Fierce

After Two Parkland Students Commit Suicide, Community Unites To Share Mental Health Resources

One year after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., two students have died in apparent suicides, compelling the community to come together and share mental health resources.

On Saturday, a sophomore at the school, where 17 people were killed in a mass shooting last year, took his own life. One week prior, Sydney Aiello, 19, a recent Stoneman Douglas graduate who lost her best friend in the massacre, also ended her life.

As the Florida’s emergency chief Jared Moskowitz calls for the state Legislature to send more mental health resources for the high school’s students and faculty, calling mental health a “bipartisan issue” on Twitter, the community has stepped in where the state government has been slow to respond.

On Sunday, more than 60 school, county, city, child services and law enforcement officials, as well as mental health specialists, teachers and parents, met for an emergency meeting. Ryan Petty, father of Alaina Petty, a 14-year-old freshman who was murdered on Feb. 14. 2018, said that the school district will be giving parents the “Columbia Protocol, six questions that parents should ask their children, the Miami Herald reports. Based on their answers, they will know what emergency resources are available to them. Additionally, nonprofits are offering free therapy groups and services.

Online, it’s students, former and current, who are using social media to offer resources to those still suffering from the trauma and loss of last year’s school shooting. David Hogg, who graduated from Stoneman Douglas in 2018 and has become a fierce anti-gun advocate, took to Twitter, reminding Parkland students and grads that trauma doesn’t go away quickly.

“Stop saying you’ll get over it,'” he wrote. “You don’t get over something that never should have happened because those that die from gun violence are stolen from us not naturally lost. Trauma and loss don’t just go away, you have to learn to live with it through getting support.”

According to Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, who spoke with Teen Vogue, witnessing traumatic events can lead to symptoms consistent with acute stress disorder, including recurring memories, dreams or nightmares of the event; mood changes; irritability and more. These memories, she adds, can lead to negative thoughts, hopelessness, trouble sleeping and more.

Hogg wants youth to know that these symptoms are normal and that they can be managed through help, like therapy, talking with friends and family, meditation and self-care practices.

He, along with others, shared his own self-care routine.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, know there is help available. For immediate support, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis and are unsure where to turn, you can also reach out to the Crisis Text Line by sending HOME to 741741.

Letty Serrano Was Abducted And Trafficked For Sex At 13; Two Years Later She Committed Suicide

Things That Matter

Letty Serrano Was Abducted And Trafficked For Sex At 13; Two Years Later She Committed Suicide

Leticia Serrano, known to her friends and family as Letty, celebrated her 15th birthday with a quinceañera party complete with a ruby-red princess gown, bouquets of roses and a dessert bar earlier, in May this year. Six months later, the teen took her own life, just two years after being drugged, abducted and abused by a sex-trafficker in Houston. 

Unfortunately, this story is not all that uncommon for victims of sex-trafficking. 

Letty’s suicide came two years after she was abducted by a sex trafficker.

credit Facebook Cynthia Rivera

Letty Serrano was a high-achieving 13 yeard old student at Marshall Middle School in 2017 when she was drugged and taken by a sex trafficker not far from her school in Houston, Texas. According to her family, Leticia’s dad and godmother Cynthia Rivera spent days searching for the teenager before they found her inside an abandoned home near Moody Park. They took her to safety and reported the captor to the police. 

Letty’s family said that the girl they brought back home was not the same girl who had left. 

“We got her back damaged,” said Rivera, Letty’s godmother. After her rescue, Letty ran away from home on two occasions, to be with her abductor. Letty took her life early Saturday morning after locking herself in the bathroom. Her father recalls doing everything he could to reach her but when he finally did, it was too late. Serrano believes Letty couldn’t get over being away from the man who trafficked her two years prior. “She wanted to be with him,” he said holding back tears in a video interview. “But, she also didn’t want to hurt her family.” 

