Posted at: 09/05/2012 7:45 AM
Medical Edge: Coping With Being Bullied
Everyday, we send our kids who are bullied in school into a terrifying situation. Victims can suffer the effects for a long time. How can we stop it? Mayo Clinic experts say it's a complex issue that needs to be addressed from many angles.
"You feel worthless. You feel helpless. You feel like nobody's there. You feel like there is nobody to support you. You just feel alone," said bullying victim Jessa Holmes.
These scars, which Jessa Holmes inflicted on herself, are a symptom of psychological struggle.
"I am a cutter. I do have an eating disorder," said Jessa.
Jessa says she's battled many difficulties in her 18 years: the death of a close friend, depression, feeling the need to hide being gay. And for many years she was the victim of bullying.
"Yeah I mean I dreaded going to school," said Jessa.
Jessa says the teasing, name calling and peer pressure to do the wrong thing started in elementary school and followed her to middle school and then high school.
"They made me feel so degraded about myself," said Jessa.
Bridget Biggs, Ph.D.
Mayo Clinic child psychologist
"Children are more likely to be victims when they are perceived as kind of weak or different from other kids," said Mayo Clinic Child Psychologist Dr. Bridget Biggs.
Mayo Clinic Dr. Bridget Biggs works with bullying victims and aggressive bullies. Plus she's written a book to help professionals deal with what she calls a very complex problem.
"When we think about kids, they're influenced by their families. They're influenced by their peer group. They're influenced by the schools and teachers and other people that they meet at school," said Dr. Biggs.
She says that anti-bullying programs need to address the issue at all of those levels. Her colleague Dr. Peter Jensen agrees.
"Very complicated problem and so teachers and schools and communities and pupils even have to come together," said Mayo Clinic Child Psychiatrist Dr. Peter Jensen.
He says positive change happens from the top down.
"But the parents start first by teaching the child it's not acceptable," said Dr. Jensen.
And he says parents need to act if they suspect their child is being bullied or is a bullier.
"When the child is being both victimized and is getting in trouble in school, gotta get help. Gotta get help soon because those kids are also terribly under-recognized and they go on to depression and anxiety, problems keeping a job , a marriage, all of those issues," said Dr. Jensen.
He and Dr. Biggs say talk to your kids to find out what's going on and to get their thoughts on how to handle it. Talk to teachers and if the problem persists, get your child to a health care professional who can offer ways to help.
It took Jessa years to reach out for help because she was too scared and embarrassed. Now she's joined forces with community and school leaders in Rochester to create anti-bullying programs that give kids ideas where they can get help and ways to prevent bullying from happening in the first place.
"We wrote a mission and core values and strategic plans," said Jessa.
She still struggles with the psychological scars of bullying. But with the help of counseling and talking to people she trusts, Jessa is moving forward. And making it better for other kids who are victims of bullying.
Dr. Biggs says its important for parents to empower their kids by encouraging them to talk about it. And again, if you think your child is being bullied, and you see signs such as avoiding social situations, dreading school, unexplained sickness, talk to a health care professional. They can offer ways to help your child cope with bullying.