June 6, 2016 - Late last February my son was diagnosed with depression after spending a week in the partial hospitalization program at Pine Rest. He is now in therapy and coping well thanks to "be nice".
My son has always struggled with self esteem. Looking back, I can see now that he tried so hard to be accepted by peers and even family members. Sometimes he tried too hard. His teachers said he was behind most of the class academically mostly because he was maturing much slower. He was small. On the growth chart he was in the 3% for weight and 5% for height. He had few friends, still does. He would always try to befriend other boys but was not athletic and didn't fit in with most. His size made it easy to pick on. He was involved in Tae Kwon Do since he was 6 years old which helped boost his confidence and he climbed up the rank ladder. But his involvement in TKD seemed to draw the attention of certain boys at school who would challenge him and pick on him to make him fight with them. He never would and that made him look weak which made the bullying become a daily occurrence. This followed him through middle school.
At first he talked to us about it and we would do our best to
encourage him to ignore it and we would contact the school. When the school got
involved it would just get worse. The bully would get reprimanded and then his
buddies would retaliate against our son for tattling or snitching. His freshman
and sophomore year was the worst. The bully group grew larger and, by the
middle of sophomore year, gained a member that was physically threatening. This
student was suspended twice for hitting him. Our son began to fear
going to school. He said he believed this student wanted to "stick"
him. He would beg to stay home and would worry so much about it that he became
physically sick. He begged us not to call school about it because it would make
matters worse. His grades suffered badly. In the beginning of February
the stresses piled up. A classmate lost his battle with depression, his
girlfriend broke up with him, his best friend moved 7 hours away and the
bullying continued. It broke our hearts to see him struggle with this. We felt
helpless and prayed for a solution. I heard about a "be nice" forum
scheduled in the evening the next week and planned to attend with brochures
that advertised a Facebook group I created for parents of bullied
children. I was on fire to stop the madness in school. I thought if
parents with the same problems got together, we could put our heads together
and come up with a workable solution. I didn't hand out the brochures because a
school board member asked me to wait until it could be discussed at a
While my husband and I sat there and absorbed the information about depression and recognizing warning signs and symptoms of suicidal tendencies it struck me that they were describing our son. I was sickened that I didn’t see this myself. I thought our issue was a bully. I had no idea it had grown into a life threatening issue and my son's biggest bully had become himself.
The following day I contacted Todd Kamstra who referred me to Pine Rest or Zeeland Hospital ER. We had our son assessed at the hospital where it was determined that it would be unsafe for him to return home with us that evening. We learned that he had an "exit plan" with exact details worked out, even the "what ifs" were ironed out. There was not going to be a note saying goodbye. I was just going to find him. Even typing this makes me shake. I can't believe how close we were to losing our precious first born child. I thank God for directing us to attend the meeting. I thank the school system for adopting the program. And I thank everyone who arranged the forum that gave us the information which was the first steps in saving our son's life. This program IS making a difference. I'm sure our story is not the only one that "be nice" has contributed to. It's just one of few that will be publicly told.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Praying that this program will continue to bless more lives for years to come.