Andy Lehman was an honor student, scholarship semifinalist, musician, and math whiz. Andy was repeatedly harassed, pushed, called names, and not allowed to sit down on his high school bus. In September of 2006, he took his life.
The student who bullied Andy, Kirk Zajac, now teams up with Andy’s father, Nicholas, to talk at schools about stopping bullying as a part of their work with the Suicide Prevention Education Alliance in the Greater Cleveland area.
On Sunday, writer Regina Brett dedicated a column in The Plain Dealer to highlighting the experiences of the bully (Kirk), the victim (Andy), and the bystanders. I encourage you to read it — twice!
One section in Regina’s column is, in my opinion, very relevant to the ongoing national attention on bullying and suicide.
“Nicholas could have yelled or thrown him out or threaten to sue. Instead, he thanked Kirk for having the courage to come forward. Nicholas knew that the bullying pushed Andy over the edge, but depression, divorce and financial strains took Andy to the edge.”
It takes a strong father to reach out his hand to the bully who badgered his son. It takes an even stronger father to publicly acknowledge that while bullying was a stressor, there were other factors at home which made his son vulnerable to the point of one additional stressor pushing him over the edge.
While the focus by many is on getting anti-bullying laws passed, the real attention needs to be on providing better mental health support to prevent vulnerable kids like Andy from ever getting too close to the edge. Kids like Andy deserve more help, as do their families at times when they are struggling with the many life stressors coming their way.
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