Suicide of Wisconsin schoolteacher connected to state budget cuts

Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive magazine, reports that the March 8 suicide of a Wisconsin schoolteacher has been tied to her distraught state over the attack on state workers (story link here):

Jeri-Lynn Betts, an early childhood teacher in the Watertown, Wisconsin, school district, died on March 8 of an apparent suicide.

A colleague says she was “very distraught” over Gov. Scott Walker’s attacks on public sector workers and public education.

Betts, 56, was a dedicated teacher who was admired in the Watertown community.

Very complicated matter

We must be careful in attributing specific causes to suicide, but it appears that the Madison-based political magazine has checked out this story carefully before going public with it.

Soon after Betts’s death, “two members of the school district contacted The Progressive about her death, calling it a suicide and saying it was connected, at least in part, to the policies that Walker has proposed.” The magazine’s investigation found, among other things, that:

. . . A police [officer] took a statement from Susan Kemmerling, who worked with Betts as a special education paraprofessional for the past decade.

“Susan advised me that Geri had a long history of depression,” Officer Jeffrey Meloy wrote in his report. “Susan stated that the last several weeks had been ‘stressing her out’ due to the protests and the introduction of the budget repair bill and the uncertainty involved in the teaching world, as far as who was going to have jobs and what services were going to be cut.

The article doesn’t dodge the fact that Betts had suffered from depression. It does point out, however, that many teachers across Wisconsin are experiencing high amounts of stress and anxiety due to the budget cuts and the public bashing they are receiving in the media.


The Betts tragedy bears a sad resemblance to the phenomenon of “bullycides,” discussed previously on this blog:

An unfortunate but apt term entered our lexicon this year, “bullycide,” referring to suicides linked to bullying at work and schools.

In the workplace context, two such deaths became especially prominent. One involved the July suicide of Kevin Morrissey, an editor at the University of Virginia’s Virginia Quarterly Review, which was linked to severe bullying by his supervisor, the journal’s editor-in-chief.

Another involved the 2008 suicide of Jodie Zebell, a health care worker whose story was shared with the Wisconsin legislature when it deliberated upon the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (see below for more on the HWB).

Granted, Betts and other teachers are not being targeted personally by these budget cuts. But the tone of public ridicule and dismissiveness about the value of their contributions to the greater good — fueled by politicians who need to demonize them in order to justify the cuts and strip them of collective bargaining rights — no doubt has been a source of considerable demoralization and stress.

In other words, when people experience their dignity being taken from them, tragic consequences are bound to follow.

4 responses

  1. First, my heart and condolences go out to her family and friends. But I fear this is the tip of an ugly iceberg and an under-reported consequence of the great depression. One of my sisters friends committed suicide after two years of unemployment and a forclosure on her condo. The class warfare that has been waged on working families by the plutocracy will only get worse unless we stand and use the ballot box to force change.

  2. I feel your pain. My daughter, Jodie Zebell, also committed sucide after being bullied at her workplace. It is always the hard working dedicated ones that this seems to happen to. We will fight on to get a law passed against bullying in the workplace. Jean

  3. Nearsightedness sets in we’re on overload. In the need to focus on what’s directly before us in the moment, we become blind to the “big picture.”

    It is so incredibly heartbreaking that it takes incidents such as this to help us regain our ability to see the entire “landscape” and our connections to one another.

    Nothing happens in a vacuum – neither an earthquake nor the demoralization of a human being.

    Thank you, as always, for your thought-provoking posts, David.

    Take care.

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