EDMONTON- The number of cases of youth suicides linked to cyberbullying is on the rise, according to pediatric experts who are in Edmonton this week for a conference on child and youth health.
“The terrible thing about cyberbullying is that one can never escape it,” said Dr. John Leblanc, an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Dalhousie University. “If you’re a youth, you want to be involved in social media. It’s a very important way to stay connected, which means that you can’t escape it. You go home, it’s there. You’re at school, it’s there.
Leblanc is in Edmonton presenting the findings of a study he conducted on the link between cyberbullying and suicide to The Canadian Pediatric Society’s annual conference.
“What’s alarming is how quickly it’s increasing,” he explained. “People do things on the keyboard they would never do face-to-face.”
According to the study, in 2001, one case of youth suicide was reported. By 2012, there were 36 reported suicides. Between those years, there were 103 reported cases of youth suicide linked to online bullying; seven of which were in Canada. Leblanc says 50 per cent of suicide victims were 15-years-old or younger, and 65 per cent of victims were female.
LeBlanc says young girls looking for approval are easy targets for bullies.
“They’ll post things like ‘Do I look okay? What do you think of this dress?’ And there are people out there, they’re called trolls, that are just looking for anybody they can victimize,” he explained. “Sometimes it’s complete strangers that will post back saying ‘you’re fat, you’re ugly. Nobody would care if you killed yourself.’ It’s awful, the things that one reads.”
LeBlanc says another part of his study looked at how to detect signs of depression in young people early on. He says a crucial part of this process involves parents being involved in what’s going on in their children’s lives.
“Youth can hide their mental states very well,” LeBlanc explained.
Experts say it’s important for parents to watch for changes in their children’s behaviour, such as avoiding friends or a change in eating patterns.
“If your children’s behaviour is changing, find out what’s going on. Because they might not have the words, they might be too afraid,” explained Nancy McCalder, executive director of The Support Network, an organization that helps individuals and families in crisis.
“Talk to them in their bedroom where they’re comfortable, they’ve got some privacy, or in the car. Lots of times they’ll talk in the car because they’re not eyeball-to-eyeball with you,” added McCalder.
And Leblanc says the conversation needs to start early.
“The way to start is to do it when your children are young. When they first get a smartphone you have a contract with them and you say ‘If I read anything on your post- either to you or from you- that is negative to another person, you’re going to lose your phone for a period of time.'”
Alberta has a helpline for both children and adults looking for advice or support on bullying. Experts can be reached at 1-888-456-2323 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Kids Help Phone can help anyone in any community across Canada, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The organization can be reached at 1-800-668-6868.
With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News.