A mother's story about teen suicide and bullying: 'She felt more and more alone'

Posted at 4:33 PM, Aug 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-30 16:14:11-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Audrie is Sheila Pott’s only daughter.

“She is very full of life, gregarious, loved to play jokes. [She] had a strong love of animals and her friends,” Sheila Pott said of her only daughter, Audrie.

She could have never imagined her child would have committed suicide.

“I was probably in shock for a year,” Pott said.

In 2012, Audrie Pott was at a high school party in Northern California. She, along with others, drank alcohol mixed with Gatorade. Audrie passed out and was sexually assaulted by three teenagers.

“She had no memory of what happened. She just woke up and half her face was colored black and she had all these lewd messages in very private places,” Sheila Pott said. “She didn’t know what happened or if there was pictures or who had seen them.”

Sheila Pott says she was only able to piece together what happened that night after her daughter took her own life. As part of the subsequent investigation, they found messages on social media regarding the assault.

“She was getting texts and messages from people that she didn't even know from other schools, that had heard about the party or they'd heard a rumor,” Sheila said. “They start to label you as the slut and start to slut shame you.”

The three boys involved pleaded guilty in connection to the assault.

“I just think that the trauma of it was just too much for her to think there was a future,” Pott said.

Sheila, along with Audrie’s father and stepmother, now run a foundation in Audrie’s name, providing anti-cyberbullying presentations to schools.

“With cyberbullying, online and social media bullying, kids can’t get away from it because they’re always on their phones,” said Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychology professor with San Diego State University.

Dr. Twenge wrote the book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.

It is a talk Dr. Twenge has to have with her own daughters. The oldest is going to fifth grade and Dr. Twenge says she has already seen classmates involved in cyberbullyiing.

“She told me half the kids in her class in fourth grade already had smart phones,” Dr. Twenge said.

The Centers for Disease Control shows suicide rates have tripled for teen girls ages 12 to 14. For older teenagers, it is the highest in forty years.

Dr. Twenge recommends teenagers limit their smartphone use to less than two hours. More than that, she found that is when suicide risk factors start to appear.

Sheila Pott said after her daughter’s suicide, her high school brought on mental health counselors to be available to students.

“It makes me so sad to think that even as little as five years ago, there were no mental health counselors on Audrie’s campus or in Silicon Valley in one of the most prominent high schools here,” Pott said.

When asked if schools are doing enough to prevent suicide, Sheila Pott said there is more work to be done.

“I don’t think schools are doing enough yet to prevent suicide because I think they’re afraid to approach the subject,” Sheila Pott said.

 Team 10 checked with the larger school districts in the county.

A spokesperson for the Sweetwater Union High School District said each school “has a school psychologist as well as guidance counselors.”

Students also have the ability to meet with the site principal and assistant principals, according to spokesperson Manny Rubio.

“Overall, all of our school sites offer an open door for students and parents to bring forward concerns,” Rubio wrote in an email.

In the San Diego Unified School District, spokesperson Maureen Magee wrote in an email that every school “has access to psychologists and mental health counselors/clinicians.”

“Schools make referrals and tap those resources as needed, to meet the needs of their students,” Magee wrote. “Guidance counselors also receive training on bullying.”

It is unclear how many school psychologists or mental health counselors the district has available to students.