The Negative Effects of Bullying On the Teenage Psyche: Teen Violence and Suicide
The negative effects of intense bullying in the adolescent years, such as apathy, the feeling of hopelessness, sudden drop in grades, use of drugs or alcohol or early promiscuous sexual activity, and withdrawal from friends or piers, have largely consequential impacts on the teenage psyche, such as the rapid increase of violence and suicide amongst teens. However, while many believe that the answer to stopping such tragedies lies within helping and stopping the victims before such tragedies are able to occur, the psychological impacts of severe bullying are often the immediate cause of violence and suicide and therefore must first be stopped before they become detrimental to the victims.
Guns in school… Drugs… Gang shootouts… Theft… Date rape… Murder… Suicide… In recent years, teen violence has become an epidemic within the United States. Each year, more than 200,000 teens are arrested for violent crimes, and another 500,000 for theft or arson. Many teenagers now feel the need to carry concealed guns or other weapons for protection against other piers in school, on the streets, and even in their own homes. Many often resort to deadly weapons, such as guns, knives, and even small explosives, to resolve pier-to-pier conflicts that in the past would’ve been solved through harmful words and/or fist fights. Bullying, often dismissed as a unavoidable part of reaching maturity, has grown from occasional taunting and kicking in the schoolyards to the third largest cause of adolescent violence and suicide.
Some of the worst forms of teen violence are those in which teenagers attempt to cause self-harm by contemplating, attempting, or committing suicide. One of the leading causes of death amongst teenagers is suicide. The Centers for Disease control report that it is the third leading cause of death, behind accidents and homicide, of people aged 15 to 24. Even more disturbing is the fact that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14. There are several different factors that often lead a teenager to take his or her life, but the most common is depression. Feelings of hopelessness and anxiety, along with feelings of being trapped in a life that one can’t handle, are very real contributors to teen suicide. In some cases, teenagers believe that suicide is the only way to solve their problems. The pressures of life seem too much to cope with, and some teenager look at suicide as a welcome escape. Minors choose death because suffering becomes intolerable as per their perception. Peer pressure, social and academic pressure, turmoil in the family can lead to emotional breakdown, feeling of loneliness, rejection, failure to handle loss, and poor performance.
They feel that there is little hope for change, improvement, or possibility of a better future with the life that they experience. Feelings of anger and guilt: stress and feelings of rejection, loneliness, feeling unwanted, can affect teenagers mentally. This may result in aggressive behavior or extreme mood swings. Often the guilt of doing something wrong, or hurting someone may force the teen to end his/her life. Although kids who are bullied are at risk of suicide, bullying alone is not the cause. Many issues contribute to suicide risk, including depression, problems at home, and trauma history. Additionally, specific groups have an increased risk of suicide, including American Indian and Alaskan Native, Asian American, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. This risk can be increased further when these kids are not supported by parents, peers, and schools. Bullying can make an unsupportive situation worse.
Kids who are bullied can experience negative physical, school, and mental health issues. Kids who are bullied are more likely to experience: Depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy, health complaints, decreased academic achievement—GPA and standardized test scores—and school participation. They are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school. Many adolescents with depression may also have anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and/or eating disorders (bulimia, anorexia, and compulsive overeating). Depression can be a response to many situations and stresses. In teenagers, depressed mood is common because of the normal process of maturing and the stress that occurs with it, the influence of sex hormones, independence conflicts with parents, it may also be a reaction to a disturbing event, such as: the death of a friend or relative, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, and/or failure at school.
Experts say bullying is a serious and widespread problem that can lead to school shootings and suicide. At the same time, they say, it is dangerously underrated, as schools and adults are not taking the problem seriously enough. “For the child who’s been targeted by a bully, their life is a living hell,” said Glenn Stutzky, a school violence specialist at Michigan State University. “Bullying is probably the most frequently occurring form of violence in American schools today and it’s really the engine that’s driving the majority of violence. It’s a huge problem.” Though in the past it was believed that only a very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures, in recent years the dramatic increase in teen violence, and even in severe bullying, has led to the contrary.
