We Let Each Other Down


This post is about a recent suicide that has reported and commented on in many different realms of social media.

There are no images in this post. There are no video images. And there are no links. This is done out of respect for the family and a desire to keep from encouraging the triggering nature of this disturbing and distressing story.

This morning I was waiting in a hospital waiting room. If you’re not too nervous about what you’re waiting for, waiting rooms are great places for surreptitious people-watching, and I did my fair share while I waited. What I immediately noticed was that every adult (except me who was busy watching) in the room had their eyes and fingers glued to their phone. What’s more, the organisation in whom whose waiting room we were sitting, was advertising on the wall, their ‘free wi-fi’ to waiting patients.

The internet is something that we watch from morning ’til night, and then into the night for many of us. We can’t put it down, and that’s exactly what the designers of social ap’s want. They want every adult in the room glued to their screens. They’d probably like children too, but in this waiting room, the only children were babies. This is what those babies have in store for them in the years ahead.

The internet and social media, in particular, is great. There’s no denying that. Until a 12-year-old girl films her suicide on a livestream, and no one stops her. No one gets to her in time. Then we let each other down, her most of all.

Many people have written about this since it happened, and maybe you’re sick of the subject. Maybe you think it’s time to let this 12-year-old rest in peace. And there’s no doubt in my mind, that she deserves some peace. It’s okay with me if you choose not to read this post as a result, but I simply have something that if I never put into words, I will never get peace.

We let each other down if we are glued to the internet but we don’t use it to save a 12-year old’s life.

It’s likely that most of us learned of this tragic and horrific event after the fact. I certainly did, and I immediately made a decision that I was not going to watch the tape of this girl’s death. It wasn’t going to serve any purpose in hindsight. I could do nothing. I also resolved not to read too many articles, posts and comments (that’s why I don’t mind if you don’t read mine). They would simply upset me further than I was already upset. Why? Because human beings can be cruel, and it’s in this instance that I believe we see the worst of it.

Perhaps what has upset me the most is the people who commented on the livestream at the time and egged the 12-year-old on. Suicide baiters. People who see a potential suicide and encourage the person to ‘jump’. In a ‘nice’ society it would be good to think that such people didn’t exist, but they do. And they did, in this case.

A friend of mine lost her son to suicide some years ago, when people watching him on the edge of a building shouted at him, encouraging him to jump. What’s more, several uniformed police were watching and did nothing. He did jump and he died. My friend has lost her son forever. The suicide baiters got what they wanted, although for the life of me I can’t imagine what it was that they wanted.

Whether we egg someone on or do nothing, we all carry that person’s life in our hands for the rest of our days. Even if we simply did nothing, I believe that we let this 12-year-old down and we let each other down as fellow human beings.

We have the ability through the internet to make sure that 12-year old human beings are safe. When they choose to record something like this and put it on some form of social media, we have the opportunity to keep them safe. When that doesn’t happen, I have to wonder whether it has lost its point.

Sure, social media is not simply about suicide prevention and keeping at-risk people safe. Sadly, it seems such stories simply become entertainment. But when we have that opportunity, surely we have to grab it with both hands.

Facebook is currently being criticised for refusing to take down posts which give a link to the livestream, and I think the criticism of the company is warranted. It serves no healthy purpose now other than as a statement of the day we as a human race let down this child with irreversible consequences. Now, it is voyeurism. And if anything, it eggs on other people at risk of suicide and self-harm.

Facebook say that the posts in question don’t violate their community standards. I am inclined to think that if their standards allow this to be posted, I’m not sure I want to be part of their community.

On a good note, apparently a few days ago, a man in Thailand tried to livestream his suicide attempt. A friend intervened and his life was saved. If only it had been this way for our 12-year-old.

It breaks my heart that young people are dealing with such heartache and trauma that they are considering, and acting, on suicide. I don’t have children, but I do have a 12-year-old niece and several nephews who have been 12 in recent years. I can’t bear the thought of them suffering to this degree, and reaching out without anyone reaching back with help.

