This Suicide Note Exposes the Way Our Schools Are Failing Bullied Kids

August 15th 2016

Lucy Tiven

A letter penned by a 13-year-old boy from Staten Island, New York, who recently committed suicide has spurred an important conversation about bullying.

In his note, 13-year-old Danny Fitzpatrick recounted how his comments about being bullied were dismissed by school officials, local news outlet PIX11 reports.

"I am writing this letter to tell about my experience in Holy Angels Catholic Academy," Fitzpatrick wrote. "At first it was good ... lots of friends, good grades and great life. But I moved and went back but it was different. My old friends changed they didn't talk to me they didn't even like me."

In the letter, which was reportedly written in July, Fitzpatrick alleged that when he began sixth grade, he was bullied by an old friend and four other peers. Though a teacher eventually intervened once, he said "it didn't last long."

In a Facebook Live video aired on Saturday, Fitzpatrick's father said that when the family went to the school's principal, he was told, "He'll be fine."

"'You have to try harder Danny,'" he alleged the principal told his son. "'Oh, I know, I know, these things will pass. Children can be such horrible creatures.'"

"I miss my son very much," he said on Facebook Live. "No parent should have to bury their child. No child should have to go through what my son went through."

Carolyn Erstad, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn diocese, maintained that the school acted appropriately, PIX11 reports. "I spoke at length with the school principal, with one of Danny's teachers," she said. "They loved Danny. They cared about this young boy, and they sincerely believe they did everything in their power to help him."

Research has shown that bullying has detrimental long, term effects on the mental health of children and adolescents.

A 2014 study published in Psychological Science found that victims of bullying were six times more likely to develop a psychiatric disorder than those who were not victims of bullying.

“We cannot continue to dismiss bullying as a harmless, almost inevitable, part of growing up,” study author Dieter Wolke wrote. “We need to change this mindset and acknowledge this as a serious problem for both the individual and the country as a whole; the effects are long-lasting and significant.”

In yet another study, published in 2015 and reported by the Los Angeles Times, researchers found that 13-year-olds who were frequently bullied were three times more likely to become depressed as adults than those were not bullied.

In 2014, suicide was the second leading cause of death in children between the ages of 10 and 14, according to the CDC.

The CDC and Department of Education released their first definition of bullying in 2014: "The core elements of the definition include: unwanted aggressive behavior; observed or perceived power imbalance; and repetition of behaviors or high likelihood of repetition."

Though some types of bullying constitute crimes of harassment and assault, subtler forms can prove more difficult to pin down and punish on a school by school basis. Students who are bullied are at a high risk for mental health and behavioral problems, according to a 2015 CDC report (PDF).

According to a 2013 survey reported by the CDC, 20 percent of high school students reported that they were "bullied on school property in the 12 months preceding the survey."

To combat bullying, the CDC recommends schools implicate and enforce anti-bullying policies and school officials and parents work cooperatively to address the issue.

[h/t PIX11]