On September 25, 2013, Art Ciasca, CEO of Suncoast Mental Health, was featured as a Guest Columnist for the Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. Here is his guest column.
The shocking and distressing news from Tampa regarding 12 year old middle school student Rebecca Sedwick committing suicide from being bullied by as many as 15 teenagers is outrageous and causes tremendous concern. The reality is that Rebecca had been terrorized. The thought of any child feeling such intense feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and wanting to end their life is unimaginable. But it is happening at alarming rates. And we should be aware that Rebecca’s feelings causing her suicide did not occur overnight; it was a long, slow buildup of intense emotions causing her to end her life by throwing herself off of a tower.
Rebecca is one of the faces of the worst case scenario of bullying, a child choosing to end his or her life. We should be aware that thousands of children experience bullying every day, whether it is at school, in cyber space, or in their neighborhood. Children are constantly bombarded with negative, disrespectful , and violent messages in television, movies, and music. They may witness violence and abuse in their own home. All these factors, among others, encourage bullies to bully.
Each day in the U.S, there are approximately 11.5 youth suicides. Every 2 hours and 5 minutes, a person under the age of 25 completes suicide. Suicide ranks as the third leading cause of death for young people (ages 15-19); only accidents and homicides occurred more frequently. For every completed suicide by youth, it is estimated that 100 to 200 attempts are made.
There are many children who are bullied and do not attempt suicide. But we should be aware that children who are bullied can experience anxiety, depression, phobias, and/or post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A large, national survey of adolescent mental health reported that about 8 percent of teens ages 13-18 have an anxiety disorder, with symptoms commonly emerging around age 6. However, of these teens, only 18 percent received mental health care. About 11 percent of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18, according to the National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Girls are more likely than boys to experience depression. The risk for depression increases as a child gets older. According to the World Health Organization, major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability among Americans age 15 to 44.
I urge concerned parents to explore any changes in their child. Children who are depressed may frequently complain of feeling sick, refuse to go to school, cling to a parent or caregiver, or worry excessively that a parent may die. Older children and teens may sulk, get into trouble at school, be negative or grouchy, or feel misunderstood. Ask questions regarding how their child is doing and being treated. Speak with teachers about what the teacher is observing in the classroom, hallways, lunch room. Speak with your child. Do not take lightly a child’s reporting of being bullied. If it appears there is bullying going on, report it to the teacher, principal, guidance counselor. Build a team to defeat bullying.
A concerned parent may want to consider outside assistance for the child. The Child/Adolescent Anxiety Multimodal Study (CAMS), in addition to other studies on treating childhood anxiety disorders, found that high-quality cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), given with or without medication, can effectively treat anxiety disorders in children. One small study even found that a behavioral therapy designed to treat social phobia in children was more effective than an antidepressant medication. There are excellent clinicians in our area that work exclusively with children and can assist the child towards overcoming the adverse effects of bullying.
The bottom line: Be vigilant and ensure that bullying ends for your child. Seek assistance for your child if he or she appears to be suffering adverse effects of bullying. Your child’s childhood and future are at stake.