Nov. 1, 2016
MANCHESTER — Middle school bullies had pushed Jonathan Miller to his breaking point. With no end in sight, Miller says, he decided suicide was his last option and he locked himself in the bathroom.
Miller’s sister interrupted the attempt, starting him on a journey toward self-acceptance, rediscovering his faith, and public advocacy, he says.
Miller began therapy, changed schools, and started attending services again at the Church of the Living God on Deming Street.
In 2013, his resolve was strengthened through the church’s youth group trip to Costa Rica to provide food and clothes to orphans. During the trip, Miller told his story to high schools and churches and credited God with saving his life.
Supervisors on the trip were impressed and urged Miller to continue public speaking, and he agreed.
In 2015, Miller introduced Save One, an anti-bullying organization supporting victims through mentoring and speaking engagements.
Miller, now an 18-year-old senior at Manchester High School, began the campaign by launching a website, Facebook, and Instragram pages to share his and other’s experiences with bullying.
The Manchester native uses his story to build a bond with Save One participants. He says he was called “stupid, ugly, retarded, and worthless” during the peak of his harassment.
“It’s not about saving the whole world — it’s about everybody trying to save at least one person,” Miller said.
Save One discusses bullying, suicide, and depression with victims of all ages, though, most of his work is with those 13 to 21 years old. Miller said his group uses social media, Skype, texting, and phone calls to connect with victims.
Those battling depression often feel lonely, he said, adding that talking to somebody who experienced similar hardships is healthy encouragement.
“It’s like becoming a friend with someone,” he said. “It’s not a one-day process, sometimes it’s months, weeks, or more.”
Miller still carries the burdens of his treatment in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade as he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, he said.
Even so, Miller said his work is unique because he leverages his story to audiences during regular speaking engagements. Presentations by Save One are interactive and meant to grab the audience’s attention rather than appear as a lecture, he said.
These qualities were demonstrated in 2015 during a TED Talk he delivered at MHS. TED, or Technology, Entertainment, or Design, is a nonprofit that seeks to inspire conversations related to a deeper understanding.
During the 15-minute talk, Miller recounted his torment in a program titled, “Hey, How Are You?” He’s also writing a book by that name.
His cousin in Puerto Rico watched the TED Talk on YouTube and convinced him to visit the island. The trip’s expense was worth it, Miller says, as he spoke at 13 conferences to diverse audiences of all ages.
“A lot of people like to set an age limit where it should or should not stop,” Miller said. “The reality is that bullying and depression can happen at any age.”
Miller is committed to contacting the governor of Virginia to schedule anti-bullying events in the wake of suicides of 9- and 16-year-old boys caused by bullying. The recent news “really hit me” Miller said, adding that youth suicide rates in Virginia are rising.
Miller plans to expand the organization’s reach when he attends college in Virginia by becoming a nonprofit organization.
Miller is seeking larger office space to include a full staff and free therapy — treatment he finds beneficial.
“There’s a bad stigma about therapy,” he said. “It’s really just a place where you can talk, be you, and be comfortable.”
Miller plans to earn a doctorate in psychology. However, credentials are misleading, he says, adding that real-life experience is equally valuable.
“At the end of the day, that’s just a piece of paper,” he said. “Right now, I have a message that is impacting not only teens, but also adults.”