A Florida Tragedy Illustrates Rising Concern About Cyber-Bullying Suicides

Preteen suicides and online harassment are becoming a focus for prevention experts

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Rebecca Sedwick is pictured in this undated handout photo courtesy of the Polk County Sheriff's Office in Florida.
Polk County Sheriff's Office / Reuters

Rebecca Sedwick is pictured in this undated handout photo courtesy of the Polk County Sheriff's Office in Florida.

On Monday, two Florida girls – one 12, the other 14 – were arrested on aggravated stalking charges after the death of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick, who committed suicide last month.

Authorities say the two girls repeatedly cyberbullied the Lakeland, Fla., girl. One of them even wrote on Facebook: “I bullied Rebecca nd (sic) she killed herself.”

Such incidents are rare, but they’re the kind of episodes many prevention experts are increasingly worried about.

From 2007 to 2010, the suicide rates for pre-teens and teens steadily inched up. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate for those aged 5 to 14 was 0.7 (per 100,000 population) in 2010, up from 0.5 in 2007. For teens, the rate was 10.5, up from 9.7 in 2007, the highest rate it’s been in more than a decade.

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Suicide rates have been rising among almost every demographic group for the last several years. While the economic downturn is routinely blamed by many suicide researchers for the increase, for those under 24, experts often link the rise in rates to bullying – especially via social media.

For 15- to 24-year-olds, suicide is the third leading cause of death, and a 2008 review of bullying research by the Yale School of Medicine confirmed links between suicide and bullying, with some studies showing that bullying victims were anywhere from two to nine times more likely to report thoughts of suicide.

(MOREInside the National Suicide Hotline: Preventing the Next Tragedy)

A number of states, in turn, have instituted anti-bullying programs. Thirty public schools in Arizona participated in a pilot program this year focusing on character-building in the classroom. Wisconsin recently announced a statewide effort to provide teachers with resources to avoid and resolve conflicts in schools.

Anti-bullying hotlines have also come online in recent years. In New York City, the BRAVEline has been in operation since 2011 and came about after the local chapter of the United Federation of Teachers noticed an increase in bullying in its schools. In addition to the hotline, teens and preteens can also use chat and text to engage with a crisis counselor.

“I’ve gotten calls from 7-year-olds on the bullying line,” Gloria Jetter, a New York City-based crisis counselor, told me for a previous Time.com story about suicide prevention efforts. “Because of technology, social media, Facebook, that makes you a target for bullying. They’re online. They’re much more autonomous. You used to be safe because you just went home and you didn’t have people talking about you on Facebook to hurt your feelings.”

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Derick Kerr, another New York City crisis counselor, told me that in coming years there will likely be more focus placed on pre-teens, a demographic that’s increasingly calling the hotline. In the 1990s and early 2000s, it was teenagers who often received attention from suicide prevention experts and mental health officials because of the number of shootings at high schools. But the growth of technology use among those 12 and under will likely spur a renewed focus on preteens over the next few years.

It’s difficult to actually track cyberbullying rates, let alone how often bullying is directly related to suicide, but Lanny Berman, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology, says he’s seen an increase in anecdotal reports.

“These have spurred research attention,” he says. “We are much more aware of prevalence data and relative suicide risk among bullies, teens who are bullied and bully-victims – those who are victimized and who bully.”

Increasing suicide prevention funding for anti-bullying programs has its critics, mostly those who believe people with serious mental health issues should get priority. But over the last several years, suicide prevention efforts have increasingly focused on helping at-risk people before suicidal ideation enters their minds. Anti-bullying programs and hotlines are part of that movement.

But the growth of anti-bullying programs may have negative effects, too. According to a study published last month in the Journal of Criminology, researchers found that students at schools that have implemented anti-bullying efforts may be more likely to get bullied. One reason researchers give: The programs may teach bullies how to be more effective tormentors.

MOREHow Bullying’s Effects Reach Beyond Childhood

20 comments
johnstrain
johnstrain

I’m so puzzled. what?? is going on with youth? hopefully NOT sounding ‘creepy’ ... why are beautiful young ladies offing themselves? How could their self-confidence be SO crushed? How can young persons already have that much spite in their system. We’re doing something wrong folks.

