Bullying And Suicide: The Dangerous Mistake We Make

Posted on February 9, 2012 in Articles

Tyler Clementi killed himself in 2010 after his roommate at Rutgers University filmed him kissing another man. Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old girl who moved to the U.S. from Ireland, killed herself the same year after being bullied by high school classmates in Massachusetts. Fifteen-year-old Amanda Cummings from Staten Island made headlines early this January when her family said that relentless bullying was to blame for her suicide.

Each of these tragedies mobilized a cultural army of anti-bullying advocates, celebrities, the media and policymakers who have said — or at least strongly implied — that bullying can lead to suicide.

But mental health professionals and those who work in suicide prevention say bullying-related suicides that reach the spotlight are painted far too simplistically. Bullying and suicide can indeed be connected, though the relationship between the two is much more complicated than a tabloid headline might suggest. To imply clear-cut lines of cause and effect, many experts maintain, is misleading and potentially damaging as it ignores key underlying mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.

“Bullying is so at the top of our consciousness that we’re bending over backwards to get it into the story,” said Ann Haas, a senior project specialist with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “Years and years of research has taught us that the overwhelming number of people who die by suicide had a diagnosable mental disorder at the time of their death.”

Haas argues that failing to look at the other contributing factors, from depression to family life to the ending of a relationship, is problematic and even perilous from a suicide prevention standpoint. “I am very concerned about the narrative that these stories collectively are writing, which is that suicide is a normal, understandable response to this terrible [bullying] behavior,” said Haas. “In suicide prevention, we tend to favor the explanation that there are multiple causes.”

Read the rest of the article at huffingtonpost.com

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