There have been several high profile suicides that have been related to bullying. Perhaps one of the most famous in recent times has been Amanda Todd. Her death was preceded by a dramatic video on YouTube which, as of this writing, has had over 26 million views in its two versions. The video showed her placing small placards outlining the significant impact the bullying was having on her. It is perhaps timely to recall her death as an individual has been arrested in Holland related to the online harassment that she experienced.
This reminds us that bullying occurs in quite a variety of forms than just the schoolyard version that is the one many think of when they hear bullying. There is a tremendous vulnerability through social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, texting and other forms of instant communication.
There have been many other high profile cases such as Megan Meier in Missouri, Rebecca Sedwick in Florida, Rehtaeh Parsons in Nova Scotia, Devon Brown in Georgia – and the list could go on.
These are cases where the judicial system often becomes aware of the bullying too late to intervene. Increasingly, schools, social workers and police are becoming aware of the cost of bullying to the victims. They are trying to reduce the frequency and intensity of the activity,
Some new information from the United Kingdom adds further urgency to society’s efforts. Dr. Ryu Takizawa is the lead author of a paper just published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The study includes data on over 7700 children whose parents provided details on the bullying their children experienced during the ages 7 – 11. These children have been followed for many years with the current data seeing them through to age 50.
The research concludes that those who were bullied in childhood had poorer physical and psychological health as they went through life. They also experienced greater rates of mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety and suicidality. The bullying also affected educational attainment and employment. They also tended to have less success in relationships and overall, they felt a poorer quality of life over the long term.
This data, along with the ever increasing public awareness of severe bullying and suicide, should cause us to reflect that this issue is a major public health concern. People suffer both in the immediate term but also over the course of their life. The conversation on bullying must change from one where we might see it as an inevitable part of life experience to a harmful behavior that requires intervention.
Dr. Peter Choate is a Registered Social Worker and Member of the Clinical Registry and Approved Clinical Supervisor for the Alberta College of Registered Social Workers. He is an Assistant Professor at Mount Royal University in the Faculty of Social Work and Disability Studies and a Professional Development Instructor at the University of Calgary. His particular emphasis is on parenting capacity as well child and adolescent mental health including maltreatment, neglect and abuse (physical, sexual, emotional) and these issues within family systems.