Like everyone else I feel just terrible about what happened to Amanda Todd, the teenager from BC who committed suicide last week.
But, honestly, I don’t know where the media gets off boiling this down to a simple case of bullying. Obviously none of us yet have all the facts around this case. But, if what Amanda told us in her video was true the mistreatment she suffered went far beyond bullying.
She was assaulted. She was stalked. She was defamed. She was sexually exploited. These are crimes. To categorize them as bullying, a word that is often used these days to describe things like teasing and being mean, trivializes the seriousness of these offences.
There’s another big problem with the focus on “bullying.” It distracts us from the elephant in the room here, which is mental health. As I watched Amanda’s story unfold through the cards she displayed on her video my brain kept screaming “MENTAL HEALTH! MENTAL HEALTH! not bullying. Why aren’t people talking about mental health? (Maybe some are, but I haven’t seen it yet.)
I submit that it’s because they’re too busy fixating on “bullying.” My concern is that, in the aftermath of this terrible case, people will call for more of the default bullying solutions – awareness raising, having assemblies with passionate speeches, making posters and plays about bullying, and promises of more anti-bullying programs that do things like teach children to “walk away” from bullying. I kid you not. This is one of the strategies espoused in a so-called anti-bullying program a teacher friend of mine is being trained in.
I understand why researchers and educators are trying to address bullying. It is a problem. But anti-bullying programs, which are largely ineffective anyway – Hands up. How many people think the bullying situation has gotten better since the these programs were introduced? – will never touch the mental health issues such as the ones the poor girl was clearly dealing with.
Mental health problems are not easy to fix. But acknowledging them as a key contributor to teen suicide would be a small step in the right direction.