Last week, 15 year old Amanda – a Coquilam student - died by suicide. Amanda was bullied at school, and while I’m not privy to details, I can only speculate that she thought her death was the only way to stop her pain. We are saddened by such events taking place in our society and our community.
Last January, I posted my thoughts on bullying after giving a talk on the subject. I’d like to re-post this article for your review in the hopes that it may provide a platform for discussion at home, in schools and elsewhere about how to address this ongoing dilemma and also how to cease such behaviour that shatters lives and fractures families indefinitely.
Please find information from the Ministry of Children & Family Development below as well as my piece on bullying to follow.
Oct. 12, 2012
Ministry of Children and Family Development
Resources for youth with suicidal thoughts
VICTORIA – The Ministry of Children and Family Development would like to remind young people and their families that if they are feeling alone, sad, or having thoughts of suicide, help is available.
Here are a few numbers youth and families can contact themselves or on behalf of someone else to get immediate help:
- 1 800 SUICIDE (1 800 784-2433)
- Youth in BC: 1 866 661-3311 (toll-Free). Youth in BC is an online crisis service, where you can chat 1-on-1 with a trained volunteer 24 hours a day.
- Aboriginal People Crisis Line: 1 800 588-8717
- Native Youth Crisis Hotline: 1 877 209-1266
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline: A free 24 hour hotline in Canada or the U.S. 1 800 273-8255
- Kids Help Phone: 1 800 668-6868. The Kids Help Line is a national organization offering bilingual, 24-hour toll-free confidential phone counselling, referral and Internet services for children and youth or their parents in English and French.
Most children and youth having thoughts of suicide show signs of their distress, although some do not. Some of the changes families and others may see in children and youth who may be at risk for suicide include:
- Talking about suicide or a plan for suicide.
- Saying things like, “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead,” “I shouldn’t have been born,“ “I won’t be a problem for you much longer,” “Nothing matters,” or “It’s no use.”
- Making statements about hopelessness, helplessness or worthlessness.
- Complaining of being a bad person or feeling “rotten inside,” refusing help or feeling beyond help. Not tolerating praise or rewards.
- Giving away favourite possessions or making a will.
- Being preoccupied with death.
- Showing a loss of interest in pleasurable activities or things they once cared about. Always feeling bored.
- Feeling trapped, increasingly anxious, agitated or angry.
- Showing marked personality changes and serious mood changes.
- Withdrawing from friends and family.
- Expressing plans to seek revenge.
- Sleeping all of the time or unable to sleep.
- Having trouble concentrating or difficulties with school work.
- Complaining frequently about physical symptoms often related to emotions, such as stomach aches, headaches or fatigue. Changes in eating and sleeping habits.
- Showing impulsive behaviours, such as violent actions, rebellious behaviour or running away.
- Increasing or excessive substance use.
- Becoming suddenly cheerful after a period of depression (may mean the youth has already made the decision to escape their problems through suicide).
The ministry has several initiatives around the province that aim to reduce the risk of youth suicide, for example, the FRIENDS for Life program: http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/mental_health/friends.htm
This is a school-based prevention program designed to increase resiliency and reduce anxiety for B.C. students.
The ministry has compiled best practice information for practitioners related to youth suicide prevention, intervention and steps following suicide. This information is posted on the ministry website: http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/suicide_prevention/for_professionals.htm
Connect with the Province of B.C. at: www.gov.bc.ca/connect
Recently, I provided a talk/discussion group for parents — here are some of the points covered in hopes that it might bring further attention to a large concern.
Barbara Coloroso, a leading expert in parenting, describes bullying as “a conscious, deliberate and willful hostile activity intended to harm.” She states that bullying is not about anger or conflict — it is about contempt for another human being. It involves a sense of power and entitlement that allows the bully to control, dominate and abuse his or her victim.
- It is someone who takes advantage of another individual that he or she perceives as more vulnerable
- The goal is to gain control over the victim or over the bully’s social group
- Most adults, if they think about it, have experienced bullying too
In October of 2010, a global report on school violence identifies bullying as the largest problem at US school playgrounds.
