If you’d met Caitlyn Haynes, you’d have thought she was a typical high school senior. Blonde and beautiful, Cait (as her friends and family called her) had an amazing smile and a bright future.
Cait was into everything: sports, horses, puppies and kittens, 4-wheeling, running track at school, boating, wakeboarding and spending time with her friends and family. Somehow, even with all these activities, she still found time to volunteer for Relay for Life, teach Sunday school, go on mission trips to help Navajo children, and participate in the athletic training program at her high school. Based on her work as a student trainer, Cait decided to pursue medicine and, thanks to her exceptional grades and work ethic, she was accepted into the prestigious pre-med program at Washington University in St. Louis.
By all accounts, it seemed like Cait’s life was headed in the right direction, right up until she took her own life in March 2015.
Cait’s flurry of activity hid her deep despair. Despite being a successful high school senior year with medical school ahead of her and a vast array of accomplishments behind her, Cait said in a note, she simply could not stand being bullied any longer.
And as hard as this story is to hear, it’s important to know that stories like Cait’s happen all across our country every day.
According to www.healthychildren.org, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, and it doesn’t happen on a whim. Conditions build until the person feels completely overwhelmed and hopeless.
Studies show that teens who kill themselves feel they can no longer (or are unwilling to) deal with a problem, whether it’s depression, being harassed, or experiencing sexual or physical abuse. Whatever the cause, those who commit suicide have usually been struggling with their problems for some time, often hiding them from those they love most.
Cait had been the victim of ongoing bullying, but she kept it to herself. Cait’s heartbroken parents, Todd and Maya, are sharing Cait’s story in hopes of bringing attention to this topic, so that victims may find strength and support in the knowledge that they are not alone.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), nearly a third of all students aged 12 – 18 years old reported having been bullied at school, some almost daily. Bullying is not always a physical altercation or name-calling; it often includes rumors and cyberbullying through social media. People can be bullied based on their appearance, dress, academic ability, disabilities, hobbies, or even their social status (or their parents’ financial status) in the community; really, it can be just about anything.
Whatever form bullying takes, it’s important to educate and empower victims, and to stop bullies in their tracks! Parents and victims should know that when they respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior, they send the message that bullying will not be tolerated. Of course, this is easier said than done: victims are often afraid or embarrassed, so they don’t reach out for help.
Parents can help by discussing bullying with their kids regularly, informing them what to do if it occurs. The website www.stopbullying.gov has an entire section devoted to discussing bullying with kids; it’s a great place to start.
Although Cait lived with her family in Colorado, she has ties to Mendocino County, and her experience could just as easily have happened here. Increasing awareness about how to deal with bullying and helping kids build resilience is so important. Bullying is closer than we think; we need to do all we can to stop it from occurring. Thank you, Todd and Maya, for sharing Cait’s story; remembering Cait will help make a difference.
If you are feeling hopeless or helpless or know someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They understand bullying, and are there to help those who are being bullied.
As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey, or leave a crime tip on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.