– Jim Stark, Ph.D., Forensic Psychologist
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people in the United States.
Marvin Novelo is 17, openly gay - and has tried to kill himself several times.
“Drowning, pills, several other things,” he remembers.
Since the third grade, Marvin says, he has been the victim of bullies at school.
He’s been beaten up, thrown into a dumpster, a trashcan, and into a toilet in the girl’s bathroom.
“But of course, none of it was really as bad as just the verbal harassment,” Marvin says. “Because you couldn’t escape it. You could run away from someone trying to beat you up, but in a classroom there was nowhere to run.”
A new review of studies by Yale University finds that bully victims are two to nine times more likely to report having suicidal thoughts than other kids.
“They may incorporate that dislike into disliking themselves,” says Dr. Jim Stark, who has worked with gay and lesbian teens, “and then it’s only one or two short steps from disliking one’s self to wanting to harm one’s self.”
“I see myself a person that’s not even deserving to live, a person that doesn’t deserve anything in life,” adds Marvin. “I see myself as this -and this is embarrassing, it’s humiliating.”
Psychologists say parents of kids who are depressed or bullied at school should ask their son or daughter if they’ve thought about suicide.
“And if you can present it in a way that you don’t label it as horrible, that someone would consider suicide as a solution, then you give permission for that thought to be there, and more permission to be able to talk about that option and other options,” says Dr. Paul Schenk, a psychologist.
As for Marvin, his goals for the future are simple.
“I want a life where I can actually be at peace,” he says.
Tips for Parents
Why is bullying on the rise in U.S. schools? Educators cite various causes, including violent video games, the failing economy and a stressed or abusive home life. Experts say that schools and families often ignore the resulting damage caused by bullying, including a fear of attending school, carrying weapons for protection and committing more violent activity. In fact, the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD) found that the long-term effects of frequent bullying often follow victims into adulthood. They say that these adults are at greater risk of suffering from depression, schizophrenia or other mental health problems, and in rare cases, may commit suicide.
Parental involvement is the key to reducing and preventing bullying and the problems it brings. The NCPC offers the following tips to help prevent bullying incidents in your child’s school and community:
Listen to your child. Encourage him or her to talk about school, social events, classmates and the walk or ride to and from school so you can identify any problems he or she may be experiencing.
Take your child’s complaints of bullying seriously. Probing a seemingly minor complaint may uncover more severe grievances.
Watch for symptoms that your child may be a bullying victim. These symptoms include withdrawal, a drop in grades, torn clothes or the need for extra money or supplies.
Tell the school or organization immediately if you think that your child is being bullied. Alerted caregivers can carefully monitor your child’s actions and take steps to ensure his or her safety.
Work with other parents in your neighborhood. This strategy can ensure that children are supervised closely on their way to and from school.
Teach your child nonviolent ways to resolve arguments.
Teach your child self-protection skills. These skills include how to walk confidently, staying alert to what’s going on around him or her and standing up for himself or herself verbally.
Help your child learn the social skills needed to make friends. A confident, resourceful child who has friends is less likely to be bullied or to bully others.
Praise your child’s kindness toward others. Let him or her know that kindness is valued.
Don’t bully your child yourself, physically or verbally. Use nonphysical, consistently enforced discipline measures as opposed to ridiculing, yelling or ignoring your child when he or she misbehaves.
Although anyone can be the target of a bully, victims are often singled out based on psychological traits more than physical traits. The National Resource Center for Safe Schools says that passive loners are the most frequent victims, especially if they cry easily or lack social self-defense skills. Many victims are unable to deflect a conflict with humor and don’t think quickly on their feet. They are usually anxious, insecure and cautious and suffer from low self-esteem. In addition, they rarely defend themselves or retaliate and tend to lack friends, making them easy to isolate. Therefore, it is vital that you instill confidence in your child and empower him or her to become a healthy, socially adjusted adult.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Crime Prevention Council
National Institute of Child Health & Human Development
National Resource Center for Safe Schools