Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

A Suicide Note on Twitter?

A cry for help in 140 characters.

Reading my Google alerts Monday morning, I was shocked and saddened to read of the death of a young woman named Ashley Billasano.

In the wake of the child abuse charges against Penn State football coach Jerry Sanduksy, Ashley's story seems particularly important to tell.

Though Ashley told responsible adults that she was abused by family members as well as other adults, no charges were filed. Ashley moved to get away from her abusers, making friends and becoming involved in her new high school. But, she was haunted by strong feelings of being abandoned by the justice system.

Her death by suicide last week came at a point of hopelessness. A friend said, "She made a decision that this was what she was going to do to get attention if she was not going to get justice."

What did Ashley do in the hours before she took her own life? Tweet. Yes, tweet.

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, "her burst of 144 tweets, which took place over six hours and ended shortly before she took her life..., recounted the sexual abuse at the hands of a family member and other adults, and the frustration that arose when authorities failed to bring charges."

This story is deeply upsetting for so many reasons. One, Ashley did the right thing, coming forward about the abuse and trying to get justice. Two, she was a creative young person with tremendous potential—seen clearly through her ingenuity in leaving one of the most technologically advanced suicide notes I've ever heard of. Three, there was time. Her Twitter followers, those who could read her tweets as they came through, were friends. It saddens me that Ashley's death was so preventable, on so many levels.

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I don't say that to blame anyone. Obviously, I don't know this young woman, her family, or her friends. I don't know the dynamics of her community or the story behind her story.

But, I do think that at at time when national attention is drawn to adults abdicating responsibility for protecting children, Ashley's voice, as expressed so desperately over Twitter, deserves some attention. I hope her story is a clarion call to all of us.

Elana Premack Sandler, M.S.W., M.P.H., is a public health social worker specializing in violence and injury prevention and adolescent health promotion.

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