Next Generation Mental Health Symposium
Moderated by HDRF Executive Director Louisa Benton, the panel was held during Mental Health Month and focused on the topic “Bullying and Mental Health.” The event convened leading psychiatrists, anti-bullying experts, and advocates to share their viewpoints and answer questions from an audience of over 100 people including teens, parents, social workers, guidance counselors and more.
The panel included Dr. Eric Nestler, MD, PhD, the Director of the Friedman Brain Institute at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; Dr. Angela Diaz, MD, PhD, MPH, Director of the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center; Jill Brown, President and Founder of Generation Text Online; Dr. Susan M. Swearer, PhD, Professor of Educational Psychology and a Professor of School Psychology at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln; Jeff Lima, actor and anti-bullying activist; and Emily Marrero, student at SUNY Morrisville and graduate of the Police Athletic League of New York City.
The panel discussed issues relevant to bullying and victimization including immediate and long-term effects on health and quality of life, such as depression and suicide. They also covered ways to prevent bullying, what you can do if you think your child or friend is being bullied, and how to talk to someone if you are being bullied.
Actor and advocate Jeff Lima reported his own personal experience with extreme bullying while growing up in Spanish Harlem, NYC, while Emily Marrero told the panelists and audience her experiences of helping a friend who was being victimized at school in New York City.
Bullying and Depression: A Known Link
In this climate, it is extremely important to understand the long-term effects of bullying, and how it can affect mental health. One in five children experiences being bullied at school according to a 2014 report from the CDC. Children who have been bullied are six times more likely to develop depression and two times more likely to develop anxiety. Depression and suicide are alarmingly on the rise among teens, and while the reasons are complex, bullying can be a trigger.
How to recognize signs of bullying
The panel agreed that although there is no one way to identify someone who is being bullied, there are known signs of depression that everyone, parents, and teachers included, should be aware of. These signs include increased anxiety, missing school, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, changes to eating habits, and changes to sleeping habits. Jeff Lima spoke to this from his personal experience, as when he was getting bullied, he would skip school and one day was picked up for truancy at a bookstore.
How to speak to the child
For children who are being bullied, the panel agreed it was vital that children have access to adults who can listen and help – whether that is a parent, teacher, guidance counselor or otherwise. For many children admitting to an adult that they are being singled out for abuse is difficult. When approaching a child, they must be direct but also allow themselves to be led by the child. Adults should let the child direct them in how they want them to help and listen to whether they want you to speak to someone at the school, or whether they just want the adult to listen. For parents, it was advised that they are open with their children and tread softly, as children are often most reserved when with their parents.
How to Stop a Bully
The panelists spent time answering questions from the young members of the audience who were concerned with how to stop bullying, and how to combat its effects. The panel agreed that when it is unsafe to confront a bully, deflecting the situation by making up an excuse to pull the victim away from the situation is a valid tactic. Jill Brown said in other cases if they see bullying occur, they may want to gently ask the bully, “how do you think those insults make them feel.” Friends of those who are bullied should make a point of telling them what makes them special, and reinforce the fact that they are a valued part of the group. Bullying leads to depression because it is isolating, and humans are social beings.
How Schools and Community Can Help
Early prevention is critical, and Angela Diaz advises that schools have access to integrated primary care and mental health professional who can detect early signs of mental unwellness or stress. If that isn’t available, Jill Brown stressed that the importance of schools or youth organizations led by trusted adults who are committed to safe conversation. She recommended that these groups implement a framework of listening to the child, helping them identify their emotions and setting new mental health guidelines for coping with stress and victimization.
It was then announced that Anni Spacek from East Hampton High School and the students of the Police Athletic League College Access Program were the two winners of the student video contest where young adults had been asked to create a short film about bullying.
Where to get help
- 911 – Some social media sites have a process to report suicidal content and get help. However, it is still important to call 911 if someone is posting suicidal messages or disturbing content.
- TXT 4 HELP, Safe Place: http://www.nationalsafeplace.org/txt-4-help
- Suicide Prevention Life Line: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org call: 1-800-273-8255 text: 741741
- 7 Cups: https://www.7cups.com/
About the Panel:
- Eric Nestler, MD, PhD: Dr. Nestler is the Director of the Friedman Brain Institute at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The goal of Dr. Nestler’s research is to better understand the molecular mechanisms of addiction and depression. Dr. Nestler has studied the effects of bullying on mental health, showing that stress from bullying can causes lasting genetic and circuit changes in the brain’s mood centers.
- Angela Diaz, MD, PhD, MPH: Dr. Diaz is the Jean C. and James W. Crystal Professor in Adolescent Health, Department of Pediatrics and Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine. Dr. Diaz is also the Director of the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, a unique program that provides high quality, comprehensive, integrated, interdisciplinary primary care, sexual and reproductive health, mental health, dental and health education services to teens-all for free to those without insurance. The Center has an emphasis on wellness and prevention.
- Jill Brown: Jill Brown is the President and Founder of Generation Text Online, a company whose mission is to teach programs that stop bullying and cyberbullying, and establish a safe, positive and respectful school climate. The architecture of the program works with superintendents, school administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, students and parents. Jill is also a mother of three children who are part of the online generation.
- Susan M. Swearer, PhD: Dr. Swearer is the Willa Cather Professor of Educational Psychology and a Professor of School Psychology at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. She is the co- director of the Bullying Research Network and Director of the Empowerment Initiative. Dr. Swearer is also the Inaugural Chair of Born This Way Foundation’s Research Advisory Board. For more than a decade, Dr. Swearer has developed and implemented a data-based decision-making model for responding to bullying among school-aged youth and has conducted staff trainings in elementary, middle, and high schools, and higher education settings with the goal of helping to establish cost-effective and data-based strategies to reduce bullying behaviors.
- Jeff Lima: Jeff Lima is an actor and anti-bullying activist. He is known for his film roles in Half Nelson, Popper’s Penguins and Cop Out. He is currently a re-occurring guest star on NBC’s Chicago Fire. Lima is a founding member of the Achievement Lab, an after school and summer program offering tutoring, sports and performing arts to at-risk youth in the Bronx.
- Emily Marrero: Emily is currently a freshman at SUNY Morrisville and she had previously attended Theatre Arts Production Company (TAPCo.) Emily is due to enter the Nursing Program at SUNY Morrisville and is a graduate of the Police Athletic League of New York City. Emily will speak to her own personal experiences with bullying and also her observations of bullying in the bystander role.
“Bullying and Mental Health” represents the second year of Next Generation Mental Health, an annual symposium series dedicated to children’s mental health issues and how to get help.
Thanks to our sponsors Art Findlay, Otsuka and Hope Fragrance.