Bullying and teen suicides and what can be done


As face-to-face classes have recently resumed in nearly all schools in the Philippines, the issue of bullying and teen suicide have become hot topics in various chat groups as incidents of student suicide attempts have been recently reported in schools due to bullying, albeit school administrations choosing to keep these instances hush hush to keep the privacy of the victims and their families.

As a health advocate, I partnered with experts and mental health advocates at the first phase of the lockdown in 2020 to promote mental health awareness particularly for children and teens. It was a period when we received reports of several kids suffering from anxiety, stress, and sadly, self-harm including suicide. One of my partners in our mental health awareness campaigns, psychiatrist and chief resident at Green City Medical Center Dr. JM Chu said “schools should adopt policies to address the existence of bullying in their respective institutions. They should provide trainings and information dissemination to both school age youths and to parents to reduce bullying and increase positive parenting practices. It is very important to teach kids how to react the right way.”

Under the Philippine law, there are several types of bullying. Under Republic Act 10627, bullying is “any severe or repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal, or electronic expression, or a physical act or gesture, or any combination thereof, directed at another student that has the effect of actually causing or placing the latter in reasonable fear of physical or emotional harm or damage to his property; creating a hostile environment at school for the other student; infringing on the rights of the other student at school; or materially and substantially disrupting the education process or the orderly operation of a school.”

Aside from the obvious form which is physical, slanderous accusations that cause emotional distress such as name-calling, is also covered by the law. Cyber-bullying or bullying done through any electronic means is likewise punishable under the law.

As bullying greatly happens in schools, another law to protect the students and parents is Republic Act 10627, or the Act Requiring All Elementary and Secondary Schools to Adopt Policies to Prevent and Address the Acts of Bullying in their Institutions. With this law in place, students are enabled to report even anonymously any type of bullying. School principals or authorized representatives are mandated to report to law enforcement authorities reported bullying cases that can be described as a crime where charges may be filed under the revised Criminal Code. This requires schools to be more vigilant and pro-active, from taking disciplinary administrative action, to notifying law enforcement, the guardians of the bully and the victim to prevent further cases of bullying. Non-compliance from schools can result in penalties and suspension of permits to operate.

As for teachers or school personnel who are found to perpetrate bullying, Senate Bill No. 2793 penalizes bullies with a fine of not less than ₱50,000 to ₱100,000, and/or by imprisonment from six months to a year. If the bullying has resulted in the student attempting suicide, the penalty is a fine of at least ₱100,000 to ₱500,000 and/or imprisonment for a period of one to three years. If the attempted suicide results in the death of the victim, the penalty is a fine of not less than ₱500,000 to ₱1 million and/or imprisonment for a period of three to six years.

“In situations where there is a suicide attempt, my advice to parents is to, first, keep calm. 2. Listen. 3. Focus on their well-being and avoid being accusatory. 4. Do not judge. 5. Reassure them that there is help and what they are feeling right is not permanent. 6. Provide constant supervision. 7. And get help immediately,” Dr. Chu added.

While it may not always be easy for parents to know if their kids are victims of bullying aside from the more apparent physical evidence like wounds and bruises, here are some of the tell-tale sign’s adults should watch out for:

  1. Mood swings.

  2. Changes in eating habits.

  3. Changes in sleeping pattern.

  4. Less to no friends.

  5. Failing grades.

Dr. Chu reminds parents and guardians, “establishing good communication is the key if the parent finds out that their kids are getting bullied. Keep it very general for younger kids, but if you suspect a problem or your child has verbalized a problem, encourage them to talk about it openly. Always listen, and keep your emotions at bay. Getting frustrated or angry won't help your kids. Listen, reassure and support them. They need to see you as their stable and strong ally.”