What parents need to know about 'bullycide'

The death of a girl who died by what her parents call “bullycide” is raising questions about whether suicide can be attributed to bullying.

Ashawnty Davis, a 10-year-old student at Sunrise Elementary in Aurora, Colo., died Wednesday after spending two weeks on life support at Children’s Hospital Colorado because she had hanged herself in a closet in her home.

Can suicide be attributed to bullying? (Photo: Getty Images)
Can suicide be attributed to bullying? (Photo: Getty Images)

The girl’s mother, Latoshia Harris, told Denver local news affiliate KDVR that after being bullied, her daughter had been further harassed at school after a video of her confronting the female bully was posted to the video app Musical.ly.

“I saw my daughter was scared,” Harris told the news station. Her father, Anthony Davis, added that the girl was “devastated” to discover the incident had been shared online.

“My daughter came home two weeks later and hanged herself in the closet,” said Harris, who also told CNN that the Cherry Creek School District turned a blind eye to what her daughter endured.

“There was nothing done about it,” Harris told CNN. “When I got the call telling me that my daughter had been in a fight, they never gave me the opportunity to meet with the other parents to come to the bottom of the line.”

Abbe Smith, a spokesperson for the school, told CNN that the footage was sent to the Aurora Police Department and that the students involved in the fight, which occurred on a campus field and outside school hours, had been addressed.

“The school did not receive any complaints from students or parents that the student was being bullied,” Smith said. “We do not tolerate bullying of any kind in our schools, and we have a comprehensive bullying prevention program in place at all of our schools for grades K-12. The safety and well-being of students is our highest priority and we strive every [day] to ensure schools are safe, welcoming and supportive places that support learning.”

However, Davis isn’t satisfied with that response. “With the last breath in my life I’m going to make sure that the unfortunate kids are able to go to school comfortably and learn,” she told CNN.

Bullycide, a term for suicide as a result of bullying, has been circulating on the internet in regard to other cases, such as 13-year-old Rosalie Avila of Yucaipa, Calif., who, as of Sunday, was on life support after attempting suicide. Her father, Freddie, read excerpts of his daughter’s school experiences, recorded in her journal, to CBS News: “‘They told me I was ugly today. They were making fun of me today about my teeth.’”

However, according to Julie Cerel, president of the nonprofit American Association of Suicidology, bullycide is a misleading term. “Suicide is never [caused by] just one thing — lots of people are bullied who don’t die by suicide,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Pointing to one event oversimplifies a complicated issue and makes prevention more difficult.”

Data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supports that point. According to the CDC website, kids who are bullied — and those who bully — are at a higher risk for suicide. However, most kids who are involved in bullying don’t attempt suicide.

Cerel says various factors can be at play, such as pathology (if a person has mental health issues, for example) or, in the case of younger people, impulsiveness. And per the CDC, kids at risk for suicide often deal with many types of stressors, including peer, romantic, family, and mental. “Bullying can be the last event that’s reported on, but we often don’t know the trajectory of what leads a person there,” says Cerel.

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all checklist to help pinpoint if a person is contemplating suicide, whether or not the person being bullied. “However, if a kid is clearly stating that they don’t want to live, parents should open that conversation,” says Cerel. “It’s untrue that you can plant the idea of suicide in someone’s head who wasn’t already considering it.” You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for support and resources.

Being empathetic and lending an ear are also key. “Saying things like ‘Things will get better’ is often ineffective, since people who are suicidal experience cognitive constriction, a state of mind that prevents the belief that there’s hope,” says Cerel.

In the case of cyberbullying, parents should have meaningful conversations about what their kids are reading online. “It can be effective to do this before the teenage years, when kids still value the opinion of their parents over their peers,” says Cerel. “Social media can be a teachable moment.”

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