Rochester, N.Y. – The chairman of the psychiatry department at the University of Rochester Medical Center says bullying legislation will not solve the problem or bullying or suicide.
“I agree we have to do something. But I think that doing legislation of that sort isn't the effective solution,” said Dr. Eric Caine, who has studied suicide and bullying. “We need to put a tremendous amount of focus on bullying. But that isn't the same thing as preventing suicide.”
New York State lawmakers are considering legislation proposed by a downstate senator that would make online bullying a misdemeanor and online bullying linked to suicide second-degree manslaughter punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The proposed legislation is prompted by several incidents nationwide of teens who committed suicide after being bullied.
Dr. Caine says bullying is common, but suicide is rare, especially among high school students. He said suicide is a complex problem.
“While there may be an occasional suicide where bullying has been a central issue, there are many other factors, typically. There are often family issues, substance abuse issues, school problems, interpersonal and peer problems, sometimes the emergence of major psychiatric disorders,” he said.
Dr. Caine said he doubt it can be proven in criminal court why someone killed himself.
Dr. Caine said suicidal teens tend to be isolated. He urges programs that encourage teens to talk among each other and with adults. He said its important to reach out to people who need help and to accept help if needed. He said teaching values is important.
“I think people have to be realistic that passing a law isn't the same thing as changing the community,” he said. “And that passing a law isn't the same thing as having people be responsible adults or responsible kids.”