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Breaking the Silence: Facing the Issue of 'Bullycide'

Teen suicide is a hot topic in school right now—and for good reason.

Expanding workloads. Shifting social and family dynamics. The instability caused by changing hormones. The pressure of deciding on a career and future after school. Each of these factors creates an incredible amount of stress.

Add the physical and emotional pain caused by bullying, and the potential for self-harm among teenage children spikes dramatically.

But America’s public schools are facing an alarming trend: Student suicide is no longer just a teenage thing.

Recent reports show a shocking rise in young children who have committed suicide or attempted to commit suicide. One report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that suicides among pre-teens—10 to 14 years old—doubled between 2007 and 2014.

This trend was tragically illustrated last week when a Colorado fifth-grader died after hanging herself in her family’s home. As CNN reports, the girl, who died two weeks after the incident, was just 10 years old.

The girl’s parents say she was a victim of “bullycide”—the idea that excessive bullying can ultimately lead to suicide.

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In October, the girl was involved in a fight with a classmate who had been bullying her in school. That fight was filmed and shared on a social networking app called Musical.ly. The video resulted in further bullying from other students, which eventually led to the girl’s death, her family tells CNN.

While school administrators talked to both girls and their parents about the original fight, school officials say they were never informed about the bullying. The girl had apparently never reported her bullies to teachers or other school staff.

This tendency for victims and their friends to stay silent in the face of bullying is unfortunately common. As we wrote last week, some studies suggest that not even 40 percent of bullying victims report their abuse. For younger victims, the intimidation, emotional trauma, and overwhelming need to fit in often makes the impulse toward silence even stronger.

So, how do we stem the tide of bullycide? It starts by understanding the signs of suffering in students that may eventually lead to suicide.

The anti-bullying, suicide prevention group umttr has identified five warning signs that students are emotionally suffering or are potentially suicidal. As your schools and districts develop new strategies to prevent student abuse and bullying, keep these in mind:

  • Personality change
  • Agitation
  • Withdrawal
  • Poor-self care
  • Hopelessness

Of course, understanding the warning signs of self-harm is useless unless schools have systems for friends or family of bullying victims—or victims themselves—to more effectively report potential abuses or otherwise to seek help.

For many schools, that means going beyond traditional suicide hotlines.

Text messaging. Social media. In-person meetings. Schools need to give community members different ways to communicate about potential self-harm, however they feel comfortable. Districts also need to provide the opportunities to report their concerns privately, even anonymously.

In the face of a growing trend, schools must do more to ensure that young people don’t consider suicide as a reaction to the abuse they suffer online or in school. Giving them, their friends, and their family a protected, private, and welcoming place to report abuses and seek help when they need it is the first step.

Has does your school or district work to prevent student suicide? What systems do you have in place for students to report potential risks? Tell us in the comments.