I picked up the chart and walked into the exam room where I found a young girl bent over in bed crying. She was a delightful 14-year-old who was withdrawn and didn’t want to talk. I pulled up a chair next to her and I tried to offer comfort. She said, “I can’t do this anymore, I don’t want to live anymore.” I paused, reached for her hand and told her that I would help her work through the problem.
Our training in emergency medicine prepares us to diagnose and treat critical illnesses and perform resuscitations. The emergency department is the main access point for many with acute health problems – both medical and mental. This patient didn’t require a life-saving medication but she did require a compassionate ear and life-saving bedside counseling on how to handle her problem and develop a treatment plan. The reason that she did not want to live anymore was because she was being bullied by girls in her class. She was scared to go to class and had few friends because she was new to the school. The girls were making fun of the way she looked and dressed.
Bullying is widespread and occurs in all communities. It affects all socio-economic classes and has devastating consequences for our children. You may be aware of a recent tragic story from Cincinnati, where an 8-year-old boy who had been bullied hung himself.
The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education revealed that 21 percent of students age 12-18 reported being bullied.
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.
There are three primary types of bullying:
· Verbal – saying or writing mean things
· Social – hurting someone’s reputation or relationship by spreading rumors, leaving someone out on purpose or telling other children not be friends with someone
· Physical – hurting someone’s body or possessions
Cyberbullying is another very common form of bullying using social media, with student-reported cyberbullying doubling from 2007 to 2016. According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, cyberbullying can result in serious emotional problems for targets, including anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, stress and suicide ideation. With the widespread use of social media, it is not uncommon that students feel excluded from social situations or inadequate in comparison to their peers. This can create a sense of failure, low self-esteem and depression. It’s important that parents be vigilant and involved in their children’s lives and that includes their lives online. Many parenting experts recommending sitting down with your children and agreeing on rules and boundaries they will follow and respect when it comes to social media.
Dr. Jene Bramel, a pediatrician at Mercy Health – Well Child and Pediatrics in Urbana informed me that, “our practice routinely performs behavioral health screenings during well visits. Identifying and addressing concerns about bullying is a common discussion we have with kids and parents. Our office offers a skill-based counseling approach to help empower kids to protect themselves and help others who may be bullied.”
Ohio has both laws and policies regarding bullying in schools. Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has numerous resources for families, schools, and communities. You can access parent resources here: http://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Other-Resources/School-Safety/Safe-and-Supportive-Learning/Anti-Harassment-Intimidation-and-Bullying-Resource/Anti-Bullying-Resources-for-Parents. The State Board of Education adopted anti-harassment and anti-bullying policy in October 2004. The policy is based on the belief that Ohio schools must provide physically safe and emotionally secure environments for all students and all school personnel.
Our schools need to be a safe place for our children. Bullying and violence needs to be replaced by kindness and respect. Children who show changes in behavior, isolation, poor school performance or lack of participation in activities may be at high risk. If you know someone going through a difficult time, aid them in seeking help. Notify the school principal or superintendent. Parents, please sit down tonight with your children and start the conversation about bullying as well as cyberbullying.
Dr. Paul A. Willette is a residency-trained, board-certified emergency medicine specialist with 27 years of experience. He is a clinical professor at Ohio University and works for US-Acute Care Solutions at Mercy Health – Springfield Regional Medical Center and Urbana Hospital.