Four years after her daughter tried to commit suicide as a result of bullying, Ann Brownell remains an anti-bullying advocate. Stephanie Chuang reports.
Amanda Brownell got about 3,500 text messages in one month alone, all of them nasty.
“They were saying she was pregnant, that she was lesbian, bisexual, that she had AIDS, and was spreading it,” her mother, Ann Solario Brownell said.
Amanda is now hanging onto her last few days. Her mother said she was just 16, a junior at a high school in San Jose, when she tried to hang herself in a school bathroom on Dec. 11, 2008. Ann said her daughter hid the depression well, masking the sadness with a smile almost every day.
“We knew she was getting bullied," Ann said. "We didn’t know how bad because she was always a happy, smiling, loving kid.”
Amanda survived, but suffered traumatic brain injury, causing her to lose the ability to speak and move. She stayed in a care home for most of the four years since the suicide attempt. Last Monday, her family brought her back home. Ann said Amanda’s recent bouts with pneumonia weakened her, and she is no longer eating.
Doctors have given the 20-year-old just days to live, but Ann’s mission will remain the same.
She founded “The Amanda Network,” an anti-bullying campaign to not only spread awareness on bullying and prevention efforts, but to empower the youth and teens, and hold school districts more accountable.
It seems the need is there, nationwide. Sixteen percent of high school students reported getting bullied either online or through text messages, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That same report found that 20 percent of high school students reported getting bullied in person on campus.
Evelyn Tirumalai, Santa Clara County Suicide Prevention Coordinator, said the county is just rolling a new training program to all of its districts that teaches staff members how to recognize potential victims. It’s called “QPR,” which stands for question, persuade and refer. The first step is to question the students directly, asking if they are considering suicide, then persuade the students someone is listening to their problem and refer them to the appropriate agency. So far, Tirumalai said, Palo Alto Unified School District is the only one to have undergone the training. She said the program is critical.
“In many cases we hear that bullying and suicide sort of go hand-in-hand,” Tirumalai said. “Compounded with mental health issues, anxiety, unsupportive environment could lead to suicidal ideation.”
State legislators have also acted. Two new laws in California that went into effect July 1, 2012 give bullying victims more priority in transferring schools, and also require more prevention and intervention training on school campuses.
For Ann, who said she has spoken to more than 50,000 people through “The Amanda Network,” the fight will continue long after Amanda is physically gone.
“She’ll always be my baby, but her job here is done,” said Ann, through tears. “Of course I’ll miss her. Right now, I can still hug her and squeeze her, jump into bed with her, cuddle with her, talk with her, and I know she understands. But she’ll be in a better place and she’ll be whole again so how can I not let her go?”