RickHunter
RickHunter

Here's a great tip for parents who are afraid of cyber bullying... DON"T LET YOUR KIDS USE THESE SERVICES!

mktingdiva
mktingdiva

Blind Judo Foundation supports "End of Bullying and National Bullying Awareness Month" not only in October but throughout the Year.   Coaches, instructors and trainers at Cahill’s Judo Academy are training the blind and visually impaired Judo athletes of the Blind Judo Foundation as champions against bullying. Athletes learn to employ Judo tenets learned on and off the Judo mat such as confidence building, character development, humility, respect and responsibility.   if you want to learn more about it go to http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013BlindJudoFoundation/10AntiBullying/prweb11219470.htm

ToniEverett
ToniEverett

First of all I don't believe that 2 of these girls were even old enough to have a Facebook account.  Last time I looked the terms of service clearly states that you would not use Facebook if you were under 13 years of age.  This is a terrible, terrible thing, do these parent not watch what these kids are up to and what about this school, they need to be held accountable for not doing something about what went on in that school.


algaringo10
algaringo10

Verbal bullying is easy to fix if you show your children the concept of "tabla" which simply means the ability to absorb insults and ribbing without getting riled up and hopefully coming up with a riposte. On social media you don't have to come up with a riposte on the spot and that's the beauty of it.

In this case. Bully: Haven't you killed yourself yet? Answer: I was waiting for you to join me at the bridge. I'm ready with a  date. R U?

If the bully actually names a date you say. Sorry but I'm having lunch with Michele Obama.

The more preposterous the better. And of course the objective is to make the cyber bully sound like an idiot online. So you never have to agree to meet them. A month of this and you are going to find the bully gives up when there is no pay off.

algaringo10
algaringo10

Americans need to learn the concept of "tabla." if you have "tabla" you show yourself to be too cool to be upset by what others say about you. "Tabla" was learned in a social game where you were ribbed, sometimes unmercifully by your friends. The objective was to ignore the ribbing and if possible come up with a riposte. There you had to come up with it on the spot. In social media you have time to consider the reply.

Ex. Me commit suicide. I was waiting for you to join me at the bridge so we can jump off together. Ready for a date. Are u?

Trust me a month of this and any bully will give up if they can't upset you.

Moral of the study- teach your kids to defend themselves from bullying. The school and you can't do it for  them.

winrey5
winrey5

maybe time to categorize bullying as a crime

gjryan59
gjryan59

 They should take these two young ladies and the others not yet charged and put them in away in juvi for awhile so they can think about how their actions destroyed and ended another persons life

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AlishaGraves13

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Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

@winrey5 Or we need to be able to better educate people who are getting bullied, that they in fact are the ones doing nothing wrong.  That they will be the person who is better when they get older and that the people who are doing the bullying are the ones who are extremely low self-esteemed and more insecure about themselves than anything and they are irrelevant. 

LstandsforL
LstandsforL

@helenge70 Stop typing nonsense, please. If you don't want to contribute to the conversation, don't type. 

Heizzzenberg
Heizzzenberg

@gjryan59 better yet put them on an airplane....and para-drop them in the middle of Taliban land... let's see how it feels to get bullied with stones. What horrible little psychopathic monsters these two are... unbelievable.

Justicewillbeserved#1
Justicewillbeserved#1

@Realworldnonfantasyland @winrey5  you are an idiot it was already a crime and aggravated stalking happens more than you think. These girls should have been tried as adults for a 3rd degree felony. You have no right to judge the American way of life for if an adult did that they would've gotten life

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

 People with High self esteem dont need to take anger out on others by bullying, they are already happy. People with low self esteem, who have many problems of their own in their mind take their insecurities out on others. Their opinion on anyone else is irrelevant

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

@Justicewillbeserved#1 @Realworldnonfantasyland @winrey5 Good for you.  You bring nothing to the table.  I offer advice to get people through bullying, telling them that the people who are doing the bullying are nobodies and try and educate that and all you offer is that i'm an idiot for thinking that way and they should go to jail the rest of their lives.  If you are going to call somebody an idiot then make sure you bring something progressive to the table. 

Being an American I guess I have no right to judge it do I

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