Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Occupational therapy interventions to prevent bullying: Second in a series

Bullying is not just a part of growing up. Just because something happens does not mean that it is normal or should be tolerated. I am aware that many people 'live through' their bullying and think that it is enculturated into childhood - but that opinion only holds up in the mind of someone who was victimized and then grows past the problem.

Not all children are so resilient - particularly those who already have differences from the 'social norm' that are causing them to be targeted.

The need for a different level of bullying intervention is brought to a tragic light for us locally in Western NY because of the apparent suicide of a high school student over this weekend.

Perhaps I don't have much to say, or maybe I just feel like anything I was going to say feels like it rings a little hollow in context of the real story. Please go read about Jamey Rodemeyer. He perceived himself as different and perhaps was victimized because of these differences. Sometimes these differences are in disability status, or in physical appearance, or in sexual orientation, or anything. The differences themselves serve as the catalyst for negative behaviors from others who often are having their own differences or difficulties.

What I was going to present (and now sounds too academic when I read what I wrote) is that bullying is a mental health problem. It is a mental health problem for the person subject to bullying, and it is a mental health problem for the bully.

The details of this particular situation are still unknown so I hope that my comments are not interpreted in the context of anything that parents or schools or professionals or kids themselves in WNY should have done. Rather, I think that if we take the opportunity to frame the problem as a mental health issue we will be in the best position to leverage all possible resources to help prevent these tragedies.

Not everything in the world is preventable, even if we want it to be. Still, we have the opportunity to ask ourselves some questions:

1. What was the culture in the school? What rules or systems were in place to promote respectful social interactions?
2. What was the point of intervention? Was it just the child or was it the bully too?
3. Did the parents have access to all the resources they needed? Could anything have been done to give them access to even more information/resources? Could that have helped?

For the near term, at least locally, we will have many more questions than answers. Still, I hope that we can take this tragedy and change some things.

I suspect that this community is not alone in its need to change some things.

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