To everyone around her, China Howard seemed fine.
She had an American Girl doll, she loved going to church and she was an honor student at Arnold Mireles Academy set to be inducted into the National Honor Society this week.
“China was a wonderful daughter, she was loving and caring and full of life and spontaneous,” said her mother Ebonie Windham.
Except Howard was keeping a secret that her mother and other adults didn’t know, and now they’re sharing her story in hopes that it may save other children like her.
Howard’s family said the teen was the target of relentless bullying at school and online. Her sister said the 13-year-old had confided in her, and only her, about what was happening.
“These girls were talking about her hair because it was short and they would tell her ‘oh your sister did you hair? Well, she did a terrible job or you know make her feel bad so that she would cry,” Ivorie Lindsey said.
Still, Windham said her daughter didn’t show any signs of depression.
“No one knew, no one knew anything, no one saw this coming,” Windham said.
Then, last December, the eighth-grader took her own life.
Family members said they believed Howard killed herself because she couldn’t take the bullying anymore.
“She was able to mask that with school and staying on top of her grades,” said family friend Angela Grier.
New statistics from the the Centers for Disease Control show the suicide rate among teenage girls between 15 and 19 hit a 40-year high in 2015.
For boys the rate rose by more than 30 percent during the same period.
“The worries that teens have about belonging and being part of peer group are not going away and are worsening in this age of social media,” says Dr. Matthew Davis, head of academic general pediatrics and primary care at Lurie Children’s Hospital.
In the latest issue of The Atlantic psychologist Dr. Jean Twenge describes this generation as psychologically “more vulnerable than millennials” and “as being on the brink of the worst mental health crisis in decades” thanks in part to their smartphones.
“Social media is an effective way for teens to isolate each other, so although we call it social, its actually anti-social when it comes to kids protection,” Davis said.
Windham makes a point of sharing her story with other parents and the warning signs they should be on the look out for.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with in my life,” she said. “If I can prevent any mother from feeling the pain that I feel every day.”
If you or someone you know needs help call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
Published 43 minutes ago | Updated 42 minutes ago