The man was said to prey on teen’s weaknesses, taking advantage of the fact that Letty was a loner at school and that her brother had recently died. To make matters worse, the abductor and presumed sex trafficker was freed from jail 3 days after being arrested and never faced charges. “It’s a very common story, unfortunately,” said Micah Gamboa, executive director of Elijah Rising. “We see in Houston, a lot of times these pimps and these traffickers get off with just a misdemeanor or maybe deferred adjudication.” 

Sex traffic is spreading across the nation.

credit Instagram @elijahrising

The Christian-based nonprofit organization Elijah Rising, whose mission is to end sex trafficking through prayer and intervention, claims there are more than 300,000 trafficking victims in Texas. “Entire cities are becoming red-light districts. It’s no longer just a centralized or isolated issue,” she explained. “It’s actually spreading across the nation.”  According to Elijah Rising, suicide is, sadly, a common conclusion for many victims, in part, because their abusers aren’t usually caught.

Activists are trying to squash the myth that all women who work as prostitutes do so because they want to.

credit Twitter @DanielleDolor

“Prostitution isn’t people deferring entrance to Yale while they prostitute to raise money for tuition—that’s not the reality of what it looks like,” said Nicole Bell, who worked as a prostitute after being trafficked as a teen. “We’re looking at people in poverty, people of color, people coming out of the foster care system.” Human trafficking is estimated to bring in global profits of about $150 billion a year—$99 billion from sexual exploitation, according to the International Labor Organization. Nearly 9,000 cases in the U.S. were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline and BeFree Textline in 2017—a 13% increase from the prior year, according to the Polaris Project. But this data is incomplete, as cases are severely underreported.

Houston Police Deparment is looking into reopening the case of the man who abducted, drugged, and abused Letty.

Credit Facebook Cynthia Rivera

Commander Jim Dale of Houston Police Department spoke to Fox 26 about Letty’s tragic story. “I have requested an interview with my investigators so we can reopen the case,” he says this story also speaks to the need to do more in training in schools just like it’s done in the hospitality industry and transportation hubs. “She was a victim and somehow her cries fell through the cracks and I think that’s why it’s so imperative that we get the schools involved.”

Letty’s family is calling on schools to do more around suicide prevention and wants the city council to do something about the brothel where they found their little girl.

credit Facebook Cynthia Rivera

Letty’s godmother Cynthia Rivera is also calling on schools for more preventative measures. She says the family met with school officials on Tuesday afternoon. Rivera is also urging her city council district to do more about the abandoned houses, presumed brothels, where she says Letty was trafficked and, ultimately, found. “Mattresses, little girls bras, chemicals they use to drugs to mix with,” Rivera said referring to the items found in the house. “I want the community to come together,” she added. “Houston [needs] to come together and ask for these houses to be removed, torn down.”

If you or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are a victim of human trafficking or suspect someone who now is a victim, contact the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

‘Bullying Crisis Has Become A Global Epidemic’⁠— Monica Lewinsky Talks Bullying In Her New Anti-Bullying PSA

Fierce

‘Bullying Crisis Has Become A Global Epidemic’⁠— Monica Lewinsky Talks Bullying In Her New Anti-Bullying PSA

Noam Galai / Getty images

There may be no better person placed in our culture to talk about online bullying and harassment than Monica Lewinsky. Her story has been co-opted and manipulated for personal and political gain purposes for over two decades now. It’s taken long enough for the culture to catch up. She’s been speaking up about this for years and finally, she’s in control of her own narrative. In her latest campaign, the PSA “Epidemic”, Monica Lewinsky wants to raise awareness about the silent and lethal epidemic that is online bullying. 

