Thursday, September 22, 2011

From the Bully Pulpit

I've got no witty subtitle for this entry. No bad puns. Nothing to soften the blow.

Ryan Halligan, Kristina Calco, Tyler Clementi, April Himes, Jared High, Phoebe Prince, Brandon Swartwood, Desire Dryer, Austin Murphy, Corinne Wilson, Jeffrey Johnston, Cassie Gielecki, Eric Mohat, Megan Meier, Carl Walker-Hoover, Alexis Pilkington... and now Jamey Rodemeyer... make up only a portion of a tragically long list of people who have died- I must emphasize DIED- as a result of being bullied.

When examining the research, it's easy to see how bullying, far from "harmless fun" as some bullies would try to rationalize it, can kill. A study released by the US National Institute of Health cites a high risk for personality disorders as well as high risk behaviors like substance abuse and other criminal behavior among bullies. Those being bullied are more likely to suffer from social or generalized anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, a variety of physical ailments associated with stress, and depression. And it concludes that bullying is associated with "multiple health, safety, and educational hazards" for both bullies and victims, citing a high risk of death from "self-inflicted, accidental, or perpetuated injuries," and the affects of bullying, both physical and psychological, can linger for years.

Even people who witness bullying are at higher risk of suffering adverse mental health effects.

The message for bullies is clear, even without the increasing attempts to further criminalize bullying and give more legal recourse to victims or- as the case too often is- their surviving families. Stop it now! Even if you don't care about your victims or anyone else, stop it at least for your own good and get help.

As for those who have been bullied, as proven by Jamey Rodemeyer's death, we have a lot more work to do than sing upbeat songs and make feel-good videos. The sad truth, as I'm sure I've said before, is that bullying doesn't just go away. It doesn't get better on its own. We have to make it better.

One way to do that, in my opinion, is to do away with describing bullying by its targets. When we treat gay bullying, race bullying, et cetera as if they are separate and unrelated problems, we're divided and conquerable. Regardless of what the excuse, whether it be race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or just being an oddball, bullying is bullying is bullying. We're in this together, and that's how we'll best overcome bullying.

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