How it impacts:
- All forms of youth violence — both in and out of schools cost the nation $158 billion in the US
- The “safe” school playground becomes an ugly arena where children/youth pit themselves against each other
- Up to 65% of children worldwide state that they suffer or have suffered from bullying.
- Bullying is under-reported — the actual % may be much higher
- 1/5 of high school students said they experienced repeated, intentional bullying according to the CDC
- Bullying behaviour is higher in girls than boys
- Being bullied may account for poor attendance at school
- Impacts on learning or having the ability to learn
- Can take place on the Internet — cyber-bullying, which can be relentless
- Can increase suicidal thought and actions, as happened this last year in the US when several adolescents committed suicide after being bullied for being gay
- Research indicates a close relationship between school bullying and youth violence
- Youth violence-related death is the 2nd cause highest cause of death in the US — Canada is not far behind that statistic
- Bullying can have serious and harmful psychological effects (words can never harm you — erroneous)
- There is a “generational” aspect to bullying — if one is bullied, there is a stronger chance for one to bully another
- In Canada, bullying happens every 7 minutes on the playground and every 25 minutes in the classroom
- Adults may dismiss children bullying others as “kids just being kids”
- The escalation from bullying behaviour to violence can be swift
- High-tech bullying occurs on social networks such as Facebook
- Bullying also happens through email, texts — all add new fire to the arsenal of the bully, who can use such sites as threaten his/her victim
- Microsoft Canada (it tracks Internet safety) stated that in 2009, 40% of Canadian youth said that they have been bullied online — up 25% since 2004
- Name-calling, putdowns and violence are considered valid entertainment (a Facebook site encouraged kids to beat up anyone with red hair on “Kick a Ginger Day”, started in response to an episode of “South Park”
- Violence is all forms continues to be glorified through film, video games and extreme sporting events
- The WHO ranks Canada 26th out of 35 developed nations for bullying behaviour (that’s worse than the US and 24 of the nations surveyed)
- WHO calls bullying a global social health problem
- The UK and Norway have instituted successful national campaigns to address bully problems
- Canada dos not have a national anti-bullying programme
- Canadian anti-bullying programmes exist in the private sector
Dealing with a Bully
It is critical to help your child regain a sense of worth and esteem after being bullied.
- Do not tell the child to act on the anger. Being angry with the bully further incites the situation, which is most likely what the bully wants
- Avoid the use of physical force. It is uncertain what the bully can do in response — he/she may be physically harmful
- Tell the bully to “stop NOW”. Then tell the child to walk away and ignore him/her
- Inform an adult immediately. Encourage the child to promptly tell an adult, teacher, school counsellor or parent about the bullying behaviour
- Use the buddy system. Have your child walk to school or take the bus with friends/others. Tell your child to be with friends in halls and on the playground. If the bully is in sight, it is less likely that he/she will strike with others around, and if he/she does, there is the potential support of friends to deal with this situation
How can you help your child deal with the bullying?
First, help teach him/her to avoid being an easy target. Start with posture, voice and eye contact. These can communicate a lot about whether you are vulnerable. Practice with a mirror or even videotape. Tell your child to avoid isolated places where no one can see or hear him. He/she should learn to be vigilant for suspicious individuals or for trouble brewing. If bullying starts, the child might be able to deflect it with humour or by changing the subject. The child should run over a list of positive attributes in his mind. This reminds the child that he/she is worthy of something better than bullying behaviour. Teach your child not to obey the commands of the bully. Often it is better to run away than to comply. The parent may help the child make more positive friends. If he or she sticks around with a group, he/she is less likely to be a target. Finally, if the child sticks up for other children he sees being bullied, people may get the idea that he is not someone who tolerates bullies.
For families, dealing with a bullied child or dealing with a bully or his or her parent’s may require professional guidance and advice. Don’t hesitate in such cases to consult with WCWG or another clinical counselling service provider for information and support.