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At just 10 years old, Marian Hernandez Rojas was still in elementary school. According to relatives, she was “one of the strongest and bravest kids.” Others described her as “one of a kind.” Friends, family, and the community were horrified when she killed herself just before her 11th birthday. How could such a young child be susceptible to suicide? What happened? What can we learn from such a devastating tragedy?
Like many other children, Marian had been a victim of bullying. Her brother said, “She was always happy but the more questions I ask, the more I found out she was deeply hurting inside-she was good at hiding it.”
Though Marian’s death is as shocking as it is tragic, it’s unfortunately not uncommon. Bullying can be the trigger that puts at-risk youth over the edge. Here is some information about the link between bullying and suicide in youth.
What we Know About Bullying
Bullying is Unwanted, Aggressive Behavior
The abuse stems from school-aged children that verbally or physically abuse one individual. The behavior is repeated and involves threat making, rumor spreading, physical attacks, emotional abuse, or excluding someone on purpose. Social media has made it easier for bullies to target their victims.
Bullying Has a Negative Effect on Mental Health
Bullying has a serious and long-lasting effect on mental health. Effects include anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, self-harm, low grades, low school attendance, or even suicide.
Reporting Bullying Makes You a Target
Those who report that they have been bullied, or if they report the bullying of another person is the victims of further abuse by the bully. This leads to a sense of helplessness as the victim feels there is nothing he/she can do to stop the abuse.
What we Know About Bullying and Suicide in Youth
Bullying Behavior is the Stressor
Any involvement with bullying behavior is a trigger that can significantly contribute to feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and other negative emotions that raise the risk of suicide.
Youth are at Increased Risk for Suicide
Youth are at increased risk for suicide due to the interactions of peer, family, and romantic relationships. They are also vulnerable to mental health issues and stressors from school.
Certain Groups are More at Risk
LGBTQ youth, those with learning difficulties, or “unpopular” kids are more at risk for bullying. Though there is no evidence to suggest that bullying is directly correlated to an increase in suicide risk, there is evidence that bullying causes emotional harm and can push a vulnerable child over the edge.
What Can School Personnel & Parents Do?
Help Students Feel Connected
We know from research that youth who feel connected to their school and. Peers are less likely to commit suicide or engage in self-harm behavior. Personnel can help at-risk kids by greeting students by name every day, ask how they are doing, and encourage their extracurricular interests.
Teach Youth Coping Skills
Teach life skills such as positive thinking and empowering messages. Work to build resilience and acceptance of differences in themselves and others. This will help those who engage in bullying behavior as well as those on the receiving end.
Provide better training for school staff so they know the signs for at-risk youth. Teach them the appropriate ways to intervene if they see bullying behavior among students. Work with parents so they are more involved in their kids' lives and are aware of signs of trouble. Closely monitor social media accounts and watch for signs of bullying. It may be better to not allow a child to have a social media account until they are at an older age.
Should Kids Fight Back?
There is an ongoing debate about whether kids who are bullied should fight back or simply tell the teacher. If the student is hit, most teachers agree that the student should not hit back because it escalates violence and can result in serious injuries.
The more important question is whether a child should fight back against emotional or verbal abuse. There is evidence to suggest that standing up for oneself in an assertive way will help to stop future bullying. Bullies pick on those who they feel are weak and if the victim no longer appears to be a “weak” target, the bully may become disinterested. This is where parents and teachers can help by teaching children coping techniques, such as assertive behavior.
Resources to Help
Concerned about bullying? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.