Battle against bullying
Ashley Mills could easily have been one of the “Mean Girls.”
But the beauty pageant queen, Miss North Carolina USA, stood before students at Hope Valley Elementary School last week with a message about bullying.
She was bullied in high school, Mills said. Words hurt, no matter how the old saying goes: “Words can hurt people and cause them to doubt themselves; to change themselves. But you’re here to learn, not to judge one another. You may not like someone, but it’s important to respect them.”
As The Herald-Sun’s Keith Upchurch reported, Mills told students that 160,000 students in the United States stay home from school on a typical day for fear of being bullied. Of those frightened students, she said, about 87 percent want to retaliate against their abusers.
Just as troubling, as recent media reports have shown, bullying by peers also has been linked to suicide.
A brief by researchers at stopbullying.gov released on Wednesday indicates that children who are involved in bullying – sometimes including bullies themselves – are more likely to be depressed, have more frequent suicidal thoughts or are more likely to attempt suicide.
However, the jury’s still out on a direct correlation between bullying and suicide. The brief, by Elizabeth Edgerton of the Health Resources and Services Administration and Susan Limber of Clemson University, points out that other risk factors contribute to suicide attempts, such as mental health problems, which play a larger role than bullying.
“These findings show that there are many factors that may increase a youth’s risk of suicide,” the researchers wrote. “They caution us not to make unwarranted assumptions about ‘simple’ causes or explanations for suicidal thoughts or behavior when there are many factors at play.”
A recent Duke University study bolsters the idea, though, that Mills impressed upon students last week: Effects of bullying in school can last a lifetime.
The sad truth is that bullying behavior doesn’t necessarily stop when we graduate. We sometimes see it in the workplace and even in our homes. There’s a chance everyone, no matter our age, will find ourselves in the position of the bully, the bullied or the bystander.
Mills encouraged students to take a vow not to be a bully and to intervene when they witness bullying in progress.
“If you see bullying, step in and say: ‘Hey, that’s not right,’” she said.
Good advice for adults, too.
So which one are you: Bully, bullied or bystander? We’ve got a poll on our website at heraldsun.com for the next few days. On Wednesday, we’ll post results in the Bull Horn on this page.