The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

It’s time to face the facts on bullying

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We all are acutely aware of the effects of “bullying” on our young people by now.  The cover of People magazine shows a picture of a young girl who committed suicide rather than be the target of constant and vitriolic bullying.

As a parent, I am left to wonder why these children were not taught proper social skills necessary to get along in a civilized society.  I realize that technology moves faster than some of us adults can adapt, but it still remains the role of the parents to exercise some control and to educate the children–that falls under child rearing.

Too often I see the effect of parents who simply have no interest in teaching their children or who are too busy trying to put food on the table so they don’t have time to adequately supervise their children.  Both situations are unfortunate, but not acceptable.

As a society, we owe our children the opportunity to learn how to get along with others and in doing so, how to get their own needs met responsibly.  Am I the only person who believes this?  I certainly hope not.

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By MAUREEN HACKETT
HOUSTON CHRONICLE

April 24, 2010, 7:29PM

Maybe it is because “bully” is a word often associated with children and the playground that the consequences of the behavior are often ignored until it is too late. Perhaps synonyms for the word — coerce, terrorize, tyrannize — more accurately describe the devastating effects for the victims of these actions. Sadly, bullying in our society has escalated to a serious mental health issue that is dramatically affecting the lives of young people and their families.

Recent headlines regarding the suicide deaths of several youths victimized by bullying are both tragic and concerning. As a parent, I cannot imagine the profound sense of loss, grief, anger and confusion that the families of these children must feel, nor can I imagine the deep emotional distress and hopelessness these adolescents suffered that led them to take their own lives as a solution.

Bullying today is not the occasional teasing that many of us remember from school, though that should not be taken lightly. It is now constant harassment in the form of physical assaults, verbal attacks, cyberattacks and exclusion from social interactions and activities that literally has some children and teens in a daily panic.

As an advocate who has spent years working on mental health issues, I fear that we are encountering a growing public health crisis that reflects a systemic breakdown that is proving increasingly detrimental to the emotional and physical safety of our young people.

Developmentally, children and teens are at extremely fragile stages in terms of sense of identity and self-esteem. Their relationships with their peers are an integral part of how they see themselves and their sense of worth, which makes being bullied so dangerous.

In addition, children and teens look to the adults in their lives for validation, appreciation and protection. This makes the responses, or lack thereof, from grown-ups to the bully so important. These young victims need to know they have a reliable support network of parents, teachers and other adults who will take the necessary steps to keep them safe. Having an adult dismiss bullying as no big deal can be almost as dangerous as the abuse itself.

Bullying happens every single day under our watch. It occurs in our neighborhoods, in the schools our children attend and, on a frighteningly increasing level, in our very own homes through cyberbullying, harassment by means of e-mail, instant or text messaging, social media or other online or electronic means.

As a society, we are more reliant on social media and constant communication than ever before. Bullies are able to reach their victims at all hours regardless of where they are physically, meaning a child who at least once felt sheltered at home, albeit briefly, now has no safe space.

One of the most alarming aspects of this type of torment is that it is all perfectly legal in our state and many parts of our country. Texas does not have a law specifically addressing harassment or online threats. While simply passing a law that makes cyberbullying illegal is not the sole answer to the problem, this deficiency needs to be addressed.

One of the most alarming aspects of this type of torment is that it is all perfectly legal in our state and many parts of our country. Texas does not have a law specifically addressing harassment or online threats. While simply passing a law that makes cyberbullying illegal is not the sole answer to the problem, this deficiency needs to be addressed.

Years of reports have warned that our public mental health systems are ill-equipped to address the mental health needs of our communities in a comprehensive manner. As we prepare for another legislative session, we should look more closely at repairing a mental health system that serves too few and leaves those who clearly need help without care and in desperate need.

Unfortunately, it is too late for some youths and their families, but their suffering should not be in vain. Their experiences should weigh on the minds and hearts of all of us. On their behalf, we must work toward positive social and system changes to ensure that the welfare of other victims of bullying is protected and the behavioral health needs of all involved are appropriately addressed.

Bullying is not something that just goes away on its own, nor is it something children can work out themselves or naturally outgrow. Not dealing with this problem head-on will only result in more of our youths developing mental health issues, which in turn can lead to acting out, substance abuse and, in the worst cases, simply giving up on life.

Hackett is a mental health and child advocate. Visit Mental Health America of Greater Houston at http://www.mhahouston.org or call 713-522-5161.

Here’s the link to the original article and several comments

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April 26, 2010 - Posted by | Mental Health

1 Comment »

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