Bullying a Strong Risk Factor for Suicide in Gay Youth: Study. [usnews.com, by Randy Dotinga, 14/2/2012].

TUESDAY, Feb. 14 (HealthDay News) — New research confirms the trend of disturbing headlines that have appeared in media reports in the past two years:

— For Many Gay Youth, Bullying Exacts a Deadly Toll

— Gay Buffalo Teen Commits Suicide on Eve of National Bullying Summit

— Tennessee Teen Commits Suicide After Years Of Anti-Gay Bullying

— Indiana Teen Commits Suicide After Anti-Gay Bullying at School

As seemingly damning as the headlines may be, the results of the study don’t prove that harassment directly causes young gay people to become suicidal or hurt themselves. Still, the research is the first to show what happens over time to teens who are bullied and victimized, said study co-author Brian Mustanski, an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Department of Medical Social Sciences.

It may seem obvious that bullying and a lack of support from loved ones would make people more suicidal. But “sometimes the things that we think are important still have to get confirmed with science,” Mustanski said.

“It’s surprising how negative those effects are,” he added. “Victimization turned out to be really important. It was far and away the most important risk factor.”

Previous research has suggested that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children are more likely to be suicidal and hurt themselves. A study released in the journal Developmental Psychology last year found that these people who were bullied as children were about 2.5 times more likely as others to be clinically depressed as young adults.

In the new study, reported in the current issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers surveyed 246 LGBT youth aged 16 to 20 and followed them over several years to see what happened to them. Fifty-seven percent of the participants were black; about half were female.

Being bullied (over the time period of the study) and a low level of support from others boosted the risk that the teens would become suicidal. Bullying also boosted the risk that they would try to harm themselves. Over the 2.5-year study, slightly more than 15 percent of the people in the survey reported trying to harm themselves.

On average, 8 percent of the participants reported hurting themselves in the prior six months, Mustanski said. Seven percent of those who didn’t report being victimized said they’d harmed themselves, compared to 11 percent of those who’d reported being victimized. Overall, a history of being bullied more than doubled the odds for self-harm, the researchers found.

However, those who had social support — “support from family and peers, meaning that the young person would say they have someone to go to when they have a tough time, someone is looking out for them” — were less likely to be suicidal, Mustanski added.

N. Eugene Walls, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Denver, said the study confirms other findings about the effects of anti-gay bullying.

“As more and more research accumulates, those who wish to ignore anti-gay bullying or dismiss it as normal adolescent behavior and teasing are going to have an increasingly difficult argument to make that bullying is not that serious,” he said.

What should parents do?

“Research indicates that they are unlikely to be able to change their child’s sexual orientation. So even though it may be difficult, sexual orientation is likely to be something about their child that will require acceptance,” said Jennifer Langhinrichsen-Rohling, a professor of psychology at the University of South Alabama.

Mustanski said young people themselves can find support through gay-straight alliances on campuses, youth programs at local gay community centers and online sites.

He recommended the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s list of warning signs of suicide.

More information

Contact the The Trevor Project to reach a 24-hour, toll-free confidential suicide hotline for gay teens and those who are questioning their sexuality.

Schools That Stonewall: What to Do If Your Child Is Being Bullied and the School Is Unresponsive [ huffingtonpost.com, by Jodee Blanco, 3/2/2012 ]

If you’re the parent of a bullied child who’s frustrated with a lack of responsiveness from your son’s or daughter’s school, if you’ve tried everything from meeting with the counselor to talking to the principal, perhaps even contacting the superintendent, and your child is still coming home in tears every day, don’t lose hope.

I’m a bullying survivor turned activist who travels the nation’s schools working with students, faculty, and parents to help save lives. I know first-hand the anguish for both parents and administrators when there’s a child in crisis. Parents, you need to keep a cool head and be guided by reason, not emotion. The calmer you are, the more you’ll achieve with the school. Making threats or irrational demands can diminish your credibility and put everyone on the defensive. You need to approach the school ready to cooperate and focus on finding solutions that won’t benefit just your child but the student body as a whole.

Also, try and keep in mind that despite their cruel behavior, most bullies are good kids in bad circumstances acting out in a cry for help. Finding it in your heart to feel some compassion for your child’s bully (I know it’s a lot to ask) is far more likely to turn the situation around than giving in to anger. Encourage the school to find out what’s driving the bully’s behavior. Perhaps something is going on at home, and he or she is bringing that anger and fear with them to class. It makes fitting in even more important, because for some of these kids, their friends are their only support and solace. And if they’re feeling insecure, the bullying can get worse. The key to breaking the cycle is the curiosity of caring adults, and that includes you, the parents of the victims. Don’t jump to conclusions about your child’s bully. Ask questions, and encourage the school to ask questions, too. The solutions that offer the strongest long-term results are those that address the best interests of both bully and victim.

If you reach an impasse with the school or find you are being stonewalled, here are some specific steps to inspire action:

  • Document, document, document! Help your child keep a journal of abuses; jot down dates, times, and details. If there were witnesses, write down their names. For cyber-bullying, print out all nasty or threatening emails, blog or Facebook postings, instant messages, etc. Document threatening or demeaning cell phone texts, as well. Many cell phones allow you to snap a screen photo of the text messages. You can also email the texts to yourself and then print them out.
  • Ask your child the names of other kids at school who are also being bullied. Reach out to their parents, share with them what you and your child have been going through, and form a parental coalition. A school may try to ignore one concerned parent, but there’s no school that can ignore an organized constituency of determined parents.
  • Keep taking it up the chain of command. If the principal doesn’t give you a response, go to the superintendent. If that doesn’t work, present your case in public at the next school board meeting. Every school district is required to hold a monthly school board meeting open to the public. Air your grievances there and bring your documentation!
  • And if that still doesn’t yield any action on the part of the school, contact the education writer at your local newspaper. You’d be surprised how quickly a school administration will respond when reporters are asking questions.

Above all, don’t give up. One of the reasons so many students continue to get bullied even after a parent has approached the school is that the parent doesn’t do the necessary follow-up. Get involved, and stay involved. Don’t assume after one or two meetings with a principal that the problem will resolve itself. You have to be as vigilant as you would with any important project. And remember, you’re never alone. I’m here. Reach out if you need me.