There’s a new movie out and it’s called Bully. It’s tag line is “It’s time to take a stand.” Well, my stand it this:
Please, if you can help it, do not let your kids see this movie without you.
And if you are a teenager or a young adult and you’re planning to see this movie, please watch out for yourself and for your friends. My understanding is that Bully puts a lot of emphasis on youth who have taken their lives after bullying. Sometimes watching that in a movie can make us feel worse, especially if we’re already wrestling with feelings of depression and anxiety. (And hey let’s be real–a lot of us are.)
You may or may not know me, but I am in the business of suicide prevention for teenagers. I worked for many years as a therapist for adolescents and families in a variety of settings: outpatient, in-home, in-patient and in a screening center. I worked in a mental health screening center and in a juvenile detention center assessing and treating youth who were depressed and/or suicidal, and I’ve treated many adolescents who made suicide attempts. I’ve worked with survivors of suicide and I’ve consulted for schools after a suicide. I now train adults on the topic of suicide prevention and I also train high school students in a powerful resiliency curriculum as part of suicide prevention efforts in my state.
I know and understand the link between bullying and intimidation and suicide. I’ve seen it. Without question, youth who are bullied, rejected, and intimidated are in a higher risk category for suicide attempts and completed suicide. I do believe that as a society we ALL, each and every one of us, need to do everything in our power to stop bullying and intimidation wherever we find it, especially among the young. But also at work, on the bus, when somebody’s being racist or homophobic or agist or sexist. We need to speak the hell up.
But–BUT. Sometimes people become depressed and maybe even suicidal when they’re being bullied. And often they suffer and struggle with being bullied and yet do NOT become suicidal. It doesn’t matter–the bullying and aggression needs to stop no matter what. Always. But by giving the impression that everyone who is bullied is going to become suicidal, well, first of all it isn’t true, and second of all, giving that impression just isn’t safe and might do more harm than good. And I’m not trying to minimize how important it is we stop bullying, trust me!
In trying to address the bullying problem with its shock, drama and trauma approach, the film Bully might inadvertently create a different problem. We know without any doubt that exposure to traumatic, dramatic material concerning suicide in the media causes some people to feel much worse, and you won’t always know who is going to react that way. What we don’t want is for people already wrestling with depression or some other issue that’s causing stress to see this film and get sent over the edge. We have solid research around safe messaging for suicide, and this movie, from what I have read, breaks every rule.
I will totally come back here and eat my words if I see it and find out I’m wrong, I swear.
This video below is from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and is a good example of safe messaging around bullying and suicide. If you want to promote this issue safely, you can share this:
I think that’s pretty damned powerful, and it’s still safe for the general public to see.
So, if you’re young and you’re going to see Bully anyway, well, I’m definitely not telling you not to see it. I haven’t seen it myself (it opens tomorrow), so that wouldn’t seem fair and you probably wouldn’t listen (and I probably wouldn’t either). But I’d ask you…no, I’d beg you, regardless of your age, to be honest with yourself about how it makes you feel. If it upsets you, well, that’s normal and to be expected. It’s sounds like it’s very upsetting material. If it challenges you to stand up for other people who are being intimidated, then awesome. But if seeing this movie has a different effect on you or your friends, and not a positive one, please tell someone you trust. Without delay.
That line is staffed with excellent folks who are happy to talk to any of us, regardless of our age. Old, young, middle-aged, veterans, students, parents, grandparents. Please just call. You don’t even need a reason. You can just wonder if maybe you should. That’s enough. You can call for someone else. Don’t be shy! That’s why they are there, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If you’re a parent of a child or a teenager or a young adult, please ask them if they’re planning to see Bully and if they are, let them know your concerns. Offer to go with them. Express an interest in seeing it yourself and doing something to help stop bullying, or supporting them to stop it in safe ways. The best scenario in my mind would be to see it together and talk about it afterwards. If they see it without you (and I’m guessing most will), just be mindful of how they react, ask them if they liked it, what it made them think about, if they know anyone who is dealing with bullying and intimidation and how you can help. Be involved, concerned. Like you always are, because if you weren’t, you would never read this lengthy, preachy post, would you?
Is your son or daughter depressed or involved with alcohol/drugs? Be extra concerned and vigilant after they see it. And make sure you know your warning signs, which are here.
Now, go forth and stop people from being crappy to each other, whenever and wherever possible. Stand for people being awesome to one another. Make that your stand.
And I have to say, if you ever feel hopeless or worthless and like you have no options or that nobody loves you and nobody cares, I promise you are wrong. We love you. We, the world, love you, whoever you are. Sometimes we just suck at showing it. So please, please talk to someone. There is help and it does work. I’ve seen that too. Many, many times.