bullying and mental illnessI think bullying is a crime.  What kind of crime is up for discussion: Is it a misdemeanor, a felony, involuntary manslaughter?  Once the severity of the bullying is determined, and the circumstances and outcome are considered, it should be handled as one of the three crimes mentioned above. We especially need to consider the many children with mental illness that are bullied.

When America experiences high school shootings, often times we immediately point to the shooter as the bad guy.  Sometimes we point out that mental illness may play a key factor in the shooters actions, but rarely do we take a look at the treatment of the shooter prior to their breakdown, and how that treatment may have triggered an early onset of mental illness.

Imagine a schizophrenic child that grows up being stuffed in a locker or verbally abused by their peers.  Perhaps, in response to this abusive treatment, they develop a mental defense mechanism that results in a voice that tells them to shoot their predators.  Maybe that particular voice wouldn’t have surfaced if the child wasn’t bullied for years on end.

Case in point: Let’s say we have a shooter that is later discovered to have a mental illness.  The emergence of that illness may develop sooner if a child is constantly tortured, whether verbally or physically.  Either type of bullying is going to affect the mental state of a child. When you couple a chronic acute mental illness with such bullying, you’re looking for trouble; you’re feeding a fire that might ignite sooner than if the child hadn’t been tormented in their adolescence.  A child’s bullying environment may develop a certain voice that speaks a certain dialogue and that directly responds to those attacks, and that response can’t be good. Not only does the child become a victim of their immediate environment, but they fall victim to their own internal mind that interprets that negative environment.

I once had a patient that told me he always heard a voice telling him he was a loser, and that he wasn’t liked by anyone.  He’d suffered from voices for quite some time before he was finally admitted to the hospital.  Once he was stabilized in the psych ward, he became a mentor and an alley to other patients that responded to voices that put them down.  He’d suffered years of hearing voices, but in the psych ward he was educated on his illness.  But if a teenager gets bullied at a young age, that voice might appear early on in life with no explanation or education of its source. Survival tactics take many forms.  Survival tactics for a person suffering from a mental illness may take it to a whole other level. That voice, sprung forth by teasing or name calling, might take over the logic of that individual’s brain and result in unnecessary deaths.

While schizophrenia can be inherited, can social triggers cause it to manifest early on in a child’s life?  This is a crucial piece to consider; if that is the case, then we as a society that can’t seem to find a way to better manage bullying in schools, play a hand in perpetuating the downfall of a child suffering with mental illness that hasn’t been psychiatrically evaluated.  The bullies obviously play a direct hand in this, but we need to take a closer look at how this can be better handled before the next victim of mental illness and bullying becomes another shooter.

Having said that, if a bully preys on a child that ends up being diagnosed with an acute mental illness and, as a result, causes harm to themselves or to others, maybe that bully should be charged with a crime.

Involuntary manslaughter?

Or, is America to blaim for not taking a closer look at how mental illness and bullying can go hand in hand and do their part to educate and stop unnecessary atrocities.

What do you think?

Bully photo available from Shutterstock