“This a social justice issue for us because bullying compromises students’ basic right to learn and grow in a safe environment,” — Dennis Van Roekll, former president of the National Education Association
It’s a social justice issue for us, too, one we take seriously because we view each child in our community as members of one family — the family of God.
What is Bullying?
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose. Bullying can occur in-person or through technology.
Who is affected?
Bullying has serious and lasting negative effects on the mental health and overall well-being of youth involved in bullying in any way including: those who bully others, youth who are bullied, as well as those youth who both bully others and are bullied by others, sometimes referred to as bully-victims.
Even youth who have observed but not participated in bullying behavior report significantly more feelings of helplessness and less sense of connectedness and support from responsible adults (parents/schools) than youth who are have not witnessed bullying behavior.
What are some of the results of bullying?
Negative outcomes of bullying (for youth who bully others, youth who are bullied, and youth who both are bullied and bully others) may include: depression, anxiety, involvement in interpersonal violence or sexual violence, substance abuse, poor social functioning, and poor school performance, including lower grade point averages, standardized test scores, and poor attendance.
Youth who report frequently bullying others and youth who report being frequently bullied are at increased risk for suicide-related behavior.
Youth who report both bullying others and being bullied (bully-victims) have the highest risk for suicide-related behavior of any groups that report involvement in bullying.
What We Know about Suicide
Suicide-related behaviors include the following:
Suicide: Death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with any intent to die.
Suicide attempt: A non-fatal self-directed potentially injurious behavior with any intent to die as a result of the behavior. A suicide attempt may or may not result in injury.
Suicidal ideation: Thinking about, considering, or planning for suicide.
Suicide-related behavior is complicated and rarely the result of a single source of trauma or stress. People who engage in suicide-related behavior often experience overwhelming feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
ANY involvement with bullying behavior is one stressor which may significantly contribute to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that raise the risk of suicide.
Youth who are at increased risk for suicide-related behavior are dealing with a complex interaction of multiple relationship (peer, family, or romantic), mental health, and school stressors.
What We Know about Bullying and Suicide Together
We know that bullying behavior and suicide-related behavior are closely related. This means youth who report any involvement with bullying behavior are more likely to report high levels of suicide-related behavior than youth who do not report any involvement with bullying behavior.
What can we do?
Knowledge is really most helpful if it informs action toward a positive change—in this case, prevention of bullying and suicide-related behavior. The following information from the CDC highlights key research findings about the relationship between bullying and suicide-related behavior and identifies the prevention action that can be taken based on this information. Information on and links to supporting resources can be found here.
Youth who feel connected … are less likely to engage in suicide-related behaviors. The CDC recommends helping students feel connected. For example, greet them by name. Encourage their extracurricular interests and involvement. A strong sense of connectedness to caring, responsible adults … can provide invaluable support to youth who may be struggling socially and/or emotionally.
- SB — Our Takeaway: We work to help students feel connected by pairing caring students with those who have been bullied. These students get to know each other through Secret Boutique functions, develop nurturing trust-based relationships, and carry these relationships to their schools. We also provide students with a network of caring, responsible adults who are genuinely interested in each student who comes through our doors, whether as a volunteer or a secret shopper.
Youth who are able to cope with problems in healthy ways and solve problems peacefully are less likely to engage in suicide and bullying related behaviors. The CDC recommends teaching youth coping/life skills. Focus on positive and empowering messages that build resilience and acceptance of differences in themselves and others. Early training (even starting in elementary school) for students to help them develop coping and problem-solving skills, build resilience, and increase their social intelligence and empathy is important to fostering positive mental health and pro-social behavior.
- SB — Our Takeaway: We know the importance of coping/life skills, particularly for students who are often marginalized due to their socio-economic status. Secret Boutique volunteers are trained to provide “positive and empowering messages that build resilience and acceptance of differences in themselves and others.” We incorporate such messages into the artwork that hangs on our walls, the “love notes” that are tucked into the pockets of clothes, even into the way we speak and interact with our students. We know it has to be more than words if it is going to stick; that’s why we also offer workshops in coping skills and life skills to both our volunteers and our secret shoppers.
Youth with disabilities, learning differences, sexual/gender identity differences or cultural differences are often most vulnerable to being bullied. The CDC recommends providing better training for those who work with youth. Teach personnel about vulnerable populations and appropriate ways to intervene in bullying situations.
- SB — Our Takeaway: Education is power. That’s why we provide instruction for our adult and youth volunteers on how to effectively intervene in bullying situations. Our goal is to empower them to intervene, support the person being bullied, and take a stand against bullying anywhere they are witness to it.
When it comes to bullying, everyone is at risk. According to the CDC:
- Youth who report frequently bullying others are at high, long-term risk for suicide-related behavior.
- Youth who report both being bullied and bullying others (sometimes referred to as bully-victims) have the highest rates of negative mental health outcomes, including depression, anxiety, and thinking about suicide.
- Youth who report being frequently bullied by others are at increased risk of suicide-related behaviors, and negative physical and mental health outcomes.
Involvement in bullying in any way—even as a witness— has serious and long-lasting negative consequences for youth. Youth who reported witnessing bullying had greater feelings of helplessness and less sense of connectedness to school than youth who did not report witnessing bullying.
The CDC recommends empowering youth by providing concrete, positive, and proactive ways they can influence the social norms of their peer group so that bullying is seen as an uncool behavior. Encourage more work on bystander approaches to violence prevention in general.
- SB — Our Takeaway: This is what we’re all about — “providing concrete, positive, and proactive ways (students) can influence the social norms of their peer group so that bullying is seen as an uncool behavior.” We start by building the self-esteem of students whose lack of fashionable clothing may make them targets for bullying, and by encouraging empathy and compassion on the part of students who do not have clothing insecurities. We also educate and equip our students — both volunteers and secret shoppers — with proven violence prevention methods.
ADAPTED FROM: “The Relationship Between Bullying and Suicide: What We Know and What it Means for Schools.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Division of Violence Prevention