Bullying isn’t a topic that makes many headlines, yet it impacts the lives of our nation’s youth on daily basis. There are many types of bullying which exist in society. Cyber-bullying, physical bullying, verbal bullying. The common denominator is abuse. Yes, bullying is a type of abuse.

The legal definition of bullying is as follows:

” Repeated, persistent and aggressive behaviour intended to cause fear, distress, or harm to another person’s body, emotions, self-esteem or reputation.”

My focus in this blog will be on bullying in high-schools. Research shows that bullied teens are at a higher risk for suicide ideation, attempts and completed suicides. Bullying contributes to depression, decreased self-worth, hopelessness and loneliness (Hinduja, Patchin, n.d.).

Bullying should not be socially accepted as a rite of passage, bystanders must intervene. Studies show that both the person who is tormented and perpetrator may suffer from serious psychological issues that endure beyond adolescence. Preventing and stopping bullying involves a commitment to creating a safe environment where youth can thrive, socially and academically, without being harassed.

Let us look at the life story of high school student, Ryan Halligan, a teen who was the victim of excessive bullying which led to his suicide. Ryan’s story is a superb example of how bullying can negatively impact one’s mental health and well-being.

Seventy-five percent of high school students confess to being bullied at some point.

For any young person, high school years can be very strenuous. Not only do you have multiple exams and assignments, but there is an overwhelming amount of peer pressure. Ryan was the victim of relentless bullying. As a result, Ryan never had many friends, his self-esteem was low and so was his outlook on life.

Ryan was an easy target.

He was an introvert with a quirky personality; consequently, he was perceived as strange or odd. In school being labeled as an odd-ball puts one in the position of being victimized, because, let’s face it, teenagers can be vindictive, petty and menacing. Months of constant bullying had taken its toll and Ryan began to lash out at his classmates. He became aggressive due to an overwhelming build-up of powerful negative emotions. Ryan’s reaction to his stress isn’t unnatural; most people tend to either succumb to emotional distress or become violent.

Children who bully are more likely to use drugs and alcohol and engage in criminal activity. According to one of the world’s leading researchers on bullying, 60% of boys who frequently bullied others in elementary school had criminal records by age 24.

Soon enough Ryan confronted one of his bullies and a brawl ensued. The fight ended; Ryan was the victor. As a consolation prize, he won the respect from his peers that he so longed for. At home, Ryan remained a gentle person, it seemed as if in school he adopted personality traits opposite to the ones he had at home to survive. Had Ryan not become hostile and defeated his bully, he would have been deemed a loser; unworthy of respect. These are the politics of high-school – eat or be eaten.

Ryan’s school life was seemingly improving – he had finally found his place in high school. However,  every action has an opposite reaction. It so happened that Ryan’s bully had started a rumor on the internet insinuating that Ryan was a homosexual. This rumor caught like wild-fire though the school and suddenly Ryan was, once again, the subject of great ridicule, but this time the mockery was insurmountable. Ryan felt like his back was against the wall, he would go to his father for advice yet no amount of counseling could console him. All the drama at school proved to be too much, and Ryan’s attitude quickly fell from buoyant to morose, he was caught in a vicious cycle of self-hatred.

As young people we tend to base our self-worth on the opinions of others.

Many of us take criticism to heart, in Ryan’s case there was a lot of negative criticism directed towards him, which is hard to digest at a very young age. Ryan’s battle with depression during this period led to his suicide.

Message from his parents ,John and Kelly Halligan: in the end, Ryan was either suffering from depression or lacked the coping skills to deal with the online bullying .Suicide is not a reasonable response to these situations, and we must be cautious not to normalize this reaction.

Could have Ryan’s suicide be prevented? What measures should have been taken to stop the kind of abuse that lead to Ryan’s erratic behavior? It’s evident from his life story that it was verbal abuse that type of harassment from recurring when it’s so prevalent in schools around the world.

Do not be a bystander. Take action.

As adults, we have to make the well-being of our youth a priority. Bullying isn’t a fad, it is an epidemic. Early identification and intervention of bullying is a great way to prevent it. Ryan’s plight provides a deep insight into the struggle faced by thousands of high school students who spend most of their adolescence striving for acceptance. This is a call to action. We must act before it is too late.  Do you know someone at risk or have concerns for a friend or colleague? Contact https://www.bullyingcanada.ca, Canada’s only national anti-bullying charity, the organization offers information, help and support to everyone involved in bullying:  the victim, perpetrator, bystander, parents, school staff and the community at large.

Sources

Grogansolicitors.Ie, 2018, http://www.grogansolicitors.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Bullying-and-Personal-Injuries.pdf. Accessed September 20, 2018.

Hinduja, S., and Patchin, J. (n.d.). Cyberbullying Research Summary: Cyberbullying and Suicide. Cyberbullying Research Center. Accessed September 20, 2018 from http://www.cyberbullying .us/cyberbullying_and_ suicide_research_fact_sheet.pdf

“Violence Prevention Works From Hazelden Publishing”. violencepreventionworks.org, 2018, http://www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/index.page. Accessed September 20, 2018.