'Bullycide' a target for York County officials
At the start of each school year, Tami Watson thinks about how her daughter should be going back to school.
This year, she would have been a college freshman.
"She would have graduated high school," the former York City resident said. "She would just be starting her life."
Her daughter, Ambriel Bowen, was vivacious, curious and talented. She loved singing, writing and riding her bike, the mother said.
But Ambriel never made it to college.
In May 2011, the 14-year-old was found after she had hanged herself in her family home in the 100 block of South Albemarle Street.
The mother said she believes Ambriel, who was then a student at New Hope Academy, was likely a victim of a bullycide, a term coined nationally to bring attention to the link between bullying and suicide.
With suicide on the rise in York County, local officials have taken notice and are launching more outreach efforts to educate parents and teachers of students who might be suicidal.
Local efforts: Jessica Castle, a community educator and prevention advocate for YWCA York, provides York County students with educational programming about bullying.
In September, during a tri-county suicide conference held in York, she presented a lecture about bullycide and how bullying can be a prevalent factor in some suicides.
Castle said the workshop was a chance to explain how bullying, though not the sole factor of suicide, can exacerbate the instability and hopelessness an individual may feel.
"When presenting the educational programming on bullying in the schools, I focus on the importance of self- esteem, confidence and boundaries," she said. "Bullying is an issue that parents, teachers, staff and administration are struggling with."
In her research, Castle said, she found a study that looked at how students felt during a bullying act. Students were most at peace when someone approached and offered to help.
"It wasn't necessarily a big heroic effort," she said. "It was a kind word, help picking up books that were knocked down by a bully, an offer to sit next to them on the bus."
Conversation: Over the last year, the county has made suicide prevention a priority, said Cindy Richard, director of Southern Community Services and York County Suicide Prevention.
She added that suicide remains a challenge in part because of immersive technology that has provided new ways to make bullying worse for its victims.
"It used to be you get bullied but could go home and escape it, at least for a little while," she said. "Now with our phones and social media, you can't escape it."
Richard said parents must monitor their children's online activities and talk to their children in elementary school about bullying and how it can grow online.
She also recommends that parents and friends recognize the signs of suicide, whether it's changes in attitude, weight loss or sad social media posts or texts.
"Many times a victim will cry out for help," she said.
Helping others: Even with the support of family and friends, Watson and her family are still coping with their loss.
"It's something that never leaves you," she said. "But you learn to cope and you learn to get a little better."
She remains concerned about the impact social media is having on many of Ambriel's friends, she said.
"Many of the friends that wanted to help stop bullying are posting videos of fighting and hurting others," she said. "It's not what you want to see."
Watson said she keeps her daughter's profile online in the hopes of helping others who might be suicidal.
Watson, who now lives in Baltimore, said she plans to create a book of her daughter's writing.
"It would mean so much to her," she said. "I miss her so much."
— Contact reporter Sara Blumberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.