October 18, 2011

The Domino Affect: Bullying Can Trigger Depression And Suicide In LGBTQ Teens

Bullying, Depression, and Teen Suicide

I made a very conscious decision to post the most benign images in my blog post related to Jamie Hubley’s suicide. I tried to choose graphics that weren’t too explicit, but still evoked the sense of hopelessness and despair that Jamie Hubley was experiencing and feeling. Quite frankly, I’m hoping that the images touch and disturb at least one or two people who visit this blog. I want emotions to incite someone to take concrete action to help eliminate bullying, or donate money to the Trevor Project, or volunteer at an organization that operates a suicide hotline.

Bullying and teen suicides are issues that make parents feel uncomfortable. Some parents want school systems to deal with the persistent problems related to bullying, and yet they refuse to support school administrators when they discipline kids for sexting, or cyberbullying, which is harassing and bullying kids using a cell phone or computer to initiate and send demeaning messages. Any anti-bullying initiative that wants to be effective must contain punitive actions for any bullying behavior, regardless of where or when the bullying takes place.

I don’t support the view that the internet provides a legitimate voice to anonymous people. Under the cloak of anonymity that the internet provides, there is an unseen army of individuals who act like the ‘net is the wild wild west - where the norms of society that we’re accustomed to - is largely absent. Morality and tolerance is the exception and not the rule, and as a result, extremist and hurtful statements and views are expressed unchecked, while anonymous bullies prowl far and wide as they look for ways to bully their classmates, with hateful statements full of innuendo and untrue rumors, that humiliate, hurt and demean their prey.
For Parents:

Most teenagers are not going to blog about suicidal ideation, or post explicit graphics, like Jamie Hubley did. Those images reflect the inner demons he was experiencing, fighting and confronting on a daily basis. The images are a statement, and a cry for help. It’s imperative that parents, teachers, friends, neighbors, and medical professionals, recognize a call for help when they see one. Parents and teachers should be partners, who act as a team in order to identify at-risk kids,  in every school across our vast country.

Major depressive disorders are extremely difficult to diagnose in adults and adolescents. The one shared trait that most adults, and children, who contemplate suicide share - is depression. Try to objectively observe your child. While parents and teachers are often in a good position to observe their kid’s mood swings, and assess extreme changes in behavior, it’s still up to a Doctor or clinical therapist to diagnose depression. Keep an open dialogue with your child. Give your son or daughter permission to tell you when they’re feeling down or depressed, and don’t be afraid to discuss your observations with educators, and most importantly - your family physician.

For Teens:

If you’re a student and you’re feeling down, or being bullied, seek out an adult to confide in. In an ideal world you would turn toward a parent to discuss any problems you’re contending with online or at school. If you’re being bullied at home, and you can’t turn to a parent, find a teacher or a supportive guidance counselor at your school. You might know of a community leader, or local organization, that will provide support or advocacy to victims of bullying.

Don't be afraid to call an anonymous help line! These phenomenal organizations have trained crisis counselors around the clock to speak with you.

You can call the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-4 U Trevor [1-866-488-7386].

You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK [1-800-273-8255].

Why Should We Care?

Psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and mental health professionals, have studied and established a strong correlation between LGBT victims of bullying, and impaired general and mental health, and suicidal ideation, that persists and affects the lives of in young adulthood. The San Francisco Chronicle reported:

Critical new research has found that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth who experience high levels of school victimization in middle and high school report impaired health and mental health in young adulthood, including depression, suicide attempts that require medical care, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and risk for HIV.

This is the first known study to examine the relationship between school victimization during adolescence - specifically related to sexual orientation and gender identity - with multiple dimensions of young adult health and adjustment. The study demonstrates the importance of addressing and preventing anti-LGBT victimization at the structural or school level to reduce health disparities among LGBT young people. The study is published in the Journal of School Health, the journal of the American School Health Association.

"We now have evidence of the lasting personal and social cost of failing to make our schools safe for all students. Prior studies have shown that school victimization of LGBT adolescents affects their health and mental health. In our study we see the effects of school victimization up to a decade later or more. It is clear that there are public health costs to LGBT-based bullying over the long-term," said lead author, Stephen T. Russell, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor, University of Arizona.

Ann P. Haas, Ph.D., Director of Prevention Projects for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said, ""This new study provides compelling evidence that negative environments pose long-term health and mental health risks for LGBT youth. The Family Acceptance Project's growing body of research is building a solid foundation to develop preventive interventions to deal with the harmful effects of anti-LGBT environments on young people in their families, schools and communities ."

Pass ENDA Now:

There are 35 states that currently allow discrimination related to employment, housing, and public accommodation for transgendered Americans. In the consonants represented by LGBT - aka lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgendered residents of 29 states can be denied employment, or fired from a job, because these states lack civil rights protections that 21 other states already provide. Those statistics don’t instill confidence in our state legislatures, where the welfare of our kids should be a top priority - regardless of their sexual orientation.

When legislative inaction denies civil rights protections to millions of LGBT Americans, we’re not doing a good job communicating the societal implications, or the health risks and mental health ramifications, that results from discrimination and anti-gay bullying. When our legislatures sit on their ass, and describe civil rights as special rights, they are condoning bullying, and standing idly by while both teens and adults take their own lives.

Expressing support for anti-bullying initiatives might involve sending an email to a school board member, or speaking out at the mall when you observe a bully in action. Suicide helplines provide intensive training to their volunteers, if you’re going to work on the frontline answering phones. There are other opportunities to assist these charities, so be sure to check out the websites to investigate the volunteer opportunities of any organization you are interested in.   There are many opportunities that won’t consume a great deal of your time, but will benefit the kids who represent our future. And you can’t beat the satisfaction and good karma you generate with selfless acts.

Be An Anti-bullying Advocate And Share Helpful Strategies:

Anti-bullying advocates report that there are 4 strategies for kids who witness bullying. These strategies promote anti-bullying o employ that discourages bullying,  who witness bullying. rategies
  1. Tell the bully to stop.
  2. Support the victim.
  3. Reduce attention to the bully and walk away.
  4. Report the bullying to a responsible adult.
We can make a difference to reverse this frightening trend that’s adversely affecting our kids. I hope you’ll join me in speaking out about this serious issue.

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Roy Steele

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