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The serious -- and sometimes silent -- mental health effects of bullying

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -  A Polk County high school has lost two teens to suicide in three months. Both teens reported being bullied at Copper Basin High School prior to their deaths. It's a story many of you have asked Channel 3 to follow.

We spoke with a mental health professional about the serious -- and sometimes silent -- effects bullying can have on children.

"For a teacher to look at a situation and say, 'Well, it's not that incredibly severe. It's not that bad.' It's something that needs to be taken a little more seriously," said Farlie Chastain, Director of Social Services at Parkridge Valley Hospital.

Chastain helps treat kids dealing with the mental and emotional damage associated with being bullied. He  says bullying can start as early as elementary school, and may not end after high school.

"If a kid says, 'I'm being picked on. People don't like me. I don't have any friends.' Those are huge warning signs," Chastain said, adding that it's common for kids who get picked on to develop mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Some more serious cases of bullying can produce suicidal thoughts or even suicide attempts, according to Chastain.

While physical bullying tends to peak in middle school, verbal bullying becomes a bigger issue high school. He said teachers and parents need to pay close attention.

"It may not appear to be that big of a deal, but the perception that child has of how other people are treating them is their reality," said Chastain.

There are signs to look for: if a child's behavior suddenly changes; they no longer want to go to school; grades slip; students come home with bruises or damaged school supplies.

Knowing someone cares can help save a child's life.

"You may say, 'Well, that kid's just trying to get attention.' Maybe. But on the flip side of that, that kid may really be in a crisis. And if you have a kid in a crisis, you've got to do something."

If your child is a victim of bullying, Parkridge has a 24-hour crisis hotline parents can call to get help. Teachers can use it, too. The number to the RESPOND line is (423) 499-2300 or 1-800-542-9600.

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