Australian bullying expert Evelyn Field OAM has called on medical practitioners, mental health professionals and educators to acknowledge the severe impact bullying has on the developing brain.
Ms Field will present her ‘Bully Blocking’ approach at the National Centre Against Bullying (NCAB) Conference on Thursday 28 July at the Crown Conference Centre in Melbourne. NCAB is an initiative of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.
According to Ms Field, a common sense approach to teaching children life skills is essential. Otherwise the future wellbeing and productivity of generations of young people is at risk of a seismic shift.
“We’re not taking bullying seriously, just like we didn’t take smoking seriously 30 years ago,” Ms Field said. “We have seen comprehensive studies into the experiences of identical twins, which shows significant changes in gene structure when one twin has been exposed to bullying. It’s extremely serious.
“School bullying is an epidemic and we have to start seeing bullying as causing a major brain injury in children. It changes lives forever, it causes suicide, and recent studies show children who are bullied are more likely to be overweight and suffer from heart attacks later in life.”
Ms Field has also taken aim at the medical profession, which relies on the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (DSM-5) from the American Psychiatric Association, to address the medical classification of bullying.
“We as a nation, we as a global community, do not take school bullying seriously, Ms Field said. “Why? Primarily because child psychiatrists, child psychologists, paediatricians, children’s hospitals, adolescent units and so on rely on the DSM-5 definition of child bullying as ‘disaccord with peers’.
“The DSM-5 and International Classification for Diseases (ICD-10) committees set diagnostic guidelines and therefore insurance standards for psychiatrists and psychologists around the world.
“No one has informed them that they need to take the symptoms caused by bullying more seriously.”
However, Ms Field said that if detected early enough and with the right coaching and education, victims of bullying can be helped quickly.
“It’s not necessary to see psychiatrists and psychologists for years and years if you have the right tools – once a child understands how they’re making a bully happy they stop,’’ she said. “It’s so simple. It’s all about life skills.
“We know from scientific research that the receptors in a bully’s brain light-up when they evoke a response. The target shows their vulnerability, which exacerbates the situation and encourages the bully to keep on bullying.
Although school bullying research started well before workplace bullying, particularly in terms of injuries, diagnosis and treatment, the understanding, acknowledgement and acceptance of workplace bullying is light years ahead. It’s an indication of how far we have to go.
“When we consider skills to address bullying in schools, we have to consider the skills needed to address workplace bullying. The two are different on the surface, but absolutely linked. It’s about teaching children skills for life,” Ms Field said.
The Alannah & Madeline Foundation CEO Lesley Podesta said NCAB members such as Ms Field had helped guide Australian teachers and parents to address bullying and cyberbullying during the past 14 years.
“There is so much wonderful work being done in the bullying space,” Ms Podesta said. “We are so lucky to have people like Evelyn who are at the cutting edge of bullying research.”
For more information go to ncab.org.au.
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