So sad is the story of Amanda Todd; a 15 year old girl that found life too overwhelming to live any longer.
What happened to Amanda was profoundly painful and horribly wrong. We cannot minimize bullying or the trauma bullies inflict on innocent people. The cyber-bullying Amanda experienced was cowardly, another reminder of the need to protect ourselves from on-line predators.
But there is another story here. The story of a beautiful young girl, in the prime of her youth, overcome by her circumstances, ending in complete despair. It’s a story of lost hope.
I feel responsible. We all should feel responsible. As a well-resourced, first world nation, we have failed Amanda and the other 3500 Canadians and their families who will experience the horrors of suicide this year. Collectively we are responsible. Let’s not sugar-coat it. As a society, we have shifted the focus of responsibility on a few external behaviours (such as bullying) while the internal soul is being eaten away by hopelessness.
The sense of lost hope in our young people is alarming.
In 2011 a high school survey found that, “over one-quarter (29 percent) of students in grades nine through 12 reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for an extended period (two or more weeks in a row) in the last year.”
Of the 296 calls made to the Canadian KIDS HELP LINE in January 2011, 76% indicated that “the young person was feeling hopeless about his or her situation.”
Another survey linked “moderate to high levels of hopelessness [to] delinquent behaviour and all forms of self-directed violence.”
So, what about hope? Can hope lead us out of these dark times?
In her article Why Choose Hope? Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson writes; “Hope is not your typical form of positivity. Hope is the exception. It comes into play when our circumstances are dire, when things are not going well or at least there’s considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out. Hope arises precisely within those moments when fear, hopelessness or despair seem just as likely.”
Fredrickson goes on; “deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or uncertain they are at the moment, things can turn out for the better.”
As a society, we have the responsibility to cultivate hope in the next generation.
The popular notion of ‘hope in mankind’, is flawed and ‘believe in yourself’ aspirations can leave an individual desperate in the face of a poor decision or mistreatment from fellow human beings. As imperfect people, our confident expectation must be secure in something greater than ourselves. Perhaps things unseen, the bigger picture.
Traditionally, faith and spirituality have virtually been dismissed by health professionals as having little or no role in coping with stress. Thankfully, this view is changing. In fact, a growing number of studies show the positive role religion plays in hope-filled mental health!
The Archives of General Psychiatry and the American Journal of Psychiatry found the association between religious commitment and clinical benefits to be 84% positive, 13% neutral and 3% negative. Other studies have suggested that the early onset of religious practices into weekly routines may assist in the prevention of future problems, including hopelessness, substance abuse and unnecessary risk-taking. Recent Barna research confirms that our young adults are more stressed and less religious. (Of course it would be wrong to assume that lack of religious practice is the only cause of hopelessness, however, the data can neither be passed off as irrelevant.)
We owe it to our young adults to build hope beyond what they see or are currently experiencing!
In watching Amanda’s video and reading her mother’s story, I cannot imagine enduring the same pain with one of my daughters. Their message against bullying and cyber-bullying cannot be overstated. And there is more, so much more we can learn from this heartbreaking story.
 Social Psychologist at the University of North Carolina.
 Larson DB, et al. 1978-1989
 Archives of Family Medicine, Religious Commitment and Health, 1998