In the last two weeks, two deeply upsetting and tragic deaths have been reported in the media. Sam Leeson, from Gloucestershire and aged just 13, hanged himself on 5 June 2008 after being bullied via the internet, while an inquest in Wales heard this week that Cherelle Ardle, also only 13, hanged herself with a school tie after being bullied at school.
These deaths serve as a tragic reminder of the devastating consequences of bullying, and yet, disturbingly and sadly, one wonders just how many young people in the UK are driven to contemplating taking their own lives because of bullying. Beatbullying has been trying, unsuccessfully, to collate the number of suicides related to bullying using the Freedom of Information Act.
Both the Home Office and the Department of Health have refused to provide any information or declared that it is unobtainable. I have also written personally to every court of coroners in the UK to ask if they had any information or whether we could investigate, and from the few that replied, the resounding answer was, unsurprisingly, no.
It would appear that the Government is not recording, or will not tell us, why these young people are being driven to commit suicide. So Beatbullying conducted our own research. Last year, we questioned 1,769 young people aged 11-16, and 60% told us that they had been bullied. Of those being bullied, 12% had self harmed and 9% reported having suicidal thoughts.
These were shocking findings, and ones that we need to act on. I cannot imagine the hell a young person must be going through to consider taking their own life, and whilst there might be various factors that can lead to suicide, bullying is clearly one of them. Unrecognised officially, Beatbullying estimates that every year in the UK, over 20 young people commit suicide because they are being bullied.
Child suicide is a terrible thing for any family and community to deal with, and we must look at why young people consider it and work with them to stop others from doing the same. One way in which we can definitely reduce the number of incidents is to prevent bullying. We need to tackle bullying where it happens and support those that are being bullied, but most importantly, we need to implement measures to prevent it from happening in the first place. Beatbullying runs bullying prevention programmes in schools and communities, which are proven to reduce bullying by an average of 40%.
Beatbullying calculate that it costs just £4 per child per year, to run proven bullying prevention schemes in every school, for every child, and yet bullying prevention is still not at the forefront of Government considerations. However, at the launch of the Children’s Plan in April 2008, Kevin Brennan announced funding for all Local Authorities to put in place mechanisms for reviewing child deaths, and, as I understand it, the Department of Health will now record “suicide because of bullying” as a category pertaining to explainable deaths. Bullying must be listed as a cause of suicide in the child death review process, as only then will the true extent of this tragedy become clear. Faced with inescapable truths, we might finally realise the importance and necessity of making bullying prevention work available to every child in this country.