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High School Bullying & Suicide: How to Protect Your Child

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“Art installation on Mental Illness” the advertisement read. The event was to take place at my niece’s high school, so even though we didn’t know exactly what “installation” meant or who the artist was, my sister and I decided go. There we met Olivia Stewart.

Stewart is the young artist responsible for the art installation where she displayed the culmination of her senior project to raise awareness and educate the community. The art work included five sculptures, one being a life-size human form curled on its side, covered head-to-foot with black cloth. “It’s in this exact position that you find yourself consistently,” says Stewart. “You want to get up, but you’re stuck, and a great weight pulls you into a giant abyss.” Next to each of the sculptures was information about mental illness, as well as poetry: heart-wrenching poetry.1

Olivia suffers from depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. In fact, her mother candidly states, “There were many days in the beginning that we didn’t know if she’d still be with us.”2 But Stewart took her own suffering, and the shame and guilt that go along with it, bound it together with the shared pain of her friends (including three who attempted suicide), and found catharsis and a path beyond high school through art.

Kiana Arellano is one of Stewart’s friends I had the pleasure of meeting at the event. Once a healthy and vibrant high school cheerleader, Kiana was pushed to the breaking point by anonymous cyberbullies, and she attempted suicide in 2013. Her injuries left her a paraplegic and unable to speak. Her mother, Kristy Arellano, testified before the Colorado Senate in support of legislation designed to curb cyberbullying saying, “anonymous posters threatened her daughter, ‘called her horrible names’ and ‘stated that she deserved to die.’”3

Kiana’s Law passed and took effect in July 2015. The state law exposes cyberbullies to a misdemeanor charge that carries a possible fine of up to $750 and up to six months in jail. Kiana’s mother left her career in finance to attend nursing school and now cares for Kiana at home full-time, so Kiana spends her days surrounded by family and friends who love her and are devoted to making sure she lives life to the fullest.

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. And Kiana’s story is evidence of the direct link between bullying a suicide. This is a problem that guest blogger and pre-med student Steve Johnson cares deeply about and addresses in his guest blog below.

BLOGGER: STEVE JOHNSON As a parent, you hope to protect your child from harm as much as possible. As your child gets older, it becomes harder to keep tabs on every aspect of their life—who they’re talking to, the media they consume, even who their friends are.4 You can only hope that you have instilled some important life skills that will help them cope on their own.4

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still make yourself available for support and be aware of your child’s mood and behavior.5 When it comes to bullying, you might not be able to be there to stop the harassment, but there are some things you can do to help protect your child from harm:

  • Discuss bullying: It’s important for you to bring up bullying because your child may not feel comfortable doing it. Let them know that bullying is never OK on either end, no matter who is doing it, who is being targeted, or why. Ask if they’ve ever felt like they were bullied or think they saw someone else being bullied and how it made them feel. Take note of any specific names brought up and be sure to ask about that child in the future.
  • Provide your child with resources: Talk about the importance of reporting bullying and how they should never be too afraid to come forward. Let them know they can always come to you, but if for some reason they can’t, they can also reach out to a safe alternative, such as a guidance counselor, teacher, doctor, or religious mentor. Ask who they feel safest talking to, and together create a sort of S.O.S. resource list for them to keep in their backpack so they always have it handy.
  • Know that some of the warning signs of depression, such as alcohol and drug use or staying awake at night and sleeping during the day, can easily be mistaken for “typical” teenage behavior.6
  • Catching the warning signs of depression can help save your child’s life. Whether or not they are being bullied, depression is a risk factor for suicide, and you never know what other issues they might not be telling you about. If your child exhibits these symptoms, find professional help immediately.
  • Seek help with your child: If your child does display the warning signs or experiences bullying at school, see your family physician or a mental health professional. These individuals will help guide you, as a parent, and your child down the right path.

While bullying remains a serious problem, there are things that parents can do to help protect and prepare their children for a safe and healthy future.

Steve Johnson has always been dedicated to promoting health and wellness in all aspects of life. Studying in the medical field has shown him how important it is for reputable health-related facts, figures, tips, and other guidance to be readily available to the public. He created PublicHealthLibrary.org with a fellow student to act as a resource for people’s overall health inquiries and as an accurate and extensive source of health information. When he isn’t hard at work in his studies, Steve enjoys playing tennis and listening to his vintage record collection.

Image: Pixabay by Wokandapix

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NOTES:

  1. Simpson, Kevin, “How one student’s art and experience shed light on a shadowy subject,” The Denver Post, April 19, 2016 (accessed July 19, 2016), http://www.denverpost.com/2016/04/19/how-one-students-art-and-experience-shed-light-on-a-shadowy-subject/
  2. Ibid
  3. Phipps-Smith, Demario, “Colorado cyberbullying bill inspired by mother’s emotional story,” Sun Times Network, March 5, 2015, (accessed July 19, 2016), http://denver.suntimes.com/den-news/7/103/86664/colorado-cyberbullying-bill-inspired-mothers-emotional-story
  4. http://www.stopbullying.gov/news/media/avoid/
  5. http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/bullies.html
  6. http://www.alcoholtreatment.net/suicidal-thoughts-and-alcohol-abuse-tackling-both-problems-head-on/