Saturday, October 2, 2010

Another suicide due to bullying

The report of another suicide due to bullying is very disheartening. An eighteen-year-old freshman at Rutgers University, Tyler Clementi, killed himself after the secretly taped video broadcast by two other Rutgers students of his sexual encounter with a man.

There have been others: Asher Brown, a thirteen-year-old boy in Texas shot himself in the head after years of bullying and torment for being gay; thirteen-year-old Seth Walsh who was taunted for being gay, hung himself from a backyard tree; and fifteen-year-old Billy Lucas committed suicide after being tormented by bullies, who reportedly questioned his sexual orientation by the way he talked and dressed.

These four suicides occurring in less than a month. They are only a few most recent examples. In these cases, the cause of the torment was homosexuality, however, the bullying problem is not always about sexual orientation, it’s about intolerance of those who look or act differently from the norm or in some other way are different, and in some cases, the bullying is simply because of jealousy, but always due to ignorance.

It’s important to remember that it is not necessary to be physically harmed in order to suffer lasting harm. So, beyond suicide, in the extreme and with varying intensity there may be lifelong effects on those who have been bullied.

As children, victims experience anger, anxiety, depression, loneliness, sleep disorders, and form a belief of how they are perceived by others. Repetitive bullying restricts a child’s ability to view themselves as desirable, capable, and effective individuals. They develop revenge fantasies and uncontrollable feelings of rage. They experience greater incidence of illness and lower school grades. Eventually the child withdraws, feels helpless, and will distrust other students, making it difficult to make friends.

As adults, survivors of childhood oppression may continue to experience some of those same effects, as well as develop conditions such as oppositional defiance disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, or hypervigilance. Mark Dombeck, Ph.D, says they “can have debilitating effects on education, careers, marriages, parenting, and day-to-day life. Drugs and Alcohol may be sought out as a form of self-medication, or excessive substance abuse may take place as a desire to fit in with other people.” He states further that some long-term effects may result in reduced occupational opportunities, lingering feelings of anger and bitterness, a desire for revenge, difficulty trusting people, interpersonal difficulties, avoidance of new social situations that leads to a tendency to be a loner, perception of self as easy to victimize, overly sensitive, self-esteem problems, and increased incidence of continued bullying and victimization.”

Whether it is cyber-bullying or your basic run-of-the-mill bullying, it has been an out of control problem. Despite some noble efforts, the efforts have not been very meaningful. The problem must be seriously addressed, and everyone can address it if at every opportunity they take action against it. Americans have an obsession, as exemplified in our entertainment and in the news (now more entertainment than news), with a certain level of unethical and immoral behaviors: our approval of violence, voyeurism, crudity, and with our apparent approval of a certain level of bullying – accepting it because "kids will be kids.” Why do we support such behavior? The problem lies in the fact that we do. Instead of some measured tolerance, we should have zero tolerance for any of these uncivil acts.

For there to be a world of peace these behaviors must be overcome.