Posts Tagged ‘teen suicide’
Again the headlines scream “…driven to Suicide..” , …hangs himself after bullies tease…” and sadly, it appears that we are reading the same articles we read only a few short months ago—with one important difference. Adults in authority knew what was going on, and had taken measures to keep young Joel Morales safe. According to one media source, relatives had even filed a police report, and Joel had been transferred to a different school. If this was not effective, what can be done?
Parents, teachers, and authorities are at a loss—but bullying is hardly the first social issue to be rather impervious to the efforts to change “normal” behavior. Think of alcohol abuse—how intractable it still seems, yet how effective AA and Mothers Against Drunk Driving became. The School Assemblies they spoke at are the only ones many parents today remember— parents who are now able to reach out to all manner of support when they discover their own children are abusing substances.
Think back even further, when wife-battering was put on the social agenda in the 1970’s. This physical abuse was—and still is–hidden and denied, because its victims fear retribution.—something often expressed by victims of (and bystanders to) bullying. Even though this fear persists, victims of battering have more options today than they did only a generation ago–and more than do victims of bullying today.
While drunk driving and spousal battering can still be pointed to, what has changed are the norms of society. The responses of others around the inebriated or the abused. Social support in all guises—formal laws and shelters to informal support groups–for victims, perpetrators, and others who are affected abound, and are readily available. More importantly, there are enough individuals who do not believe drunk driving or wife battering are cool, or even acceptable, and it is this informal network of support that has created safe spaces and modified behaviors. There are bystanders who are able to intervene—without fear of retribution. And it is changes in the day to day responses of bystanders that will slowly change the formidable issues that now characterize bullying. Culture is outraged—and this is the first crucial step. Outcry is being made, and the swell from below will change norms—but it will take time.
Sadly, another teen, this one on Staten Island, has taken her own life, and both humiliation by peers and loss of relationship have contributed to her tragic decision. Amanda left a note—as if the comments on her facebook page weren’t enough.
Relatives, but not her school, knew of the bullying as well as her suffering.
What if doctors had known too?
Could neuropsychology come to play a role in helping the victims (even as we continue to address the problem itself?)
C. Nathan DeWall claims that research has found “common neural overlap between social and physical pain mechanisms.” In other words, the pain centers that light up in our brain when we experience social shame, rejection, and exclusion are the same pain centers that light up when we are physically injured. (This is probably evolutionary—rejection by a mother, and/or exclusion by the primary social group or tribe, would threaten survival as much as physical injury).
Which leads to the question, can medication designed to reduce pain-sensitivity—such as over the counter acetaminophen—help reduce the pain, thus preventing the suffer from reaching a threshold that is intolerable, and taking extreme action? Preliminary Research apparently indicates it can. Perhaps this fact needs to be added to our growing arsenal of tools attempting to address this social issue, and prevent tragedies like the one Amanda Cummings’ family is suffering.
The auspicious start to the new School Year—in NY State, the Dignity of All Student’s Act in the process of implementation, Seth’s Law (passed in California in April) on the books, and a host of other anti-bullying initiatives in other states– was overshadowed by the tragic suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer. An early test of that law would be to pose a rhetorical question: could it have helped Jamey Rodemeyer?
Seth’s Law is California’s response to the ‘bullying-related’ September 2010 suicide of 13 yr old Seth Walsh. http://nclrights.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/seth%E2%80%99s-law-passes-key-california-legislative-committee/ The passing of the bill certainly would have played into Jamey’s belief that ‘it gets better’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Pb1CaGMdWk and that there actually is support for young people struggling with bullying—especially around sexual identity. But how would it have translated on a daily basis? Would it have translated?
Maybe that is the question we need to start asking. It is certainly the question Boyd and Marwick have posed in their OpEd piece in the NY Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/23/opinion/why-cyberbullying-rhetoric-misses-the-mark.html and it was refreshing to see a piece that has the potential to move our discussions of bullying forward. As devastating as Rodemeyer’s suicide was, rehashing the sentiments and outrage put forth over Seth, Tyler, Zach and 8 other young people who took their lives last September –or even worse, becoming inured and deadened to the horror of teen suicide, as it is now ‘commonplace’,–will hardly help us develop perspectives that will truly be of service to our young people. We need a new language, a new understanding of the teen psyche around this issue, and new social narratives—ones that make sense of these dynamics on their level.
Perhaps the real question is, could adults have done anything that would have made a difference? Jamey had support. He also blogged, repeatedly, about his torment. Do we have anything close to an answer that could have changed his social reality? Given him more hope than his surprising belief ‘it will get better’ –a belief he seemed to have, and shared in order to be a support for others.