Kids bullied into mental care

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 12/03/2014

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Teenagers are ending up in psychiatric care after being urged to commit suicide online, social service providers say.

Evidence of the toll of social media abuse on teenagers has been submitted to a select committee considering tougher laws against cyber-bullying.

In its submission, the Dunedin social services council and community law centre said members had dealt with teens suffering mental issues after being repeatedly urged online to end their lives.

On one occasion, a 14-year-old's identity was outed on an online forum.

Within three hours there were 150 anonymous posts, some urging the teen to "go kill yourself". The teen stopped attending school and was admitted to a psychiatric ward.

Another agency claimed that nine out of 10 young teenage girls seen by counsellors were told to kill themselves online, the submission said.

"The effects of this kind of post or text on the victims vary widely, but it is fairly common for girls to attempt suicide as a result of being told to 'go kill yourself'."

Social media could also allow already suicidal teens to connect and get advice for ending their lives.

One 15-year-old's Tumblr page was filled with anonymous tips and links to "how to kill yourself". The teen later attempted suicide.

Girls appeared to be more vulnerable than boys, but both were increasingly likely to have a social media presence, such as a Facebook page, at a younger age, the submission said.

Cyber-bullying has come under increasing scrutiny, with reported links to suicides both here and overseas.

Television personality Charlotte Dawson took her life in Sydney last month after a long and public battle with depression. She had been subjected to cyber-bullying.

In the past 18 months, the deaths of at least two teenage girls have been linked to abusive texts or online messages, with coroners calling for tougher rules for cyber-bullying.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the developed world, particularly among young men.

Youthline national spokesman Stephen Bell said bullying online was often a manifestation of problems in the real world.

However, the internet could connect people in ways that weren't previously possible, creating new opportunities as well as problems.

Social media could be used to glamorise young suicide victims or create new suicide-based communities, such as "cutting clubs". "These are clubs where self-harm is treated like a lifestyle," he said.

"We got very close to one young person going to the States to meet someone from one of these clubs."

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Law changes are before Parliament to create new criminal offences for intentionally posting "harmful" messages online and "inciting suicide". They would also allow people to complain directly to the courts.

Submissions on the changes were largely positive, but there were concerns they could have "chilling effect on free speech" online.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said the Harmful Digital Communications Bill "struck a careful balance between freedom of expression on the one hand, and preventing or reducing harm to people on the other".

- The Dominion Post

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