“You can’t always stop a bully, but you can reach out to someone being bullied so they don’t feel so alone.”
—From Dianne Grossman’s Facebook page
Mallory Grossman was a 12-year-old cheerleader and gymnast whose smile lit up a room. Her parents called her an “old soul” and a “free spirit.” She spent her free time raising money for childhood cancer. She loved flowers of all kinds—fitting for a girl whose middle name was “Rose.” On June 14, after months of being bullied in text messages, Instagram posts, and Snapchats, Mallory took her own life (After months of bullying, a 12-year-old New Jersey girl killed herself. Her parents blame the school. The Washington Post, Aug. 2, 2017).
Repeated pleas for help were ignored by both the school Mallory attended and the parents of the girls who tormented her, according to Mallory’s parents, Seth and Dianne Grossman. Just hours before her daughter’s death, Dianne spoke to one of those parents, who dismissed the bullying by calling it a “big joke.”
Sadly, Mallory is not alone. More than one-third of middle and high school students report being cyberbullied in their lifetime, and nearly three-quarter report bullying of any kind. Suicide rates among adolescent girls are increasing, and bullying is a significant risk factor for suicidal thoughts and ideation.
Like many children who experience cyberbullying, Mallory was also bullied in person. But cyberbullying is harder to escape. It can happen anytime, day or night, and can reach kids when they are alone. Messages can spread widely and be difficult to control. Mallory exhibited many of the signs of someone being bullied, including physical health problems, academic troubles, and fear of going to school. When Mallory’s grades began to plummet, her teachers were focused solely on her academics—not her emotional well-being.
Mental Health First Aid teaches people of all ages – from parents and teachers to young people themselves – to #BeTheDifference in the lives of someone like Mallory. First Aiders are trained to recognize and respond to signs of distress and help people find appropriate assistance.
As we head toward the start of the new school year, it’s important to remember that for kids who have been targeted by bullying and harassment, back-to-school can be a nightmare. With the skills learned in Youth Mental Health First Aid, teachers can pay attention to their students’ behaviors and create spaces for them to reveal whether they are concerned about bullying or other social issues at school.
Most important, Mental Health First Aid raises awareness that emotional health and well-being are just as important as physical health. Mental health problems are nothing to be ashamed of and can be prevented and treated.
Even one life lost is one too many, so it’s time for all Americans to become trained in this potentially lifesaving program. We haven’t a moment to lose.