Hidden Scars: Recent Suicides Illustrate Lasting Effects of Teen Bullying
January 18, 2012 2 Comments
18-year-old Jeffrey Fehr and 19-year-old Eric James Borges might still be alive today if it weren’t for one common denominator in both of their backgrounds, both were the victims of bullying and harassment.
According to the Sacramento Bee, in Fehr’s case the taunting began as early as the third grade. He was in the sixth grade when someone first called him a “fag.”
Later on in High School the Bee reports that , “Jeffrey had many young fans, but the taunting never quite went away. Friends recalled ugly words shouted in student sections at games, and adults who said they wouldn’t let their sons do something as “girly” as cheering. If others whispered about Jeffrey’s sexuality or teased him, the girls told them to stop.”
He was found hanging in front of his Granite Bay home in the early morning hours on New Years Day.
Borges, who committed suicide on January 11th, worked as an intern with The Trevor Project, and as a supplemental instructor at the College of the Sequoias.
One month earlier Borges, who lived in Visalia, had produced an “It Get’s Better” video for the project created by Columnist Dan Savage and his husband.
In the video he talked about the harassment and abuse he had suffered growing up as a gay teen. “I was physically, mentally, emotionally and verbally assaulted on a day-to-day basis for my perceived sexual orientation, My name was not Eric, but ‘Faggot.’” Borges went on to say that his mother had tried to perform an “exorcism” on him in an effort to “cure him” of his homosexuality. He was eventually kicked out of her home.
Both teens seemed to be starting to overcome the shadows of their past. According to the Bee, “Fehr’s elite coed Power Cheerleading team earned a trip to a world competition, but Jeffrey wondered aloud whether he was good enough to make a top college squad. He was smitten with a young man in Southern California, but the relationship was on and off. Still, in the weeks before he died, nothing about Jeffrey’s behavior rang alarm bells to friends or family members.”
Borges was a budding young filmmaker who is remembered by Queer Landia blogger Jim Reeves, as ” a fine young man, and I regret that I did not get to know him better.”
So why did two individuals who were both beginning to come into the bloom of their sexualities as well as their futures choose to take their own lives?
Suicide prevention experts say that there are a million reasons why someone chooses to take their life, especially for teens and young adults who often make impulse decisions in the blink of an eye.
However, the fact that both young men suffered abuse and bullying because of their sexuality is an all to often theme that can not be ignored.
Earlene Strayhorn, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Loyola University in Chicago says that,”Bullying is not a normal part of childhood, and children who experience bullying may continue to feel its effects into adulthood.”
According to the CDC,”Children and teens who are bullied are at higher risk for depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems, as well as headaches and difficulties at school.”
A 2006 study by Dr Jean Healey, an educational psychologist from the University of Western Sydney, Australia found, “the psychological scarring caused by schoolyard bullying is the equivalent to the damage caused by child abuse.”
“It is clear young people are being physically abused to a much greater extent than is currently acknowledged.” Healey said there was a “definite” parallel in the damage caused by child abuse and schoolyard bullying and said the long-term effects could not be underestimated. “If the bullying or the abuse is bad enough it remains with a child for a long, long time and can lead to depression or even suicide.”
Laws such as the current anti-bullying legislation currently making its way to the Idaho senate can help curb bullying at school. Experts say such legislation, since it helps foster an environment of respect and tolerance for all, can dramatically reduce the number of bullying incidents.
But what if the damage has already occurred?
According to Life Coach Jon Satin, “Bullying is a signal that emotional pain is dominant. To move forward, we must understand that both bully and victim hold some sort of emotional pain that is inextricably linked. They have more in common with each other than meets the eye. Both feel insecure, unworthy and fearful that life will let them down. One reacts, the other retreats. One needs to defend, the other feels utterly defenseless. It is an unusual partnership to say the least. Yet, in my personal and professional experience it sets the stage for positive change and growth.
In order to move beyond the roles of bully and victim we must commit to heal. As someone who has personally healed (and is still going through the process), and as a conduit who assists others to do the same, I firmly believe that it is important for us to continue to focus on this subject. Healing holds the key to understanding what is required of us as human beings both individually and as a collective to create true inner peace. A world of beings who feel and live through inner peace cannot act out the roles of bully and bullied. When each of us makes a commitment to emotionally heal and acknowledge that we spend most of our waking moments in emotional pain, then and only then will we find true fulfillment from life.”
One expert suggests talking to your child about their painful experiences and if necessary seek expert advice and or counseling. If the abuse happened to you, whether it happened yesterday or thirty years ago, it’s important to recognize that being bullied can cause post traumatic stress disorder and other issues. If you are still hurting from the pain caused, talk to someone about it. The longer you let it go the worse the symptoms can get.
It’s time to put a stop to bullying. It’s also time to realize that those who have been bullied may need more than a simple,”keep your chin up.”
Need help? Visit The Trevor Project’s website or call them at 1-866-488-7386. In the U.S. you can also call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or visit stopbullying.gov. You can also visit Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) website for more resources.