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Spike in high-risk behaviour after teen's death

Showing Amanda Todd's video in school can trigger a potentially tragic response for vulnerable students

The Burnaby school district has been dealing with a "spike" in high-risk behaviour related to the case of Amanda Todd, the Port Coquitlam teen who recently took her life after years of bullying and sexualized attacks online.

Todd posted a video on YouTube about the harassment leading up to her death, and the video went viral, drawing international attention. The B.C. Education Ministry and Burnaby school district are urging teachers not to share the video with students.

"One of the things that happens is when you have a vulnerable child in your class, and you show that video, it's considered traumatic stimuli, it can trigger a response," said Sue Dorey, the district's manager of youth services. "If there's a child in the class, and they are being bullied, and they've also thought about suicide, if you show that video to them, that stimulates that idea, and what we're dealing with is contagion and copycat effect."

Dorey told the NOW the school district has noticed a spike in high-risk behaviour following Todd's death.

"We've had no copycats, but we've been responding to a spike in behaviour, so we've had increased expressions of suicide ideation, we've had kids come forward expressing being impacted by the media," she said. "That's why we tell teachers not to show it. It's not because we don't want to have a lesson. It's too close to the event, and you don't know who in your class is vulnerable.

"If you have been bullied or you have all of these things happening in your life, and they see all the attention it's garnering, that's the fear, that there will be kids who go that route for the support they don't know how to get," Dorey added. Showing those videos tends to oversimplify things for kids, Dorey said.

"They are drawing causal relations where there are none. Usually if someone commits suicide, it's a very complex problem. It's not usually just one thing, it's a combination of things. But kids don't see that. They see the oversimplified version - that this is how you solve this problem. So we advised our teachers not to show (the video) because we didn't want to trigger any kids were weren't aware of."

Dorey said the district sent out information to principals on where kids can get help if they come forward and instructed school counsellors to check in with vulnerable students. Dorey also suggested asking students direct questions if they've seen the video.

"If this was my child, for example: Do you know anyone that has been hurt or bullied, do have any worries about them?" she said.

Dorey outlined a number of measures the district already has in place to keep kids safe. Those include teaching students about the district's code of conduct, which states that bullying, harassment, intimidation and violence are unacceptable. Schools also have counsellors who students can go to if they need help, and there's a police-related program that uses a restorative justice approach for some bullying cases, when it's appropriate.

The Education Ministry also recently emailed a memo to school districts across B.C., urging them not to show Todd's video.

"The tragic loss of Amanda Todd has resulted in extensive . media coverage. This is a traumatic event that is already contributing to an increase in suicidal ideation among some vulnerable students throughout the province and beyond," the memo states. "We are now in a critical period which is a predictable time frame for increased threat making or threat-related behaviour that will extend at least two weeks beyond when the media coverage lessens."