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Beyond bullying


Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. It's an old journalism joke, but there is often a kernel of truth in it.

As a rule, the media's job is to sift through the spin and hype and come up with a reasonably balanced perspective. But sometimes, controversial issues take on a life of their own.

The Canadian public has been gripped by the scourge of cyberbullying, viewed against the backdrop of two high-profile teen suicides.

Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons took their own lives after experiencing brutal online taunts. Both cases have remained high up in the headlines, even though Todd's death took place more than two years ago.

CBC's "The Fifth Estate" recently focused on a questionable police response in Todd's case. The B.C. youth had been tortured for years by a seasoned cyberstalker based overseas.

Rehtaeh Parsons of Nova Scotia died in hospital after her suicide attempt. Her death has remained in the public eye because of a court case involving her alleged tormentors.

While these deaths are indeed tragic, there's an important caveat to keep in mind: bullying appears to be a rare motivator for suicide.

Postmedia's Sharon Kirkey highlighted new research out of Toronto this month that found the most common factors in youth suicide are depression and conflicts with parents.

"Researchers who examined coroner records for 94 youth aged 10 to 19 who died from suicide in Toronto over a 14-year period found bullying was a factor in (6.4 per cent) of the deaths," Kirkey wrote.

The researchers suggested suicide is most often a result of complicated factors, and not one single thing. In particular, depression played a role in about 40 per cent of cases.

Other factors include problems with girlfriends or boyfriends, problems in school and criminal or legal trouble.

They said bullying, on the other hand, was a "relatively rare" factor. Ironically, they reported, "there were no deaths where online or cyberbullying was detected."

This doesn't take away from the seriousness of online bullying, of course.

And Kirkey does cite some possible weaknesses with the report. The study was based primarily on coroner's reports, and did not include interviews with family. And it represents big city youth, which may make a difference.

But it does suggest parents should be vigilant against a variety of possible indicators, not just online activity.

Unrelated to this study, there's one more statistic to keep in mind: contrary to popular belief, the suicide rate does not rise over the Christmas period.

While many of us are susceptible to moodiness and stress, the season seems to act as a buffer against taking extreme measures.

Reprinted from The Telegram

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