In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied. Such cases include the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, by Eric Harris,18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, on April 20, 1999. School shooters tend to act impulsively and attack the targets of their rage: students and faculty. But Harris and Klebold planned for a year and dreamed much bigger. The school served as means to a grander end, to terrorize the entire nation by attacking a symbol of American life.
Their slaughter was aimed at students and teachers, but it was not motivated by resentment of them in particular. Students and teachers were just convenient quarry, what Timothy McVeigh described as “collateral damage.” As members of the Trench coat Mafia, so dubbed for their habit of wearing black trench coats, the two boys had long been bullied by classmates.They disliked it and bided their time until they could wreak their revenge. They spent their frustrated energy on their plan. Dylan and Eric were obsessed with violent video games, says journalist Joe Conason, with a fascistic subculture, and with paramilitary techniques.
They had collected an arsenal of semiautomatic guns and homemade bombs and had plotted a crime they hoped the nation would never forget. If everything went according to plan, they would cause a lot of death and damage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and then they might just fly off together in a hijacked place to some remote island; or they kill themselves.
A psychological disorder, mental illness, or depression can trigger suicidal thoughts in teenagers. As per data, 95 percent of people had an ongoing mental illness or disorder, when they committed suicide. Michigan State University psychiatrist Dr. Frank Ochberg, as well as Supervisory Special Agent Dwayne Fuselier say that if you want to understand “the killers,” quit asking what drove them. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were radically different individuals, with vastly different motives and opposite mental conditions. Klebold is easier to comprehend, a more familiar type. He was hotheaded, but depressive and suicidal; he blamed himself for his problems.
Harris is the challenge; he was sweet-faced and well-spoken. Adults, and even some other kids, described him as “nice.” But Harris was cold, calculating, and homicidal. “Klebold was hurting inside while Harris wanted to hurt people,” Fuselier says. Harris was not merely a troubled kid, the psychiatrists say, he was a psychopath. In popular usage, almost any crazy killer is a “psychopath.” But in psychiatry, it’s a very specific mental condition that rarely involves killing, or even psychosis. “Psychopaths are not disoriented or out of touch with reality, nor do they experience the delusions, hallucinations, or intense subjective distress that characterize most other mental disorders,” writes Dr. Robert Hare, in Without Conscience, the seminal book on the condition.
“Unlike psychotic individuals, psychopaths are rational and aware of what they are doing and why. Their behavior is the result of choice, freely exercised.” None of his victims mean anything to the psychopath; he recognizes other people only as means to obtain what he desires. Not only does he feel no guilt for destroying their lives, he doesn’t grasp what they feel.
A truly hard-core psychopath is often unable to comprehend emotions like love, hate, or fear, because he has never experienced them directly. Diagnosing Harris as a psychopath represents neither a legal defense, nor a moral excuse. But it illuminates a great deal about the thought process that drove him to mass murder. The diagnosis transformed their understanding of the partnership. Despite earlier reports about Harris and Klebold being equal partners, the psychiatrists now believe firmly that Harris was the mastermind and driving force. The partnership did enable Harris to stray from typical psychopathic behavior in one way. He restrained himself. Usually psychopathic killers crave the stimulation of violence. That is why they are often serial killers—murdering regularly to feed their addiction. But Harris managed to stay (mostly) out of trouble for the year that he and Klebold planned the attack. Ochberg theorizes that the two killers complemented each other.
Cool, calculating Harris calmed down Klebold when he got hot-tempered. At the same time, Klebold’s fits of rage served as the stimulation Harris needed. Harris’ pattern of grandiosity, glibness, contempt, lack of empathy, and superiority read like the bullet points on Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist and convinced Fuselier and the other leading psychiatrists close to the case that Harris was a psychopath. While children who get bullied are often less assertive and more easily upset than their peers who aren’t victimized the fact that the findings showed a “dose-response” relationship between bullying and psychotic symptoms – meaning the greater the severity of bullying, the stronger the link – suggests that bullying actually helped cause children’s psychotic symptoms, rather than vice-versa. Both kids and adults “commonly” have psychosis-like symptoms or experiences, without full-blown mental illness. Young children who have these symptoms are more likely to develop schizophrenia and similar types of mental illness as young adults, while trauma in childhood also has been tied to adult psychosis risk.
