Bullying Can, and Does Have Deathly Consequences. Fernan Balsalubre blogs about losing his friend Kurt Cunningham to suicide after he experienced cyberbullying
I always looked at Kurt Cunningham like a human phoenix. Long before I met him, he was a bit of a legend in the small LGBT+ community of San Diego. Besides his work in the community, he was well-known for constantly reinventing himself, and picking himself back up from rock bottom. I met him after his mother, Lisa, passed away, when he felt like he lacked a clear purpose. He had been her caregiver, and after her death, he felt like he had no purpose. He had battled depression throughout his life, and this tragedy pushed him into a deep depression.
Most of us watched him very closely. It wasn’t until he began working as the LGBT+ outreach coordinator for Mental Health America that he began to find his groove once more. There is nothing more glorious than watching your friend climb from rock bottom, and when Kurt began working for MHA to teach those in the LGBT+ community about mental health and suicide, it was like he was reborn. His mental health advocacy didn’t end at work; he educated each of his friends about their own mental health. Though some of us disagreed with Kurt on how to approach our own well-being, we always listened to each word. Unfortunately, it may have been one of these friends he attempted to help who ended up cyberbullying him.
“It may have been one of these friends he attempted to help who ended up cyberbullying him”
Kurt agreed to help his friend (a fellow member of the LGBT+ community) find help regarding her own mental issues. It was a disagreement about both the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements that brought an end to their friendship. While it should have stopped there, Kurt’s friend began to cyberbully him by leaving comments on MHA’s Facebook page about how ineffective Kurt was in his role. She did not stop there; she asked her friends to begin bombarding the MHA page with negative comments. Kurt and his co-workers were also doxed by these individuals.
A month after the cyberbullying began, he went to a work conference in Orange County. He posted excitedly about the people he was meeting, and the things he was learning. On the third day of the convention, we learned that Kurt had died by suicide. His overwhelming depression coupled with the cyberbullying made him feel like he had no control. It’s been a year since we lost Kurt, and we are still trying to make sense of what happened. Each friend of Kurt’s that I talked to believe that the bullying played a part in exacerbating his depression. While bullying is a problem in the LGBT+ community (where it is okay for people to post #noblacksasiansfatsfemmes on personals profiles), the cyberbullying Kurt experienced may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“His overwhelming depression coupled with the cyberbullying made him feel like he had no control”
Bullying made him feel like he could not control his own life, and therefore, could not help others who needed him. What he didn’t remember was that we were there to help him, but when you are being bullied, you feel like the world is against you. As someone who also experienced bullying, I know firsthand the powerless feeling one encounters when being bullied. You don’t want to ask for help, because you don’t want to be perceived as weak. However, asking for help is actually a sign of strength (something I learned from Kurt).
After his death, the San Diego LGBT+ Centre established the Kurt Cunningham Counselling Services Fund. This was his dream come true; community members of all ages seeking help for their mental health. I wish he was still here to see it.
“Asking for help is actually a sign of strength”
Please seek help, if you need it. If you know someone who needs help, find a way to help them. It is better to lose a friend to an argument, than to lose them to suicide.
As a society, we really need to do better with how we treat one another. There is harmless teasing, and there’s bullying. You should never incite a mob to cyberbully another person. And, I believe the LGBT+ community needs to stop bullying its own members. We have to be very vigilant to do our best not to bully one another, and to stop bullying should we see it. In light of the result of the presidential election in the United States, we must all do our part to stop bullying. The ideologies promoted by Donald Trump have emboldened those who seek to bully others because they are different. We are better than this. None of this will be easy, but we all have to be willing to do our part, so that we do not lose another to suicide because of bullying.
Suicide is preventable and help is available to you. Regardless of whatever it is you’re going through, somebody else is going through the same thing and many others have been where you are right now. The most important thing to do when you are considering suicide or feeling like you want to die is to access crisis support. Reach out to speak to someone you trust or there are a number of helplines that you can contact 24-7/365.
In the UK, call the Samaritans on 116 123.
In the USA, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255)