Solving the bully problem takes more than a pink shirt

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In 2007, David Shepard and Travis Price decided to take a stand against bullying by handing out pink shirts to classmates at their Nova Scotia high school. The boys were inspired to do this after a fellow student was bullied on the first day of school for wearing a pink shirt.

Price and Shepard’s pink shirt movement was recognized all over the country, and inspired the creation of Pink Shirt Day. Today, February 25, in B.C., we are encouraged to wear pink shirts to show that we as a society do not tolerate any kind of bullying, whether that is in the schoolyard or in the work place.

Bullying is defined as, “a pattern of unwelcome or aggressive behaviour, often with the goal of making others uncomfortable, scared or hurt.” Often times, we dismiss bullying as simple teasing that we all have to endure at some point in our lives. However, bullying is so much more than that and can severely damage one’s emotional, mental and physical health. It is essentially a form of power control, where the aggressor is asserting control over their victim because of his or her physical appearance, cultural background, mental or physical abilities, race, religious beliefs, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation.

There are different ways that someone can bully. One can use their words to verbally bully, or use their bodies to bully in a physical manner. Bullying also occurs in a social sense, where a group acts as the aggressor by purposefully leaving out the victim or publicly embarrassing them. Bullying also happens online. The Internet and cellphones have provided us with the ability to connect with others faster and on a more public and social level. However, with this increased connectivity also comes the opportunity for people to harass others through the use of social media, email, text messages and websites.

There is no denying that Pink Shirt Day holds an important meaning in attempts to bring awareness and bring positive social change to a negative problem. Bullying comes in all different forms, and can happen at any age, but it starts young.

Kids are impressionable and what is socially important to them is to be accepted by their peers. Elementary and high schools are places where bullying is rampant and the impact on young victims is extremely damaging. According to ERASE Bullying, children or teens being bullied are socially isolated and this affects their self-esteem, confidence and their emotional, mental and physical well-being. Victims can become withdrawn, experience social anxiety or depression, start missing school, and in extreme cases, begin to have suicidal thoughts, pushing them to take their own lives.

A 2013 report on Child and Youth Suicides in British Columbia, showed that there were 91 cases of youth suicides in the province that occurred between 2008 and 2012. Of this number, 12 (13 per cent) were reported to have experienced bullying by their peers.

The impact of bullying

The impact of bullying continues into adulthood. People who were were bullied during their school aged years have reported that the psychological harm of bullying extended much farther than their youth, as they continued to experience anxiety and internalized depression.

A recent online Angus Reid Institute poll of 1,500 Canadian adults showed that 75 per cent of respondents said that they were bullied at some in elementary or high school.

These results highlight that bullying is something that one does not simply forget. It is traumatizing, and the memories of torment can stay with a person long after they leave the classroom.

In fact, bullying can continue into adulthood as it also occurs in the work place. Workplace bullying comes with a limited definition, as it is often described as “personal harassment.” The International Labor Organization gives a more extensive definition, describing workplace bullying as, “any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. These behaviours would originate from customers, co-workers at any level of the organization.”

Workplace bullying can vary from public criticism of an employee to intimidating, aggressive behaviour expressed in person or communicated through work related emails, or phone calls. According to the Canadian Safety Council, 75 per cent of victims of bullying in the work place leave their jobs. Over 72 per cent bullies at work are reported to be bosses.

Although bullying in the workplace seems like something that is not discussed as much as bullying in the school year, there is no denying that it is an on going problem. In fact, a recent report released about bullying at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) highlights that “professional bullying” goes unchecked in the hospital environment. The report is based on a survey of staff in VGH’s Jim Pattison Operating rooms. According to the survey, over 60 per cent of Vancouver Coastal Health workers had witnessed bullying occur in the work place. Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed said they were afraid to speak up at work. Moreover, destructive and negative words, such as “toxic,” “oppressive” and “depressing” were used to describe the work place environment.

Social trends

Evidently, bullying can impact anyone at any age. While Pink Shirt Day is a positive way to raise awareness about bullying, we cannot make this our only course of action.

Pink Shirt Day gets us talking about the issue. Teachers may bring up anti-bullying strategies in the classroom, and a discussion or two about harassment may occur in the work-place. However, talking about bullying and throwing on a pink shirt every February 25 is not enough.

As a society, we are good at supporting a social cause for a short amount of time. Take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge for instance. People were pouring buckets of ice water onto their heads and posting videos of them doing so on social media in order to raise money and awareness for Lou Gehrig’s disease. However, that social movement died down and now no one seems to be participating in the challenge any more.

The important thing about trying to stop bullying on a societal front is that it cannot be seen as a “cool social trend” that we partake in once a year. The conversation about bullying needs to continuously happen in one’s household, at school or in the work place. There also needs to be strict consequences for bullies so they know that their actions are not acceptable.

Much too often, when bullying gets reported, it also gets brushed to the side and people fail to take a victim’s claims seriously. When a bully’s hurtful, aggressive behaviour is damaging an individual to the point where they no longer feel accepted, safe and comfortable in the space they are in, there is no excuse for not taking action. We have to be more than bystanders because if we don’t speak up about bullying, we are also contributing to the problem.

Mental health resources also need to be valued and made more readily available. After all, much of the toll bullying takes on an individual is emotionally and mentally related. When mental health is not made a priority in schools, the work place or in society in general, there is also a lack of ways a victim can get professionally guided help about the bullying they are experiencing.

So today, wear your pink shirt with pride and check out the Pink Shirt Day website to find out more ways about how you can help create a positive change. Let that pink shirt remind you and others that bullying is serious, hurtful and harmful. Wear that pink shirt if you are really going to take a stand against bullying by being an active ally. However, leave the pink shirt in your cupboard if you are just going to wear it for show.

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About the author

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Simran Singh is a Contributor at Vancity Buzz. She is currently pursuing her Masters of Journalism at the University of British Columbia. She is a big fan of coffee, writing and exploring Vancouver. Send a story idea her way at simran@vancitybuzz.com
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