Parents of and woke Wednesday morning to emails from the school principals informing them that 13-year-old Joey Ferrara had taken his own life early Wednesday morning. The student had attended both schools before enrolling at Opportunity Middle School. School counselors were immediately available on both campuses to assist students affected by the news.
Principal John Whitney of also posted news of the death on the school’s website, informing staff, parents, and students that counselors would be available them as well. Many students at the middle school were friends of the teenage boy.
I spoke with Marriage and Family Therapist Sabina Kratzer regarding the loss of this young child.
"What is particularly tragic is the how young he is," she said.
"The fact that he has been in our community for so long and many families and children knew him. Suicide creates such a feeling of helplessness in those who were close to the victim. Think of all the teachers, coaches, families and children who knew (him) and tried to reach out to him? The waves of grief and confusion last a long time.
"There is also the fact that many children will hear half-truths and not really understand his death. My hope is that parents can use this as an opportunity to discuss openly depression, mental illness and risk factors in suicide. Many people worry about their kids and yet are unaware that suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers.
"Folks should talk among friends and family and keep dialogue open ended. Be available to answer questions and dispel hearsay and rumors. The essential piece is to grieve and to come together as a community in continued education, understanding and support."
Pleasanton has seen its share of young lives lost over recent years. On Feb. 19, 2010 14-year-old Evelyn Gonzales from Amador Valley High School was hit by a Union Pacific freight train just west of Santa Rita Road in what police determined was a suicide. On Dec. 1o, 2010 Michel David and Dan Shoemake, both graduates of Amador Valley High School, were found dead in an apparent in San Diego.
In October 2007, the Pleasanton community was stunned as two high students, William Russell and Sophie Borris, took their lives within days of each other.
As many of us know, the turbulent years of adolescence are often difficult. With the changes of hormones, the focus on body image, and this critical time of self-identity, it is already challenging enough. But with the pressures of today’s society weighing heavily on our youths, the unbearable stress can become too much.
Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace encourage teens to be constantly plugged into what their peers are doing. Cell phones have become the equivalent of portable computers keeping kids connected to Internet sites even while on the go.
Unfortunately, by constantly being linked into this virtual community, I fear that our children are not looking up from their gadgets and seeing the real life that is happening around them. They are finding themselves so engulfed in the online society that they fail to see their life beyond the computer screen. And if they can’t see beyond today, how will they ever envision the promise of a successful and prosperous future?
Not only are our children burdened with keeping up with the online social society but they are going through life experiences at an alarming young age. They are being introduced to pressures such as drugs, sexuality, and violence as young as elementary school level. Throw in the usual difficulties like heavy homework loads, divorce, loss of loved ones, over scheduled afternoons, and general teenage difficulties, it’s a wonder any of them make it through these turbulent years.
Many of life's circumstances and events are beyond our control as parents. However, it is vitally important that we contribute a means of support to our children when their lives seem overwhelming difficult and they have become transfixed with the tunnel vision of here and now.
As parents, it's important to be involved and stay connected with our children. Know who your children are friends with. Get to know the parents of your children's friends. Be aware of what they are posting on social networking sites. Many times children leave cries for help on websites such as Facebook.
It is also important to be aware of signs of depression and possible suicidal thoughts such as :
1. Sudden changes in behavior
2. Dramatic changes in appetite
3. Sleeping difficulties
4. Poor performance in school
5. Trouble concentrating; agitation; inability to sit still
6. Unexplained loss of energy or excessive fatigue
7. Loss of interest in friends
8. Increased drug/alcohol use
9. Constant feeling of worthlessness or self-hatred
10. Excessive risk taking
11. Preoccupation with death, dying, or suicide
12. Giving away of personal or prized possessions
The Pleasanton Unified School District is now offering a Student Support Tipline at 925-417-5199. Calls or texts to this phone number are anonymous and confidential. The tipline is an avenue for students or adults to report concerns about fellow students. Messages will be reviewed and directed to appropriate District staff for follow up.
The California Youth Crisis Line is a 24/7 crisis counseling and support program that is available all the time, from anywhere in the state, for young people to talk about the pain, difficulties, anger, hurt and other challenges of life. They can be reached at (800) 843-520.
Contact Care is local 24-hour crisis-care hotline for teens and kids. They can be reached at (925) 945-TEEN.
There is also valuable information available at many websites including:
This tragic loss of a promising, young man is a reminder that even in our small community, we are not immune to the struggles America's youths face. Here at the Pleasanton Patch, we send our deepest condolences to Joey Ferrara's family and friends.