Dr Mona O’Moore of Trinity College Dublin, founder of the anti-bullying research and resource centre at the Department of Education, presented the results of an anti-bullying study to the annual conference of the Irish Association of Suicidology and the National Suicide Review Group in Tralee yesterday.
The study, conducted in Donegal primary schools in the past three years, showed that after 42 teachers received special training, bullying among 800 pupils was cut by 25%.
Dr O’Moore said the Donegal model could be replicated through each of the 42 teaching centres for both primary and second level schools.
While the Department of Education had come up with guidelines in 1993, it had not devoted enough resources to implementing them, she said.
“It’s a terrible shame. We have the experts and there should be a greater commitment,” Dr O’Moore told the 250 delegates.
She said there was no doubt bullying resulted in a severe loss of self-esteem, hopelessness, helplessness and then isolation.
However, Dr Brendan Byrne, who has written two books on the subject, said that while victims of bullying often had suicidal thoughts, there was not enough research to link the two.
“Most of the information we have is anecdotal, but I have no doubt that two cases I have come across involved a major element of bullying,” he said.
“Bullying was one of a number of different factors and the conclusion I came to was that there were at least four other factors ahead of it,” he said.
The conference was also told bullying was a factor in 12 suicides per year in British schools.
Dr Byrne said the old fear among victims that if they told someone they were “ratting” still persisted.
When a bully was reported, however, he advised schools against adopting a traditional confrontational approach, which was counter-productive.
“A more sensitive, subtle and low-key approach is required,” he said adding that all the victims usually wanted was the bullying to stop, rather than expulsion or other punishment.
A difficulty, however, was that a person being bullied did not generally want to talk about it and 80% of people being seriously bullied never told anyone.
Dr Byrne said name-calling, teasing, taunting and pushing and shoving went on in every school, but such behaviour was not necessarily bullying.
“A once-off incident usually is not bullying. In bullying, we are talking about a situation where there is repeated, systematic behaviour with the same person being singled out,” he said.
Dr Byrne said bullies also needed help and a common characteristic among them was a total inability to feel the effects of what they were doing on someone else.