Be an Upstander, Not a Bystander

Fairfield Center School Principal Kelsey Malbouef with John Halligan and FCS 8th graders Mania Tibbits, Jade Robtoy, Moriah Bourdeau and Lakota Hayes

Fairfield Center School Principal Kelsey Malbouef with John Halligan and FCS 8th graders Mania Tibbits, Jade Robtoy, Moriah Bourdeau and Lakota Hayes

Zoe Walent, Writer

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the twelfth highest cause of death of all Americans.  The NIMH also notes that, in 2020, “suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10-14 and 25-34 [and] the third leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 15-24.”

In 2003, a man named John Halligan lost his son, Ryan Halligan, to suicide. After Ryan’s death, it was revealed that he faced major humiliation and bullying from school and online. 

In memory of his son, Halligan has spent much of his time devoted to teaching parents and kids about suicide in hopes to help prevent the tragedy of loved ones committing suicide. Halligan’s program addresses the effects of bullying and the importance of suicide prevention while still engaging students through his tragic story. 

Halligan also spearheaded the Vermont Bullying Bill, which was signed into law (ACT 117) in May 2004, and, according to www.ryanpatrickhalligan.org/about, “He also successfully led the law’s passage on mandatory suicide prevention education in public schools (ACT 114) in April 2006.”

On Sept. 26, Halligan presented at Fairfield Center School. Students were provided an opportunity to learn about the power that words can have on others.  

“I also wanted students to feel empowered to stand up for themselves, stand up for others and have an appreciation of the power of acceptance and kindness,” Fairfield Center School’s Principal, Kelsey Malboeuf, said. 

According to Malboeuf, Halligan has presented at Fairfield in past years, and Fairfield’s Social Emotional Team felt it was time to have him present again because of the effect the presentation has on students. 

“The speech really did inspire me and made me realize the consequences my actions can have on people,” Quincey Walent, an 8th grader at Fairfield Center School, said. 

According to Malboeuf, after the presentation, students were given the time and space to process the intense conversation and ask questions.

“My heart was instantly warmed as multiple students approached Mr. Halligan and expressed their condolences and their appreciation for his presentation. I felt an incredible amount of pride as Mr. Halligan commented on the high amount of respect that the students gave during his presentation and what that meant to him and his son Ryan,” Malboeuf said. 

According to Malboeuf, through Halligan’s presentation, students were able to reflect on the consequences of their actions and how to be a better person.

“The message that John Halligan sent was that his son died of a mental illness: depression.  We, as a society, need to ensure that people know the signs of what depression looks like in the youth and adults. In order to make a change and support a person, it is essential to acknowledge and understand the illness,” Malboeuf said. 

She added that Halligan also spoke about how important it is to pay close attention to loved ones for early signs of mental illness and their behaviors, so as to do everything you can to save the ones closest from suicide.  Additionally, Halligan talked about how bullying is a main factor in the decline of mental and physical health across America.

“Be an upstander rather than a bystander. Be courageous and stop the pain that others put on one another,” Halligan said. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, bullying or depression, there is help available for you. BFA’s guidance office is open to all students during school hours. The national hotline for suicide is 988. You are important.