Just #Hashtagging… Or Taking Action?

I have a few situations to talk about tonight that are all kind of connected, so hopefully this will make sense.

That photo is from Thursday night at my radio station’s holiday concert. One of the show openers was 17-year-old singer Whitney Woerz. She wrote her first song when she was 13. It’s called “Ghost Story” and she wrote it for a friend she’d met online who was cutting herself and struggling with suicidal thoughts. Whitney had never even met her in person, but she was inspired to write the song because she wanted her to know she wasn’t alone.

Her friend got the treatment she needed and is doing much better now… and Whitney took the song and turned it into a powerful candid video about bullying and depression. The video now has over 10 million views. She is also a student ambassador for Glenn Close’s Bring Change 2 Mind campaign to help end the stigma surrounding mental illness.

I was so impressed by her. Seventeen years old and so confident, articulate, compassionate, and most importantly – she is putting all of her talents into action to help her peers. It made me think about how so many people copy and paste those “awareness” Facebook posts and jump on trending hashtags, but this young woman is taking real action to make the world a better place.

Now let’s rewind a little bit to Thursday morning… One of the first posts I saw was about my friend’s little girl who is dealing with bullies and social exclusion. It’s become so upsetting that at dinner the night before she said she doesn’t feel safe at school anymore. She is in second grade!

My friend is a SuperMom and has been aggressively trying to work with the PTA and the principal to implement an effective social inclusion/anti-bullying program, but it hasn’t been easy. When I saw her last month we talked about how there are all of these programs but they’re not working. They had an anti-bullying assembly and later that day her daughter was eating lunch alone because “you can’t sit with us.”

After she posted she received some messages from other parents who are dealing with the same things, some of them at the same school. She is going to get together outside of the PTA with those parents to talk about the problems and try to come up with some ideas. Like I said – she’s a SuperMom and I love that even though she hesitated to post about it on Facebook, she opened up and found out other people are struggling too.

I don’t have the answer, but I do know that things have to change. It’s going to take much more than a “be nice to each other” gathering in the all purpose room and moms sharing #StopBullying posts on Instagram. Children are literally dying because of this stuff. Others have their emotional growth and self-worth diminished before it even has a chance to develop.

One of the things I realized from talking to Kyla’s therapist is that parents and loved ones can shower kids with all of the love and support in the world, but bullying from peers will tear them apart. We have to figure this out. It’s rampant and we know it and we have to fix it. We need real solutions. I hate to say it like this, but we as adults are failing our children. Talking about it at a PTA meeting that only 20 parents show up to when there are 500 kids at the school doesn’t do much. The PSAs we share on Facebook have no effect on what 7, 10, and 15 year old kids are actually doing at school.

So here is where I have some questions… Do you know of any anti-bullying programs that actually work? Do you know anyone who dealt with this stuff and did something that had positive results? I think it is going to take a collaboration with teachers, school leadership, other school staff members, and a lot more parents. I know there are teachers and school administrators and parents that care and are doing everything they can think of to help, but we need to do more. We need to find out which programs do work and spread the word. We need to figure out what isn’t working and allocate resources towards new ideas.

And yes, I said Kyla is seeing a therapist… She’s fine, but she seemed to be having some typical teenage issues and said she wanted to talk to someone so we found a good therapist. In just a few months we have seen positive changes so I’m glad we did. Don’t be afraid to have your children talk to a professional if they seem to be struggling. No shame – we are ending the stigma!

That brings me to the final piece of this post… It is so strange to me how these 3 unconnected but connected situations all came together over a 2-day period for me…

I went to bed Thursday night after the show thinking about my friend and the action she is taking to do something about the bullying problem at her daughter’s school, and Whitney and the amazing work she is doing to help her peers… And I woke up Friday morning and found out that a friend I absolutely adore came very close to ending her life but decided to go to the ER and ask for help instead.

She spent 2 weeks in the hospital and is now on the road to recovery. She bravely shared her story and asked for GoFundMe donations because she won’t be able to work for a few months while she’s in intensive treatment. She also asked for people who can’t make a financial contribution to just share her story to help end the stigma and show that there is hope. There is help. There is light… even if it’s just a pinhole at the end of a long dark tunnel, there is light.

She was Kyla’s nanny when I lived in Hartford and we became great friends. I would get home from work after midnight and some nights we would just hang out and talk into the wee hours of the morning. She has the best laugh and we cracked each other up constantly. You would never know she’s dealt with C-PTSD her whole life because she’s such a fun person to be around. Over the last few years she really found her voice through spoken word poetry and I was happy to see her turn her pain into something so powerful. I had no idea until I saw her post the other day that she was suffering so badly. It hit me that if she hadn’t made that choice to get help when she did I could be mourning the loss of someone I love so much. It hit me that not everyone gets the chance to rally around and lift up their loved one who needs help.

So I sent her some money and then I shared her story and I asked my friends to help too. They gave and they shared, and a few told me they’ve struggled or know someone struggling too. I know she hesitated to ask for help, but not only did she receive it, she received it from strangers who in some way felt better about their own situations by being able to ease her burden a bit. It’s amazing how that works. She told me last night she’s just overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and I am so grateful for the people in my life who contributed. Thank you for taking action.

Now back to the title of this post… Awareness, social media campaigns, hashtags are important. Communication, speaking up, listening, and sharing are even more important. And most important is action, actual giving –  be it money, time, or talent. We all have something to contribute.

A friend I’ve gotten to know over the last year or so asked me to be part of a group she runs in DC. She said something to me kind of in passing that really stuck with me and made me think… She said there is such a need for help and so many of us have gifts and talents we can be using to make our community better. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that lately and instead of feeling like I’m behind where I want to be in life I’m trying to navigate how and what I can contribute.

So what else can I actually do? What are others doing that is working, how can I help? What can we do together?

Thank you for reading, share if you can. I would love to start a conversation about some of this stuff. I have so much more I could pour into this but I’m ready to get some sleep. More soon…

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