Online bullying is a silent and lethal form of harassment and Monica Lewinsky wants to raise awareness around this issue so we don’t miss the signs.

credit Youtube The Epidemic

In her latest campaign, the third of a series of ads designed to raise awareness about a silent and lethal epidemic, Monica Lewinsky wants to shine a light on how this silent and invisible this form of bullying can be, and how a psychologically challenging situation can quickly escalate and become physical. In “Epidemic”, we’re introduced to a teenage girl whose health seems to be deteriorating for no apparent reason over the course of the film.  First she stays home from school, she can’t eat, she can’t sleep. In a panic, she reaches out for a bottle of pills. The viewer sees her go from a normal teen to an unconscious girl in an E.R. It’s obvious that she’s been sick all along, but what’s the disease?

The words “The story is not what it seems” appear across the screen. “Go to the-epidemic.com/realstory to get the message.”

Once you follow the link, a new screen message asks viewers to enter their phone number. When the video starts over, the person watching it is receiving the same texts messages that Hailey, the protagonist of the film, is getting. The cruel messages are a deluge of threats, harassment and abuse. And by receiving the texts, viewers don’t just watch it all unfold, they experience it. “It’s like the difference between seeing something in 3D and seeing something in VR,” Lewinsky told Glamour of the campaign’s interactive elements. It makes the abuse that people face on the internet, through their phones, and IRL feel real, immediate, and dangerous. 

Although cyber-bullying happens online, the feeling can be very real, and it can even lead to sickness.

credit Youtube The Epidemic

The feeling of being bullied isn’t just one of fear and shame. Bullying can affect your physical and mental health in potentially dangerous ways. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), being bullied can increase your risk of sleep difficulties, anxiety, depression, headaches, stomachaches, and more. Since bullying can lead to illness, it’s a sort of sickness in itself. Andd that’s exactly what Lewinsky is trying to convey in the PSA in partnership with advertising agency BBDO New York, and Dini von Mueffling Communications.

“We compare [bullying] to an illness for several reasons,” Lewinsky, an anti-bullying advocate, speaker, and former bullying victim, told Teen Vogue. “Just last year, a Pew Research Center survey found that 59% of U.S. teens have been bullied or harassed online. But the problem is, it can be hard to see the signs when somebody is going through something like this. With cyberbullying, even though it may take place online, it has offline consequences — and these consequences range from bad to grave.”

The film was a deeply personal project for Lewinsky who was bullied on a national scale in 1998.

credit Instagram @Notablelife Lewinsky was famously bullied on a national scale after her relationship with former president Bill Clinton went public when she was 24 years old and an intern at the White House. She has personal experience with how severe bullying can be and it’s something she’s spoken out about consistently. It’s that very issue which made this project a challenge she wanted to tackle. “It was hard for me to do this,” she admits. Drawing from her own experiences, Lewinsky, wanted to capture what she calls “that cascading feeling, that overwhelming feeling, the tsunami of texts that come in and the vitriol.” Not just in the video, but in the messages that participants receive. With “The Epidemic”, Lewinsky wants to show victims of bullying that they’re not alone and that they don’t need to remain silent about what they’re going through. 

While bruises and cuts are visible to parents, teachers, and friends, emotional wounds can be harder to spot.

Credit Twitter @MonicaLewnsky

“This is everybody’s worst nightmare—to miss the signs,” Lewinsky said on The Today Show. “And I think one of the best things that we can be doing is have these kinds of conversations, and what we hope to be a positive result from this PSA is that it brings awareness to the kinds of conversations parents should be having with their kids.” Lewinsky who is now 46 years old, remembers that when she was growing up, her parents would tell her, “Be home by sundown.” They wanted her to to be safe. But now, as she notes, “kids can be safe in their physical home, but they’re not emotionally safe because of what may be happening online.” 

The PSA supports a several organizations, including Amanda Todd Legacy, The Childhood Resilience Foundation, Crisis Text Line, Defeat The Label, The Diana Award, Ditch The Label, Organization for Social Media Safety, Sandy Hook Promise, Sit With Us, Think Before You Type and The Tyler Clementi Foundation. If you or someone you know is being bullied, tell someone right away or call the bullying hotline to speak with a professional. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text Crisis Text Line at 741-741.