Inside the Mind of a 5th Grader

Inside the Mind of a 5th Grader for the Common Good - March 30, 2014

State Representative David Perryman

By the time that I was eleven years old, I knew what it was like to win the lottery.  I am not talking about financial prizes.  Money really didn’t matter in the 1960’s to a fifth grader.  None of the kids in my circle had more than a couple of nickels or dimes and those few cents bought everything we needed and some things that we didn’t.  What I mean by winning the lottery was getting to be the kid that rode on the old sulky turning plow and “dropped the point” into ant hills splitting them wide open.

Winning was good because riding the plow and working the lever that lowered the bottom plow was fun, but it was even better because the one riding was not one of the five or six kids who had to grab hold of the knotty cedar post tongue and pull the contraption and rider as hard and fast as possible across ant hills so that the rider would be in just the right position to “lower the boom” on thousands of unsuspecting red ants.

We took turns and faithfully never failed to evacuate the equipment and rider after the deed was done. We protected the rider because we wanted to be protected when we were the rider.  Our greatest dread was to be stranded astride a rusty old plow in the middle of a disturbed fire ant colony.  Once we were past that danger, we were usually off to catching grasshoppers for a fishing trip to the pond.

This week Senate Bills were slowly trickling into House Committees and I had an opportunity between floor sessions and committee meetings to speak to about 130 Fifth Graders in my legislative district.  We talked about how laws are made and the role of the two houses of the legislature and the part that the governor plays.  We discussed the need for rules and how society would fail if we did not subject ourselves to the same rules that we seek to impose on others.

I was impressed with the behavior of these students and the knowledge shown by the questions that they asked.  Their teachers and parents are to be commended.  As the floor was opened up and the students told me what was on their minds, they expressed concern about the lack of storm shelters and safe rooms in their school.  One student was concerned about what they would study if Common Core really was repealed.  Another said that he was frustrated with textbooks that were out of date and no longer correctly identified the planets in our solar system.

Then, in the midst of the conversation, a young man looked me squarely in the eye and in the presence of every other fifth grader in his school said that he thought that “bullying” was one of the worst threats at school. 

As he expressed this concern, I appreciated the amount of courage and trust that it took for him to verbalize this feeling.  He did not outwardly appear to be a student that was subjected to being bullied, but his comment allowed our discussion to segue to a lesson on how vital it is that we culture and incorporate empathy into the way that we deal with others.

Perhaps it was a coincidence, but on Thursday afternoon at the Capitol after my committee meetings had ended, I was invited to attend the monthly meeting of the Oklahoma Suicide Prevention Council.  As I listened to reports of the work done across the state by members of the Council and their organizations and read the statistics on suicide in Oklahoma, I realized how much more we need to do as Oklahomans. 

Just like the young man who had the courage to express concern about bullying and its effects on his classmates, we must have the courage to address depression and mental illness and the despair that so many Oklahomans face on a daily basis.

Oklahoma suicide statistics reveal that the Sooner State ranks alarmingly high in another one of those areas where we don’t want to be number one. 

·         13th in the country in occurrences of suicide. 

·         1/3 more likely to commit suicide than national average.

·         3rd leading cause of death for children aged 10 to 14

·         2nd leading cause of death for young people age 15 through 34. 

·         White males take their lives most often (24.5 per 100,000 population). 

·         Women are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide.

·         Men are 4 times more likely to succeed. 

·         23% of all suicide victims have served in the military.

Despite being woefully underfunded and fiscally neglected, Oklahoma mental health providers, the Oklahoma Suicide Prevention Council and its member organizations are attempting to stem the tide on these horrible deaths that impact families young and old.  You too can help.

We emphasize physical health where we work, play and worship.  We must also emphasize mental health and emotional wellness and observe risk factors and signs of suicidal thought such as depression, social isolation, physical health problems, intimate partner problems, financial difficulties, communication barriers or weak family ties. 

We must encourage social network inclusion and appropriate clinical care for depression, mental health and substance abuse problems.  Suicide can be prevented through education and public awareness.

When I was young, my thoughts were occupied with finding where the fish were biting.  Life is not so simple anymore.  If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or just need to talk, call the Oklahoma hotline at 1-800-522-9054 or if you are a veteran call 1-800-273-8255.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as a State Representative.  If there is anything that I can do to assist you, call me at 405-557-7401 or email me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov. I look forward to hearing from you soon.