Bullying: Rarely the only cause of a young person’s suicide

Posted by on September 26, 2010

The media, educational, and political craze around “bullying” focuses on the symptom, not the underlying problem, in teen suicide cases.

In today’s opinion section of Cleveland’s Plain Dealer newspaper, I responded to a recent story on teen suicides in a neighboring county in a letter to the editor entitled, “Bullying: Rarely is it the only cause of a young person’s suicide“:

Monday’s headline “Suicides put focus on bullying issue in Mentor” should have read, “Suicides put focus on youth mental health issues.”

Expert Madelyn Gould noted that more than 90 percent of suicides stem from underlying psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety or substance abuse, and that suicide is never caused by one thing.

Gould accurately said kids’ coping skills and support for dealing with bullying and other stressors vary. School shootings have revealed undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues as underlying contributors to violence.

Special-interest advocates, legislators, the federal government and the media are increasingly, and wrongly, oversimplifying and narrowly attributing violent teen acts to “bullying.” This generates skewed policy and funding emphasis on one cause and one solution for youth suicides and violence. The issues are typically more complex and require a deeper, more comprehensive approach.

Bullying is an issue and one that must be treated seriously as part of a comprehensive approach to school safety. No one wants to see a parent lose his or her child.

Most schools have policies, student conduct codes and climate strategies already available that can effectively address bullying. New laws and lawsuits will not solve the problem. It takes school leadership and total community involvement beyond the schoolhouse to make it happen.

Kenneth S. Trump, Cleveland

Trump is the president of National School Safety and Security Services.

What say you?

Ken Trump

Visit School Security Blog at:  http://www.schoolsecurityblog.com

4 thoughts on “Bullying: Rarely the only cause of a young person’s suicide

  1. Brad Palmertree says:

    You were obviously never bullied as a child. Don’t speak on things of which you know nothing about. You know nothing – NOTHING – of the pain & torment a child goes through after being harassed each & every single day. What you – and the rest of this county don’t see – are the scars on the MILLIONS of people in this country that were lucky enough to survive the intersection of adolescence and high school. And you almost never see the suicide attempts before they finally figured out of way to make it take. Most never let go of those memories. True, we’re stronger because of it, but going through life for years scared as hell is never justifiable.

    Of course suicide is the result of depression, anxiety, and often substance abuse. But what causes THAT?! Years of being told by family & friends & the general public that it is NOT ok to be different. That because it’s NOT ok when one walks a certain way or dresses a certain way or talks a certain way or lives in a certain neighborhood or attends a specific church or loves someone of the same sex. THAT, my friend, causes depression & anxiety which leads to substance abuse as one tries to find some way of coping & escaping the reality that is their miserable life where no one loves them & everyone is against them constantly pushing them down, down, down.

    Not everyone may have had the same privileged background as you, sir. Not everyone is so easily accepted into this increasingly principled and judgmental society. Think about that the next time you want to just blame the victim.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Dear Brad:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and frustrations. I welcome diverse and differing opinions as it advances our dialogue and efforts on complex issues.

      I am a bit perplexed by your opening statement that, “You were obviously never bullied as a child. Don’t speak on things of which you know nothing about. You know nothing — NOTHING—..” Quite frankly, sir, you know nothing of my childhood or adult life. Starting your position with a personal attack weakens your legitimate points and arguments for your position.

      Your comments actually seem to reinforce the points in Bullying: Rarely the only cause of a young person’s suicide. You list a number of complex issues and dynamics: Harassment, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, family conflict, religious preferences, feeling unloved, sexual orientation, etc. As the researcher cited in my letter, and Plain Dealer article said, there is no single cause of suicide in the vast majority of cases.

      Further, I never devalued the importance of dealing with suicide, nor do my comments “blame the victim.” And I clearly have repeatedly said that bullying is an issue in school safety. In fact, I am also encouraging people to address the underlying issue of teen mental health, instead of oversimplifying and overlabeling anything and everything (like the list of issues you raised) in one word: “Bullying” — and then putting the bulk of the responsibility on schools to solve it when there needs to be, as I stated in my letter, school leadership and total community involvement. It is difficult to see how you can justify your claim that I am blaming a victim when I am actually advocating for dealing with teen mental health issues????

      You close your message as you started – with a personal attack: “Not everyone may have had the same privileged background as you, sir.” Again, you have no basis for this statement as you have no knowledge of my background.

      In conclusion, Brad, it would probably have been helpful if you identified your affiliation as co-chair of the Tennessee Safe Schools non-profit organization which states a mission, “To provide education and training to the state of Tennessee regarding safe schools and harassment/bullying issues in K-12 schools.” According to this organization’s Facebook site, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tennessee-Safe-Schools/123976280977568#!/pages/Tennessee-Safe-Schools/123976280977568?v=info, your organization is also working on becoming a state chapter of the advocacy group GLSEN. Full disclosure with your position might provide readers some perspective on your advocacy role and agenda.

      Thanks again for writing. I welcome diversity of opinion. I prefer it be in a professional, respectful, and non-personal attack manner, though.

      Ken Trump

  2. John H. Weicker says:

    Dear Ken,

    I felt that that the exchange between Mr. Palmertree and yourself was an excellent example of what I beleive are the postive changes that are occurring in our country. I belive strongly in people exercising their right to state an opinion as Brad did here, but in my opinion what has been missing for far too long has been people willing to respond to a person’s stated disagreement as you did in your response to his allegations. It is so nice to see folks willing to stand up for what they beleive in, and feel the confidence to publically state their opinons so that people can see that there really are two side to every story, and perhaps even some background information that might make a persons stated opinion a little easier for simple people like myself to understand! Thanks for doing your usual “Home Work.” John

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thanks, John. As you know, I believe in speaking my mind. I work hard to do so without personal attacks and by sticking to the facts. I find it odd that in general the conversations here on the blog have been civil, it is quite interesting in other forums to see how some people, including those advocating for “civility,” frame their comments with personal attacks. That seems a bit contradictory to their alleged beliefs and advocacy. Thanks again for your kind words.


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