The Link Between Bullying and Suicide

As we saw in the Tyler Clementi case, sometimes drawing a direct line is hard. Emily Bazelon looks at the new documentary Bully and is shocked to find one of the main character's mental health history missing:

I asked Hirsch why he didn't mention Tyler's diagnoses. "I really felt that by not disclosing it, we wouldn't allow the audience to prejudge," he said. "It was a decision we thought about a lot. Ultimately, we thought the film would be more powerful without it." To Ann Haas, a senior project specialist for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, this was a serious error. When I played Bully for Haas, she recoiled in horror, and I don't use the word lightly. 

"To leave Tyler's mental health problems out of the film is an egregious omission," she said. "It is really misinformation. The filmmakers' had the opportunity to present bullying as a trigger, as one factor that played a role in a young person's suicide. But to draw a direct line without referencing anything else--I'm appalled, honestly. That is hugely, hugely unfortunate." Haas feels strongly about this for a few reasons. 

First, research shows a strong link between Asperger's and suicide and a link between bipolar disorder and suicide as well. This means these facts about Tyler are important to understanding his decision to take his life. There's more, too. From Haas' point of view, by presenting such an incomplete version of the facts, Hirsch has created a real risk of suicide contagion--the documented phenomenon of people mimicking suicidal behavior in light of media representations.
One of the problems with bullying is that so many of us (I am not speaking metaphorically) experienced it and so many of us are left with lasting scars. There is a strong feeling toward doing whatever we can tor save that next generation some of that pain. But strong feeling often overwhelms health skepticism.

I think part of the problem with suicide--particularly if the person was being bullied--is that there is also a strong urge to punish anyone who might have contributed to the person's death. I certainly felt--and still feel--that way about Dharun Ravi. I don't think that feeling took me to anywhere particularly wise. It is extremely difficult to accept that with suicide you may not get any causal answers.
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

The Best 71-Second Animation You'll Watch Today

A rock monster tries to save a village from destruction.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Best 71-Second Animation You'll Watch Today

A rock monster tries to save a village from destruction.

Video

The Case for Napping at Work

Most Americans don't get enough sleep. More and more employers are trying to help address that.

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

Video

Stunning GoPro Footage of a Wildfire

In the field with America’s elite Native American firefighting crew

More in National

From This Author

Just In