Inga Barks

Friday, Oct 08 2010 05:07 PM

INGA BARKS: Teen's suicide shouldn't just be blamed on others

By Inga Barks

When I was 18 years old, my friend Mark committed suicide and I think it's safe to say that to that point, nothing so awful had ever happened in my young life.

Mark wasn't just a close friend but an influence on me and part of a circle of friends I hold dear to this day. I'm sure there may be those who know what made Mark climb to the top fire escape of the Padre Hotel and fall to his death, but I never found out and it didn't really matter. My dear friend whom I had just seen a few days before was dead.

Even though Mark's suicide took up no more than a few lines in the inside page of The Californian, more than 1,000 people attended his funeral and many more were affected by his life and death. As I said, I don't know what would lead a beloved young man and incredible musician to take his own life. But regardless, Mark was still ultimately the one who chose to commit an act that devastated his family and friends and left an indelible mark on our lives and hole in our hearts.

I've thought about Mark a lot in the week since young Seth Walsh of Tehachapi died by his own hand. I've wondered if Seth's anguish over his apparent sexual preference was worse than whatever Mark suffered. Or if those who taunted Seth mercilessly could or should be held responsible for an act they weren't present for.

As I heard the call for government to come in and make bullies stop bullying and for those who teased Seth to face punishment, I wondered, if the story ends with a suicide whether it's teasing or a romantic break up, being fired from a job or failing a class, is it fair to simply blame other people.

Is there something unique about bullying that one suicide deserves the front page and the other barely a mention? Is bullying so uniquely horrifying that there should be laws and punishments for the bully if his or her act ends in suicide, but not laws against a girlfriend who calls a boy a loser right before she dumps him or a parent who says "you'll never amount to anything"?

I'm not trying to minimize the role bullying played in the decision of Seth Walsh to take his life. I'm asking why, if the end result was the same, whoever broke Mark's heart isn't equally demonized. I think the answer is in the fact that when I was 18, we knew that ultimately the person who killed themselves hurt those of us they left behind.

Today we make the person who commits suicide somehow noble and put their blood on the hands of people who didn't kill them. We've all been teased and bullied. We've all suffered internal turmoil and despair for one reason or another. Some become predators themselves. Most have stood up to their demons or learned to dismiss them. Still others can't deal with the suffering and take their own lives. But it's their choice to make, not the person or circumstance that causes them grief.

We can't have laws against everything that hurts us, but where there are laws we should use them to fight bullies and tormentors. In the end, teaching our children empathy for others and self-respect for themselves is going to be more successful than laws on the books. Bullies should be shunned and suffer the guilt of what they said or did that broke a young man's heart. But to make them criminal for the death, again, makes the ex-girlfriend or ex-boss, or parent criminal as well if their actions resulted in suicide.

Our hearts are broken for Seth's parents, as they were for Mark's. But the object lesson isn't asking who we can punish for their choice, but how can we help these young people to NOT make the choice to end their lives.

-- Inga Barks hosts a talk show on KMJ AM 580. These are the opinions of Barks, not necessarily The Californian. You can e-mail her at ibarks@bakersfield.com.

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