By Lacey Rosenbaum, M.Ed. (Director, APA’s Safe and Supportive Schools Project, Office of LGBT Concerns)
You cannot escape the headlines: “Bullying may have motivated Nevada school shooter” or “Funeral held for Illinois teen who committed suicide after bullying” or “Two girls arrested on bullying charges after suicide.”
What is going on? Do we have a bullying epidemic?
October is National Bullying Prevention Month and October 17th was Spirit Day when people wear purple to stand against bullying and celebrate and support all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth for who they are. These campaigns remind us of the positive efforts happening in schools and communities across the country to stop bullying.
The headlines and statistics remind us that we have more work to do.
The Impact of Bullying
Bullying has many harmful consequences to both the victim and the bully.
20% of high school students have reported being bullied on school property and 16% have reported being bullied electronically during the year.1
82% of students (ages 13 to 20) have reported being verbally harassed (e.g., called names or threatened) because of their sexual orientation and 64% because of their gender expression in the previous year.2*
Bullying can result in physical injury, social and emotional distress, and even death. 3
Bullied youth are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, and poor school adjustment. 3
Youth who bully others are at increased risk for substance use, academic problems, and violence later in adolescence and adulthood. 3
A recent study concluded that for LGBT students, school bullying is strongly linked to young adult mental health issues and increased risk for STDs and HIV.4
How Can We Prevent Bullying?
APA’s Bullying and School Climate Fact Sheet proposes that bullying can be significantly reduced through comprehensive, school-wide programs designed to change group norms and improve school climate.
The CDC also recommends improving school climate as a strategy for reducing bullying, and suggests that safe and supportive school environments are associated with improved education and health outcomes, including sexual health outcomes, for all students and especially for LGBT students.5
Promoting Safe and Supportive Schools
I am excited to be the new director of the APA’s Safe and Supportive Schools Project (SSSP). Through this project, we plan to help schools prevent bullying and establish learning environments where students feel safe, accepted, connected to their peers, and supported by adults.
We are developing evidence-supported resources on safe and supportive schools for school counselors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and other personnel who can implement interventions to improve school climate. We will then disseminate these resources to 19 state education agencies and help them support their schools districts in establishing safe and supportive environments.
We are promoting safe and supportive environments for all students and staff and three groups of youth at disproportionate risk:
lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, with an emphasis on young men who have sex with men;
homeless youth; and
youth enrolled in alternative schools.
The project is funded from a five-year $1 million cooperative agreement with the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH). It is an innovative approach to public health. Making students feel safe and supported in school is one of the CDC’s three approaches for preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among adolescents.
The Safe and Supportive Schools Project is important because when students feel safe and supported they are more likely to come to school, get better grades, and they are less likely to become involved in substance abuse, violence, and other problem behaviors that are associated with HIV and STD risk.5
How you can help
Take a stand against bullying
Help us promote the importance of safe and supportive schools because all youth should feel celebrated and accepted for who they are. Share our e-card to help raise awareness about bullying in your community.
The APA has many resources on bullying and cyberbullying and establishing safe and supportive school environments including:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Stop Bullying Now Campaign has resources about bullying awareness, prevention and intervention and an infographic with facts about bullying:
If you are interested in sharing your knowledge and expertise on safe and supportive school environments, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011.) Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System: 2011 National Overview. http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/yrbs/pdf/us_overview_yrbs.pdf.
2 Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Bartkiewicz, M. J., Boesen, M. J., & Palmer, N. A. (2012). The 2011 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN. *Survey participants were recruited online and through community-based groups and service organizations serving LGBT youth.
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011.) Fact Sheet on Understanding Bullying. http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/Bullying_Factsheet-a.pdf.
4 Russell, S. T., Ryan, C., Toomey, R. B., Diaz, R. M., & Sanchez, J. (2011). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescent school victimization: Implications for young adult health and adjustment. Journal of School Health, 81(5), 223-230. http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/files/FAP%20School%20Victimization%20Study.pdf .
5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Safe and Supportive Environments for All Students and Staff (SSE). http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/foa/1308foa/pdf/sse_rationale.pdf.