To investigate whether there might be a direct link between trauma from bullying and psychosis symptoms, the researchers looked at 6,437 12-year-olds participating in a long-term study of children and their parents. All of the children had been completing annual psychological and physical health assessments since they were seven years old. In the current report, the researchers determined whether the 12-year-olds had any of 12 different psychotic symptoms, such as visual or auditory hallucinations, delusions of being spied on, or beliefs that they could broadcast their thoughts to others. Children had also been surveyed about peer victimization at 8 and 10 years of age.
Nearly 14 percent of the children had definite or suspected psychotic symptoms, although these included symptoms that occurred when the children were going to sleep or waking up, feverish, or under the influence of substances; 11.5 percent had intermediate symptoms, meaning they had at least one suspected or definite symptom that wasn’t related to sleep, fever or drugs; and 5.6 percent had at least one definite symptom of psychosis. Overall, 46 percent of the children reported having experienced victimization – including either direct bullying or “relational” victimization such as being excluded – at age 8 or 10, while 54 percent weren’t victimized at either age. Kids who reported being bullied at either age were roughly twice as likely as the other children to have psychotic symptoms, regardless of any other mental health problems, family situation, or IQ.
Many people, old and young, rich and poor, have a positive attitude on the subject of the rapidly increasing epidemic of teen violence and suicide. ‘We will not be overcome by these terrible social problems,’ they say, ‘we will find a way to stop the violence and cruelty inflicted on today’s youth, and we will beat the epidemic.’ For bullying, teen violence, and teen suicide there are many solutions that have been provided; in fact, as teen violence and bullying-related suicides have gradually become more and more severe, many government agencies, private organizations, and personally-affected individuals have accelerated their efforts at preventing and/or reducing it. Such actions include the reduction of poverty, stopping the spread and accessibility of guns, bombs, and other lethal weapons, providing emotional and financial support for families, increasing the severity of punishment for violent/ hate crimes committed by teens, and more citizens becoming involved on a personal level. While many of these solutions deal with some of the key factors of the growing rates of teen violence and suicides, all of them fail to call any attention to one of the largest contributors to the growing epidemic: bullying and the psychological effects it has on the teenage psyche.
The solution to the problems doesn’t just lie with the occasional school attendance-mandatory anti-bullying seminar and tighter gun restrictions; the solution to solving the root of the problem is in recognizing and acknowledging the warning signs and symptoms of bullying, depression, severe anger, and psychological issues in adolescents. One day in April 1999, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris sent an e-mail to the local police declaring that they were going to do something at the school. They blamed parents and teachers in their community for turning their children into intolerant sheep and then announced their own suicide. It was a disturbing forewarning that not only went unacknowledged, but was casually dismissed by the police as a childish prank between two moody, anxious, mad-at-the-world teenagers. In many cases with teen suicide, the victims often express many warning signs prior to the incident that are far too frequently discarded by parents, and at times even professionals, as a dramatic overreaction resulting from stress or the craving of attention. The blame for such tragedies cannot be placed on one specific individual, but that does not excuse the fact that each individual most often played an equally-detrimental role in such tragedies.
To put it bluntly, there’s blame to share for all involved. Though unfortunately there will always be bullying, depression, violence, mental disorders, and suicide, there’s no need or reason for them to become epidemics. Though studies have shown that they are often very effective means of solution, teenagers don’t need yearly psycho-analysis‘, strictly-scheduled therapeutic sessions, or heavy medications to keep them from turning suicidal or wanting to massacre the entire football team and/or cheerleading squad. What they need are people who are willing/able to recognize, listen, and not deny their conditions, wether their psychological or external. In 2010, a study was conducted by www.teenlineonline.org with over 200,000 teenagers and pre-adolescents that showed that actions as simple as calling a suicide hotline or talking to a parent or counselor about their problems allowed teens to overcome their suicidal and self-harmful thoughts and/or actions.
In many cases, violent crimes and actions committed by teenagers, and sometimes forewarning signs and messages, are cries for help, wether they’re conscious decisions or not. So in order to put an end to, or at least decrease, the problems created by severe bullying amongst teens, the blissful ignorance must first be diminished and people must be made to see that denial of the issue will only cause more harm to not only the victims, but all involved as well.