Where I Stand They mattered

February 24, 2019

The tragic death by suicide of 16-year-old Hailey Nailor has left Danbury and the surrounding communities in a state of shock and grief. This is a very natural reaction given the age of Hailey and the way in which she chose to end her life. It has the school districts examining, and as was quoted in a recent The News-Times article, “revisiting” policies on bullying and mental health issues.

As the parent of a teenager who was plagued by bullying and clinical depression, which eventually led to suicide at 14 years of age in 2008, I understand the gravity of this event. My husband and I know the depth of grief that Hailey’s parents are feeling and will continue feeling in the coming years.

After Alexa passed away, the Brookfield School District’s response seemed inadequate. It felt as if the superintendent, at the time, didn’t want the district to be associated with suicide or bullying. Later in time, as an employee of the school system, I felt bullied by him. This was puzzling because we did not take the schools to task on that issue. We were advocating for educating and raising awareness while still grieving. It also surprised us, that there was no public outcry from the Brookfield community or the neighboring towns regarding Alexa’s suicide. It seemed like she did not matter.

Having read all of the published articles in The News-Times since Hailey’s suicide, I realize that there is a lot of variation in how communities handle tragic incidents like this. It was encouraging to read the article about the specific protocols that already are in place at some of the local school districts, especially Brookfield. Fortunately, it is becoming more acceptable to discuss bullying, suicide and mental illness. However, communities continue to require ongoing education regarding the prevalence of the stigma.

Three years after Alexa took her life, Connecticut legislators revised the bullying law, strengthening it, and including cyberbullying. Asked to testify on its behalf, I deemed Alexa’s suicide a “quiet” one. “Quiet” because she did not jump off of a well-known bridge, like Tyler Clemente, a Rutgers student who was outed as gay and jumped off of the George Washington Bridge; or Phoebe Prince, a new Massachusetts high school student from Ireland who was gang bullied; or was not a celebrity like Robin Williams or Kate Spade. Those suicides garner much attention. The public typically insists that steps be taken to prevent them from happening in the future. “Quiet” suicides like Alexa’s happen every day all over the country, but don’t receive a rallying cry demanding change.

Now, we have Hailey’s “loud” suicide. Due to the horrific nature everyone is on high alert. High alert is good because the school systems are “revisiting” their curriculum, policies, and support services in the area of mental health. Because of my loss, I look through a different lens. From where I stand, “revisiting” is too weak a word. Once implemented, policies, curriculum, and support services require constant review and updating for all grade levels K-12. School districts, parents, and communities must be vigilant.

Keeping our children safe and supporting their mental health must be an ever-present priority.

Debbie Zegas Berman, a Brookfield resident, is a youth advocate and presenter on suicide, bullying and mental health issues. For more information, go to her website: www.shemattered.com