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Organization steps up the fight against bullying

For the fifth annual anti-bullying day, the South Okanagan Mental Health & Addictions Coalition is getting involved, pointing out the effects bullying can have on both the bullied and the bullies.

“If you are a young person that has a mental illness, you are going to be a victim of bullying, that’s for sure,” said Sharon Evans, spokesperson for the coalition and president of the local branch of the B.C. Schizophrenia Society.

Wednesday is Pink Shirt Day, as anti-bullying day is also known, and the coalition has chosen it as the perfect day to kick off their 10th annual youth poster contest, with a theme of “Stop the Bullying.” And they’re getting the ball rolling with an information session at Penticton Secondary tonight, featuring a documentary on bullying and a panel discussion.

The film, My Kids Would Never Bully, was produced by NBC’s Dateline, using hidden cameras to look at how kids respond to bullying when they think no one is watching, using actors to portray both the bully and the bullied.

Then the parents get to watch their kids as they respond to the situation. The parents, Evans said, are convinced their children would never let the incident happen. In some cases, the kids step up, but not in all.

“They get a few shocks along the way as their kids interact in these situations,” said Evans.

Evans said details of the panel haven’t been confirmed, but they hope to have at least one panelist from a South Okanagan program dealing with drug abusers, offering a unique perspective on the long-term consequences of bullying.

“They have said what drives some of them to experiment with drugs and alcohol is being the victim of bullying,” Evans said. For a person already dealing with mental health problems, she continued, it can be especially destructive.

“Being the person who is the victim of bullying increases the tendency for depression and anxiety,” she said. “If you are somebody who is experiencing one of the psychotic disorders — for example, schizophrenia — if you are at all paranoid, being picked on is only going to increase that level of separation from reality.

“If you are having doubts about what is going on in your head in the first place, then having somebody behaving that way towards you, just escalates things.”

The cruel and harassing nature of bullying, Evans said, is not a harmless behaviour, but has enduring effects on not only the victim but the bully and bystanders as well.

“What they are finding is that for people who witness bullying and don’t step in, it causes them distress, as they question why they didn’t intervene,” she said.

The contest is open to all youth in the South Okanagan Similkameen between the ages of 11 and 18, with prizes available in three categories: poster, digital photography or a short video.

“Last year, for our first time, we took some five-minute videos,” said Evans. “We had four videos and they were really good quality. We are hoping we will see some of that coming forward again.”

While in some years the amount of entries is lower, Evans was impressed by the number of entries for the 2011 contest, which had 70 participants submitting their work. Closing date for submissions to this year’s contest is April 13, with the prizes to be awarded at a May 6 event.

“We plan to get the posters up the week before and then leave them up until the end of that week, which is mental health awareness week. It kind of all dovetails together,” said Evans.

Wednesday’s event takes place in the Pen High library from 7 to 9 p.m. Contest details are available at area middle and secondary schools or on the Canadian Mental Health Association website at http://sos.cmha.bc.ca.

 

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