Teenage Depression and Bullying
There are very few issues as alarming and disconcerting facing parents and mental health professionals today than the emotional and psychological suffering of our young people. Responding to our children's physical complaints or minor injuries is quite a simple feat compared to the realisation that our child is suffering from mental pain. For those of us raising, teaching, or counselling young people there is nothing more overwhelming or challenging than children who are suffering from depression.
For centuries, mental health was considered a taboo subject. It carried with it a stigma of weakness and poor character. Most people suffer, or have suffered in silence relying on substances to mask the symptoms and dull the pain. It is a lonely and dark place for those who have experienced periods of intense sadness, grief, anxiety, and loneliness. As a society, we have demonstrated the integrity and determination to push past these labels and misconceptions by openly talking about mental illness.
The focus of this paper is to address a specific area of depression in our youth. As a mental health professional, I have noticed some correlation between depression and a young person's experience with peer bullying behaviour. The years of adolescence can be considered an exceptionally ambitious period of growth and transition. It is a time of significant physical, social, and emotional changes. In an attempt to differentiate and separate from their parents, to search for answers about "who they are and what do they stand for" adolescents place more emphasis and importance upon the acceptance and validation of their peers, (Erikson). Their behaviour belies a hidden sense of insecurity and vulnerability but they eschew most attempts by parents to help them through this period.
According to Gary Direnfield, a counsellor in the Hamilton area, "teens live in a world that is at most day to day." Furthermore, Mr. Direnfield says, the adolescent has limited life experience and is unable to see beyond today into the future (Hamilton Spectator, 2012).
A survey of Canadian youth conducted by Statistics Canada found that more than 250,000 youth between the ages of 15-24 met the criteria for depression in the past year. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, it is common for teenagers to experience a depressed mood due to a "normal process of maturing, hormones and independence conflicts with their parents". The article also suggested that teenagers are likely to exhibit depression when they experience or encounter a stressful event such as bullying or harassment at school. Common characteristics include low self-esteem, self-criticism and perceived lack of control over negative events in their lives.
In recent years the names of Jamie Hubley, AmandaTodd Mitchell Wilson and Jenna Bowers-Bryanton, to name a few, have made news headlines. They were victims of chronic bullying and ended their lives due to the torment they had to endure. The Teen Advisory Board of Colorado said in the video Walk in Another's Shoes – Teens Speak Out about Bullying, bullying is like a disease. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association of Peel (2010) "bullying" is a "conscious, wilful, deliberate, hostile activity to harm, induce fear." Social, or relational, bullying is one type of bullying behaviour that is aimed at the alienation and rejection of a fellow peer. It involves but not limited to acts that involve "spreading bad rumours and the deliberate exclusion of peers from groups". Unfortunately, this type of bullying behaviour is quite pervasive and rampant during adolescence when peer acceptance is seen as vital to the young person.
It has become more apparent and alarming that bullying is not a transient phenomenon that will gradually become extinct. A 1999 study conducted by the University of British Columbia based on a sample group of 420 students between the grades of 8-10 revealed notable and disturbing results.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Registered Bullying Prevention Program, one in seven Canadian children between the ages of 11 and 16 have been victims of some form of bullying. Furthermore, an act of bullying occurs “once every seven minutes.” The breakdown of bullying behaviour reported to the ministry between 2011 and 2012 include:
Students were also asked how long they had experienced some form of bullying behaviour.
Historically, it was the popular belief that males committed more bullying types of behaviour. This concept has been challenged by various research studies that purport that while males' behaviour may be more overt and aggressive (physical acts), females are more covert or passive aggressive, preferring the use of gossip, insults and exclusion types of bullying behaviour (Bullying.org).
The Canadian Mental Health Association reported that exposure to bullying behaviour can result in an "increased risk of developing psychotic symptoms by early adolescence" and excessive exposure to bullying can lead to "anxiety, depression and even suicide". Furthermore, it can also lead to more serious mental health problems such as hallucinations, delusions and paranoia. Longitudinal studies have revealed that adults who were subjected or exposed to bullying behaviour as children were more likely to suffer from depression in adulthood (O.M.E.). There is a general consensus that prolonged exposure to bullying can result in depression, low self-esteem and body image issues. Children that live in fear are unable to reach their fun potential as students in school or as future citizens and leaders of our communities (Bullying.org).
As social media has grown and developed so has the exposure and sue of popular networks such as Facebook, text messaging, blogs and Twitter. Professor LeBlanc from Dalhousie University in Halifax suggested that "cyber bullying is a new...manifestation of bullying" and cases of cyber bullying are rising as "exposure and use of social media has increased". He reported that a study conducted found that between 2011 and the beginning of 2012, there were 18 cases of suicides linked to cyber bullying.
Our youth have acquired, as some would agree, an unhealthy dependence and obsession with these forms of communication. The primary attraction of these various social media sites may rest with their anonymity which has opened up the door to a new and potentially harmful forum for bullying to take place. Personal information, gossip and secrets are now broadcast to a wide and expansive audience with devastating results.
Cyber bullying, as it has become known, has become a popular place to "intimidate, threaten, stalk, ridicule, humiliate, taunt and spread rumours" (NBPC).
According to Bullycide in America, suicide amongst our youth may be caused by the effects of bullying behaviour. The adolescent of the century has the ability and opportunity to connect with thousands if not millions of people across the globe. While it opens up the world to our youth, it also increases exponentially the risk of harmful rumours and exploitation as the adolescents' "social group expands". Being vulnerable and impulsive by nature further exposes our young people to damaging and potentially harmful situations.
Barbara Coloroso, in her book The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander, proposes that in order to eradicate bullying behaviour we must "nurture empathy in our children". Professor LeBlanc strongly suggests that our youth need to monitor, be accountable, support one another, and develop a "code of ethics". When using any form of social network in order to safeguard against unsolicited and devastating remarks or comments on cyberspace.
Bayridge Anxiety & Depression Treatment Center www.bayridgetreatmentcenter.com
Bullycide in America: Moms Speak Out about Bullying the Bullying/Suicide Connection www.bullycide.org
British Medical Bulletin (Oxford Journal)
Canadian Mental Health Association www.cmba.ca
Canadian Youth by Statistics Canada
CBC News Report
Gary Direnfeld, "Counselling may help your teen deal with thoughts of suicide." Hamilton Spectator. July 3, 2012 www.thespec.com/living/article/750180--counselling-may-help-your-teen-deal-with-thoughts-of-suicide
John LeBlanc, Dalhousie University
PACER's National Bullying Prevention Centre (NBPC). Minnesota. www.pacer.org/bullying
Ontario Ministry of Education (O.M.E.) Registered Bullying Prevention Program. www.edu.gov.ca/eng/parents/safeschools.html
Coloroso, Barbara. The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander. HarperCollins, 2003.
U.S. National Library of Medicine www.nlm.nih.gov
Teens Advisory Board of Colorado. "Walk in Another's Shoes - Teens Speak Out About Bullying" Kidpower. Filmed May 2011, posted June 2011. Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International www.kidpower.org/blog/walk-in-anothers-shoes-teens-speak-out-against-bullying