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Bullycide: Suicide as a Result of Bullying

On January 4, 2012 Amanda Diane Cummings, a fifteen year old Staten Island adolescent, died from injuries sustained the preceding week after she jumped in front of a bus.  The high school sophomore was carrying a note related to the unrelenting bullying she was experiencing by classmates who taunted her, threatened her, and also stole her personal possessions.  Peers continued to post cruel and inappropriate comments on Amanda's Facebook wall while she was in the hospital after being struck by the bus.

While it is now well known that bullying is very damaging to its victims, it is still not generally considered to be a serious issue.  Throughout time immemorial victims have been told to "toughen up", "stop whining", to "get a thicker skin" or to “fight back”.  When a victim of bullying attempts to get help, he/she is frequently betrayed by the authorities or told "no one likes a tattle-tale".  Considering the devastating, and sometimes fatal, consequences of bullying, society must re-examine its attitude to this issue.

Bullying will cause depression.  Depression is the leading cause in all cases of suicide.  According to the American Psychiatric Association over half of all kids who suffer from depression will eventually attempt suicide; seven percent will be successful.  Every ½ hour a youth who has been bullied will complete suicide.  Another estimated 19,000 victims of bullying will attempt suicide this year. 

Definition of Bullying

Fundamentally, bullying is a repeated physical, verbal, and/or psychological assault.  Bullying has three essential components; intent to cause harm, repeated hurtful acts, and a disparity of power. It includes physical attack, intimidation, rumor-spreading, isolation, demands for money, destruction of property, theft of possessions/identity, destruction of another’s work, and name-calling.  Bullying revolves around using intimidation directed at victims who cannot properly defend themselves due to size, strength, disability, or because the victim is outnumbered. Cyberbullying (instant messaging, chat room exchanges, Web site posts, digital messages and/or images via cell phone or PDA) make it easier for children and teens to bully one another.

Granted, not all taunting, teasing and fighting constitutes bullying.  Two individuals of approximately the same physical or psychological strength fighting or arguing is not bullying. Rather, bullying entails recurring acts by someone perceived as physically or psychologically more powerful.

Definition of Bullycide

Bullycide is a new term used to identify those children/teens who were victims of bullying and became so emotionally distressed that they committed suicide.  Children and adolescents who are repeatedly bullied live in a chronic state of fear and confusion. Attempting suicide due to the suffering caused by bullying leads many children and adolescents to believe that the only way to escape the assaults, rumors, insults, verbal abuse and terror is to take their own life. There are multiple reasons that ultimately can lead to bullycide including:

  • Exposure to relentless physical and/or emotional bullying by peers
  • Experiencing continuous resultant pain due to the bullying
  • Having to incessantly relive humiliating moments that are repeatedly brought up by peers as a means of torment
  • Having no other friends to rely on for support or encouragement while being bullied regularly
  • Being the victim of bullying by an authority figure (parent, teacher, coach, etc)

The Staggering School Bullying Statistics:

  • There are approximately 2.1 million bullies and 2.7 million of their victims in American schools.
  • 1 in every 7 students in grades K-12 is either a bully or a victim of bullying.
  • 282,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools each month.
  • 56% of students have personally witnessed some type of bullying at school.
  • 90% of 4th-8th graders report being victims of bullying
  • 40% of bullied students are students with disabilities.
  • In 85% of bullying cases, no intervention or effort is made by a teacher or administration member of the school to stop the bullying from taking place.
  • Revenge is the strongest motivation for school shootings. Harassment and bullying have been linked to 75% of school-shooting incidents.
  • 1 out of 20 students has seen a student with a gun at school.
  • 160,000 children miss school every day due to the fear of being bullied.
  • 15% of all school absenteeism is directly related to fears of being bullied at school

These numbers continue to rise every month.

Cyber-bullying Statistics:

  • 80% of all high school students report having been bullied in some manner online.
  • 35% of teens report having been actually threatened online.
  • ½ of all teens admit they have said something mean or hurtful to another teen online; most have done it more than once.
  • Less than 20% of cyber-bullying incidents are reported to law enforcement.

Prevention

There are clearly no easy solutions to stop bullying during the school age years.  Prevention is obviously the key factor.  It is essential to look for warning signs that an individual is a victim of bullying.  It is also crucial to identify the signals that a person is a bully and causing physical and/or emotional harm.  Know that the big, mean boy on the playground isn't the only type of bully anymore. There are many types of bullies: boys and girls; children to teens, and all ages to adults in authority positions.