Our twelve-year-olds deserve our protection. Whether we know them personally or not, they deserve at the very least that we don’t let them down.

At the point in which the 12-year-old posted this video, we as a society should have responded more than we did. Apparently, it is possible to hear friends and family calling out for her. But it wasn’t enough. They didn’t get to her in time. We human beings didn’t do enough.

And now that this 12-year-old has tragically died, the record of her suicide needs to be taken off social media out of respect for her and her family. Any viewing of her video now is outright voyeurism. It’s wrong, and it will only distress people who are probably already distressed or provide some sick sense of satisfaction to people who need their heads read (and I’m not talking about people who have valid mental illnesses). But we do have to ask as a society, what did we do wrong and how do we make sure this never happens again. We need to talk about this in all aspects of society.

We have to stop letting each other down. We have to keep our 12-year-old’s safe.

“there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock.

people so tired
either by love or no love.

people just are not good to each other
one on one.

the rich are not good to the rich
the poor are not good to the poor.

we are afraid.

our educational system tells us
that we can all be
big-ass winners.

it hasn’t told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.

or the terror of one person
aching in one place

unspoken to

watering a plant.”

― Charles Bukowski, Love Is a Dog from Hell

Thanks for reading



7 thoughts on “We Let Each Other Down

  1. Thank you, Cate, for your thoughtful post. Katelyn’s suicide death was quite traumatic for many of us. Her video is STILL on the Internet in many places. The detail you mentioned about the police — who watched my own son’s suicide baiting and did nothing — still amazes me. Twenty-four San Francisco police officers watched — and in many cases laughed — as my own son made a poignant, irrational, and desperate PUBLIC plea for help from his apartment ledge above Hallidie Plaza in San Francisco. Witnesses reported that a thousand people watched him die with many egging him on. Cases like Katelyn’s are so disturbing and always make me wonder if people do NOT report suicide attempts they see or know about BECAUSE they think the police will do NOTHING. My person journey to seek justice for the 2-16-10 suicide baiting death of my son Dylan Yount ended in August 2015 at the First District Court of Appeal, San Francisco (we were denied a hearing at the CA Supreme Court, just 8 days later). It is still a shock to me that we were told in an “unpublished” court opinion that the police have NO MORE DUTY to try to stop a suicide — “by virtue of their jobs” — than any ordinary citizen. I have always loved your blog title — “Infinite sadness or hope” — and I hate to be a downer, but it seems to me we are becoming more and more a society without empathy or compassion. I have no idea HOW we can “stop letting each other down.”

    1. Hi, Kathie. Thank you for your comment and for giving more detail of Dylan’s tragedy. It completely dumbfounds me that 1000 people would watch but do nothing. And of course, of that 1000 people there were so many encouraging Dylan to jump. The fact that no one did anything completely shatters my belief in humankind. And actually the day I stop being so shattered by what didn’t happen will be the day I lose faith in myself. Where is the empathy and compassion? Did 1000 people have none? Did so many people follow Katelyn’s recording and not have enough empathy and compassion to do something?

      As for the Police and your reporting that they are excused from having to do anything to stop a suicide. I think of police officers as human first and police officers second. As humans I would hope they would act, but obviously I am wrong. I wonder if they teach police cadets how to do CPR or use a epi-pen. Perhaps they don’t have to save lives in those respects too.

      We are becoming a sad state of human race when we can’t be bold enough to reach out to help a person in a desperate need such suicide. Do we care so little? I am blessed to know people who have empathy for others, who have compassion and are willing to stick their necks out to help people. I am very lucky.

      Enough of my ranting. Kathie, I hate what happened to Dylan. I hate that no one cared enough that day. And I hope that I will always be disturbed by it. We should all be greatly disturbed by his unnecessary death.

  2. Sid Dunnebacke

    Surprise, surprise – I’m with you, Cate. Totally. I’m glad you wrote this, as there are a number of takeaways for me in what you say here. Always learning.

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