Like so many people, Jade Kelly was rocked and heartbroken by the suicide of 15-year-old Bailie Lundy earlier this year. Kelly, an 11th-grade student at Dickinson High School, knew Lundy wasn’t alone in her struggles and other students in her school and community had dealt with bullying and depression. She wanted to do something about it.
She wanted to open an honest conversation between other young girls about how to deal with bad experiences and depression in a healthy way, and create a support network for young people in the community, she said.
“I’m a very religious person and I thought, God must have put me through this for a reason,” Kelly, 16, said. “I wanted to reach out to people and let them know they’re not alone.”
Lundy, a Texas City High School student, was found Feb. 12 in Amburn Park, in the 3900 block of 19th Street North. She had hanged herself with a dog leash from a set of monkey bars at the park, officials said. The medical examiner’s office ruled it a suicide.
There were only a few things indicating conflict in her young life, those close to her have said.
Something had happened at school with a group of girls who were giving her a hard time, her mother, Shandra Clay, has said. It started with petty stuff about a boy they all might have liked, but turned into something bigger and uglier, Clay has said.
In January, Lundy had signed a “stay-away” agreement with those girls, Clay said. The school had called Clay to talk about problems at school, and Lundy’s grades had suddenly slipped, which was unusual, Clay said.
The link between bullying and suicide is tenuous in this case, but Greater Barbour’s Chapel Baptist Church, which her family attended, held an anti-bullying rally just after her death.
In June, Kelly approached the church’s pastor, Andrew Berry, about hosting a conference on preventing suicide. He supported the idea and chose August, which is youth and children’s month at the church, he said.
Ending the trend
On Saturday, with the help of church leaders and the congregation, Kelly hosted “#EndingtheTrend Suicide program” at the church in Texas City — a three-hour long event providing information about access to community resources.
Suicide is not the answer to any problem, speakers said. The best way to get help and combat depression to ask for help, they said. From there, there’s a path to finding inner strength and confidence through talking about the issues children and adults face, attendees said.
About 60 teenagers and parents attended the conference. For the first half of the event, teenagers broke into small groups for confidential discussions between each other and professionals about challenges they face at school and in the community.
As teenagers met privately in groups with mental health professionals, parents and counselors spoke about how adults can help identify depression in children and teens.
Children and teens often don’t know how or don’t feel comfortable expressing what they are feeling or experiencing outside of their homes, said Detrick Harper, a life coach who suffered from depression and is a motivational speaker for suicide prevention. For parents, the best thing to do is keep asking questions, he said.
“Your child can put on a show,” Harper said. “You can ask your children one million and one questions and they still can tell you a lie.
“It’s not the parents’ fault, you do the best you can and parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual,” Harper said. “To parents, I just say, if you ask one million and one questions, ask one million and two.”
But more than that, parents can create an environment where a child feels as if they’re able to reveal problems without feeling unheard, Harper said.
Lundy’s mother didn’t know her daughter was suffering or thinking of taking her life, she said in a heartfelt address to the crowd. The two had spoken about issues at school, but she had no inkling of how distraught her daughter was feeling, she said.
She struggled to believe it in her death, too, she said.
“I was in total denial of what happened to my daughter because, as you said, ‘black people don’t commit suicide’ and I didn’t want to believe it,” Clay said.
“As a parent, I thought, how did I not see this? Where was I? What did I say or what did she say where she was trying to tell me?
Living with grief
As she grieves, she has constant thoughts of how she wished she had sought help or known better what to do, she said.
“I have so many ‘should’ve, would’ve, could haves’,” Clay said.
“As a parent, I’m telling you guys — I couldn’t even give you the feeling I have — but don’t ever have ‘should’ve, would’ve, could haves.’ Listen to your child. If you don’t feel like you know what to say, find somebody to say it for you.”
As students returned to the sanctuary, the conversation opened to a panel discussion with a suicide survivor, loved ones affected by suicide and counselors and during which panelists took anonymous written questions from the audience.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to people,” said Dee Conley, a 37-year-old woman who said she has suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts and is recovering.
One question from the audience was about where teens should go if their parents aren’t hearing them.
Panelists urged the crowd to find other adults close to them, including teachers, extended family or close adult friends of the family, to confide in. Schools have counseling resources available, too, they said.
“If one person doesn’t respond, keep asking and keep talking to other people,” Harper said.
A second questioner asked, “What if you talked to someone and they still committed suicide?”
“It’s not your fault,” Conley said. “But if you hear someone is thinking about suicide, take it to an adult. Don’t keep it a secret.”
“How do you build self-confidence?” another audience member asked.
Harper urged attendees to find the things that make them happy — be it dance or reading or sports — and delve into them. If they aren’t immediately known, keep following interests and searching, Harper said.
“When you tap into your gift and purpose, it’s a natural high,” Harper said.
Harper also told students to not just follow friends at school or other kids in their pursuits. Being different is being unique, and worrying about what everyone else is doing breeds greater unhappiness, he said.
“I’d rather be alone being me than be something I’m not,” Harper said.
Kelly thought the conference had been a good opportunity for getting people to open up and discuss issues they face, but she didn’t want it to be the last and was beginning to plan more, she said.
“It’s a good starting point,” Kelly said.