Warning signs that a child/adolescent is a victim of bullying include:

  • Unexplained injuries and/or damaged/missing clothing or other belongings
  • Change in eating habits
  • Makes excuses not to go to school
  • Loss of friends
  • Verbalizes feelings of helpless/hopeless
  • Talks about suicide
  • Acts out of character
  • Avoids certain places or is afraid to play outside alone
  • Feels inadequate
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Inappropriate self-blame

Warning signs that a child/adolescent is a perpetrator of bullying include:

  • Becomes frequently violent
  • Has difficulty controlling anger
  • Is manipulative and controlling of others and situations
  • Consistently blames others
  • Refuses to accept responsibility for his/her actions
  • Exceedingly competitive; needs to win or be the best

Research has demonstrated that bullying others can be a signal for the potential to engage in other serious antisocial and violent behaviors. Children and youth who frequently bully their peers are more likely than others to fight, vandalize property, steal, drink, use drugs, be truant, drop out of school, and carry a weapon.  Statistically, they are four times more likely than non-bullies to be convicted of crimes by age 24, with 60% of bullies having at least one criminal conviction.

The big question is what can you do to protect yourself or a loved one if you are a parent or victim of bullying? First of all, know the warning signs.  Talk to your parents; talk to your kids.  Save all cyber-bullying messages/texts/posts as proof that the bullying is occurring.  Also, keep a journal of every instance of maltreatment.  If the bullying is happening at school (or is school-related) share this evidence with a teacher, counselor or even the principal. If the matter is not resolved from there, take the situation to the school board and to the police to ensure a resolution.  Acts of violence, real threats, vandalism, property damage, theft, and any bullying that is sexual in nature should be reported to law enforcement as soon as possible for criminal investigation.  

Anti-Bullying Laws

Anti-bullying laws aim to prevent bullying, address it when it happens, or both. Forty eight states in the United States have passed school anti-bullying legislation (Montana and South Dakota have not). These laws are frequently in a state of change.

Bullying laws usually focus on schools, which are the site of a large amount of bullying behavior.  These laws are inconsistent state to state.  Current state laws may or may not criminalize bullying; others prefer to keep the management of bullying between schools and families, rather than the courts.  Most laws require that school personnel who witness acts of bullying report the same.  They also establish responses to reports of bullying that include investigation, imposition of disciplinary measures, notification for parents, and support and counseling of targets.

There are no current national laws related to bullying, but they have been suggested. The actual need for anti-bully laws however remains controversial. Will specific legislation aimed at bullying really add anything new to existing laws related to harassment, safety, violence, hatred, and destruction of property?

Bullying Prevention for School Resource Officers

According to the U.S. DOJ’s office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) the following guideline addresses the general requirements for an effective strategy to deal with the problem of bullying at school. 

  • Keep updated on your state’s laws and your schools’ policies related to bullying.
  • Enlisting the school principal’s commitment and involvement is the #1 priority for addressing bullying in schools.
  • Use a multifaceted, comprehensive approach: establish a school-wide policy that addresses both indirect (rumor spreading, cyber bullying, etc) and direct bullying (physical aggression):  provide guidelines for teachers, other staff and students (including witnesses) on specific actions to take if bullying occurs; educate and involve parents so they understand the problem, recognize its signs and intervene appropriately, adopting specific strategies to deal with individual bullies and victims, including meeting with their parents.
  • Develop a comprehensive reporting system to track bullying and the interventions used with specific bullies and victims.
  • Encourage students to report known bullying either directly to you or other school authorities, or unanimously through message lines or bully boxes on campus.
  • Encourage students to be helpful to classmates who are being bullied.
  • Develop activities in less supervised areas utilizing staff, parent volunteers, or students
  • Reduce the amount of time students can spend unsupervised.
  • Stagger recess, lunch, and/or class release times.
  • Monitor areas where bullying can be expected (bathrooms, lunchrooms, playgrounds)
  • Conduct post-intervention surveys to assess the strategies impact on school bullying.

Bullying can no longer be dismissed as a rite of passage experience for anyone.  Suicide caused from bullying is a serious issue that law enforcement officers, principals, teachers, parents, managers, human resources professionals, EAP providers and union leaders need to take very seriously, and very soon.

 

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About The Author:

Pamela Kulbarsh, RN, BSW has been a psychiatric nurse for over 25 years. She has worked with law enforcement in crisis intervention for the past ten years. She has worked in patrol with officers and deputies as a member of San Diego's Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) and at the Pima County Detention Center in Tucson. Pam has been a frequent guest speaker related to psychiatric emergencies and has published articles in both law enforcement and nursing magazines.

 

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