What are we leaving for them?

I came back from volunteering feeling weird today. Usually the group of forty girls I see once a week is lighthearted, rowdy, and fun. Not that today wasn’t; there were fewer of them there because of the weather and spring break, and that actually made it easier to have one-on-one interactions and laugh with the girls. But one of the activities really struck a chord with me. We had broken into smaller groups and I was facilitating six girls in a discussion about friendships and bullying. I asked the question, “How would you feel if you found out your friend was spreading rumors about you?”
One of the girls in my group was of special interest to me. She’d been incredibly shy on the first day and I had to repeatedly coax her back into the group. Since then she’s become much more outgoing, making friends and talking during activities, but she still tended to sit by herself unless I asked her to join the group. She’d asked me several times how old I was, at first mistaking me for one of the students. Sometimes she’d approach me on purpose to simply stand next to me, and I was usually able to invite her into conversations with me by asking her questions she seemed eager to answer in her quiet but energetic voice.
When I asked the question about the gossip and how that would make them feel, this girl put hr fingers to her head in the shape of a gun and said, “It might make you feel like doing this.”
I’m pretty sure this girl is eight years old.
I didn’t know what to say to that except, “That would be sad.” I made her meet my gaze and she did without flinching, and she didn’t seem overly upset about anything, but I was shaken. I told the supervisor what happened and asked the other volunteers to keep an eye on her and I was assured that the girl would b checked on, and that we would talk to all of the girls about what they should do if they were ever feeling very bad about themselves.
About a year ago I was in Pine Ridge and I learned about the three elementary school kids who had killed themselves that week. I remember feeling shocked, feeling helpless, feeling frozen with fear when the other kids brought it up.
Since then I have worked for summer camps where middle and high school kids have expressed to me feelings of depression, moments in their lives they’d considered suicide, ad seen evidence among the ones I was closest to of self harm and suicidal thoughts.
Since then I have been labelled with depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and poor self-concept.
Since then I have considered my options more than once but thankfully I have always chosen to keep going.
Since then I have struggled with self harm and its aftermath.
Since then I have interacted with over a hundred kids from troubled households and heard so many stories of kids, each time younger and younger, struggling with thoughts and feelings that no one should ever have to deal with. I can’t believe how young some of these kids are that have these thoughts.
I’m scared for the girl that made that comment tonight and I wonder what she is going through that would make suicide the first reaction she would come up with. I wonder what kind of world we are leaving behind for our children. If seven and twelve year olds are having these thoughts, what will they be doing, saying and thinking as they grow older and more involved in the society we are creating?
I take in the feelings that are expressed to me and sometimes I worry how I will be able to handle the work that I want to dedicate my life to. But I can’t interact with kids like these and then just walk away. I need to do something with what I have learned.
I’m lucky that I have something I’m so passionate about to dedicate my life to, but it makes me indescribably sad to see the evidence of the need for the work I have to do.

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