September Is Suicide Prevention Month :: Sharing Traeh Thyssen’s Story
September is Suicide Prevention Month. It’s a time to raise awareness and discuss this tough topic that we simply don’t talk about enough. It’s a month to remember those who have died by suicide and to spread hope and information to those who are facing battles now or may in the future. Many of my photography clients become like family, but none more quickly than the Thyssens. They were one of the first families to book my services when I started my business and oh the fun we had during their first session wandering around downtown Baton Rouge together for hours! We were planning our second session for the fall.
But we didn’t get our chance at another magical session.
His name was Traeh. It’s heart spelled backwards. In the month of September 2019, Traeh was a victim of all forms of bullying by his peers at his middle school: verbal, physical, cyber, and purposeful exclusion. Unfortunately, after alerting the school administration, the bullying was never resolved and on October 3, 2019, at 6:00 am, Traeh’s 17-year-old brother found him lifeless in their bedroom. Traeh was only 13 years old, an 8th grade gifted and talented student in Baton Rouge, a model, dancer, artist, actor, and strings musician. He had a huge smile, bright eyes and the most beautiful long, thick curly hair that he was hoping to donate one day to a child battling cancer.
StopBullying.gov describes bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.” Verbal bullying could be teasing, name-calling or taunting. Social bullying is hurting someone’s reputation or relationships, including leaving someone out on purpose, telling other kids not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors or embarrassing someone publicly. Physical bullying could include hitting, spitting, tripping or pushing someone. Often, adults ignore some of these behaviors and chalk it up to “kids being kids.” We can’t do that anymore. We have to be sure our kids truly consider how their actions make others feel. As adults, we have to check ourselves as well to be sure we aren’t demonstrating bullying traits in our social circles that our kids may pick up on.
Traeh’s death was both a shock and eye-opener for his mom and family.
He did not leave a note. He did not leave any clues. He never stopped smiling.
Traeh’s death “went viral” the same day he died. Traeh’s mom, Rosalynn Thyssen, says that she remembers reading the comments under social media posts and news articles; some positive, some showing concern and care, but also so many displaying the same negativity I’m sure Traeh must have endured.
The 2019 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey indicates that, nationwide, about 22% of students ages 12-18 experienced bullying. Youth and young adults ages 10-24 years old account for 15% of all suicides. Suicide has become the second leading cause of death for this age group according to data from the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention.
Additionally, suicide rates for this age group increased 52.2% between 2000 and 2021.
According to Myiesha Beard, LPC-S, NCC and owner of Restore Counseling Services. LLC, “it is important to understand that the pain caused by mental illness may not always be visible. When asked of the onset of mental decline, most responses will be stress. In Traeh’s case, there may have been limited external signs that he was overwhelmed with experiences. His battles were being fought internally.
We hope that our kids communicate their feelings effectively as it relates to overall daily functioning. However, it is important to note that admitting the perceived weaknesses can be challenging. Parents can normalize the expression of feelings by being open and honest with their emotions, ask direct questions, participate in open discussion of hard topics as often as possible, seek mentors and support to assist our youth in the challenges they face each day.
The number of suicides reported in youth is increasing in vast numbers.
As a preventive measure, many medical professionals and primary care physicians have added wellness assessments to the developmental planning which gives them and parents insight on potential concerns. Sometimes, what young people are experiencing is simply too hard for them to put into words that parents and other adults can understand and empathize with. We cannot take any concern lightly as the concern is deemed huge in their world. Seek emergent services if there is any physical harm, ideations or thoughts noticed or suspected. It is important to be supportive in this time and to go above all to validate their feelings even if you feel the response is without reason. Having frequent checkins or family meetings where feelings and measures of stress are discussed, concerns are addressed and reactive solutions are identified and implemented. Parents should also ensure that any follow up or suggested treatment regimen is followed with fidelity. Data confirms that if treated early with intervention and management, the recovery process can be more successful. Partner with your child’s care team to come up with the support plan that is best for them. Every child and every family is unique with specific needs to be met.”
I Have A Heart Foundation
Rosalynn didn’t allow the unimaginable grief I know she felt to consume her or her family. They chose to remember Traeh everyday by doing all that they can to prevent other families from experiencing such loss. Rosalynn and her family share hope and encouragement by ensuring others that “tomorrow gets better. You just have to be here to see it.” These are words I deliberately tell my kids and others as often as I can. It’s a reminder to each of us not to let a bad day trick us into thinking we have a bad life. Rosalynn started the Traeh Thyssen Have a Heart Foundation to do that very important work. It’s their mission not to have more young people “go viral” in the same way Traeh did. The foundation is preparing for their 3rd Annual Bullying and Suicide Awareness Runway Show on October 1 in Baton Rouge, La. The goal of the Bullying and Suicide Awareness Runway Show is to bring awareness and prevention to both bullying and youth suicide while showcasing local designers, boutiques and community youth, providing resources and information form local, state, and national organizations that support mental and emotional health, and remembering the life of 13-year-old Traeh. You can visit ihaveaheart.org to get your tickets, learn more and support the foundation.
We know it takes a village to raise a child. It will also take a village to stop bullying and prevent youth suicide. We cannot allow bullying to go unresolved. If we see something, we have to say something to be sure every child feels safe and secure in every single place that they enter.
Be sure to visit ihaveaheart.org for resources and support and let’s continue this very important conversation. Tomorrow needs each of us.