHC. (Photo by Lura Jackson)

By Lura Jackson


How can a community reduce bullying, and, more significantly, how can it reduce the number of people committing suicide? These difficult but important questions were the driving focus of an event held at Washington County Community College on Monday, April 23rd through the efforts of a collaboration of local organizations and individuals.

The need to address the issues of bullying and suicide is present and constant, organizer John Cowell explained to the assembled crowd. He impressed the importance of not ignoring people that need our help and of teaching youth to say something before someone gets hurt. These are issues that “we all face, every day, all the time,” Cowell said. “If we don’t talk to people about the delicate issues of bullying and suicide, how are they supposed to stop?”

Cowell is the lead visionary of MADRN, which stands for Making a Difference Right Now. Per Cowell, the group has a vision to help stop community division, to help victims overcome their fears experienced from being bullied, to help strengthen our school systems, create an overall positive community environment that will overcome negativity, and to enable our future generations to progress without constantly living in fear.

Over the past year, MADRN has grown to include his own business (Dunkin Donuts, where he is a manager), WCCC, AMHC, Community Caring Collaborative, and several young beauty queens that have recently committed to the project as part of the Crown CARES. Monday’s presentation marked the first public event in a planned series.

With scheduled speaker Kelly Ela unable to attend due to illness, Monday’s presentation was instead given by Ashley Pesek. Pesek is an Emergency Services Supervisor with AMHC, and has an extensive background in working with individuals and their families affected by mental illness.

During the presentation, Pesek impressed the importance that opening the door to communication is always key. Asking someone directly if they want to kill themselves is a much stronger statement than asking them if they want to hurt themselves. Asking them ‘why?’ when their behavior changes can reveal warning signs that need to be discussed further. Even if the person isn’t verbally communicative, they are sending signals that we can interpret if we are willing.

Perhaps the strongest message Pesek emphasized was to never joke about suicide. “We allow a culture to exist where suicide is a joke,” Pesek said, describing how she hears it most often around young adults. “We joke because we’re not comfortable with it, but we need to talk about it until we are comfortable.” To counter the culture, Pesek recommends that adults take every mention of suicide as a serious one, an action that will gradually reduce the behavior.

Taking someone’s mentioning of suicide seriously can save lives. Pesek relayed an experience from when she went into a school after a 15-year-old had taken his life. Chillingly, after interviewing students, she found that he had told no less than 25 of them that he was going to do it. “Would you want to be one of those people that didn’t take him seriously?”

People that are suicidal, Pesek explained, rarely want to take their lives. Instead, they are driven by impulsivity as a result of their emotional condition. She provided a statistic from The Bridge, wherein 100 percent of the people that have survived jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge regretted it the moment their feet left the platform. People with suicidal ideations are most often looking for help, so even if you are inclined to think they are “just looking for attention” – a phrase that make Pesek “so sad” when she hears it from family members – it means there is something in their lives that needs to be immediately and powerfully addressed.  

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, call the National Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 at any time for help.