Parents, Community Appalled by Brutal Bullying Case

Ísabella Von

Sædís Hrönn Samúelsdóttir and her twelve-year-old daughter Ísabella Von Sædísardóttir opened up to local media yesterday about the brutal campaign of bullying that the latter has suffered at the hands of classmates. Abusers encouraged Ísabella to “try again,” following a failed suicide attempt. Parents must shoulder greater responsibility, the Chair of Hafnarfjörður’s City Council has stated.

Hateful messages and physical abuse

As reported by RÚV yesterday, Ísabella Von is an eighth-grader at the Hraunvallaskóli primary school in Hafnarfjörður. Having long been bullied by her classmates, she recently attempted suicide by overdosing on her mother’s prescription drugs. Ísabella notified her mother, who drove her to the Children’s Hospital for treatment. She returned home yesterday.

“I felt like everyone would be happy if I went through with it. That’s what everyone has told me,” Ísabella told RÚV.

Sædís Hrönn Samúelsdóttir, Ísabella’s mother, maintains that she can name at least 35 children who have sent her daughter hateful messages; although the ones sent anonymously are worse. Ísabella has also been attacked physically twice, once at the Smáralind shopping mall, which was recorded and shared on social media. After the beating, she received the following message:

“She probably began fucking bawling. If there hadn’t been people around, she probably would have been fucking dead (…) You should have been fucking dead, Ísabella.”

Sædís says that psychologists with the National Agency for Children and Family have tried to offer assistance; that they’ve applied for so-called MST intervention, which is a cross-institutional treatment geared towards aiding parents in helping their children cope. “The school has also tried to help, but she just doesn’t show up,” Sædís remarked.

Parents’ Association, Mayor Respond

After news of the bullying broke, the Parents’ Association of Hraunvallaskóli released a public statement on Facebook. The association was “shocked by revelations” in the media yesterday and has called a meeting with school administrators.

“It’s important to tackle such matters with determination and to activate protocols. Also, we, as parents, administrators, and school employees must work together toward constructive solutions that put our children’s welfare first. The Parents’ Association will try its utmost, circumstances allowing.”

Mayor of Hafnarfjörður Rósa Guðbjartsdóttir also weighed in on the matter on Facebook yesterday, encouraging a show of empathy, responsibility, and love.

“It’s been heartrending, hearing of the violence that our young girl in Hafnarfjörður has suffered. All of the world’s specialists […] will never replace us as custodians and parents. Let us talk to our children, monitor their activities more closely, explain to them the seriousness of their actions and the consequences of treating other people poorly. The simple message: ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ It is so important and true.”

Chair of Hafnarfjörður City Council weighs in

Speaking to RÚV yesterday, Valdimar Víðisson, Chair of Hafnarfjörður’s City Council, stated that bullying was not endemic to Hafnarfjörður. “Bullying in primary school is, unfortunately, our current reality. We must find ways to respond.”

Valdimar says that social media is playing an increasingly larger role. “It’s a reality with which we’ve been unable to adequately deal,” Valdimar observed, adding that some of the options available are helpful, although uprooting bullying always necessitates the involvement of parents.

“It’s often the case that schools are left screaming into the void because there isn’t a lot of participation. But parents must take part, as well as society at large.”

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out to Red Cross Iceland (Phone No. 1717) or the Píeta Association (Phone No. 552-2218)

New Sonar Technology To Be Used in River Search

Authorities hope to soon locate the car of an Icelandic man who drove into the Ölfusá river just outside of Selfoss, South Iceland at around 10 pm on Tuesday night, RÚV reports. Nearly a hundred people participated in the search for 51-year-old Páll Mar Guðjónsson but so far, no sign of Páll’s car or any clues to its whereabouts have been found.

The initial search, which was made more difficult by strong winds and heavy rains, continued until close to 3 am on the first night, with an additional 100 people joining in before the evening was out. It continued on a smaller scale the next day, during which time, authorities also held a consultation meeting with multiple diving teams. Smaller spot-searches were also conducted on Thursday and Friday by boat and a larger-scale volunteer-run search is planned to take place over the weekend.

Meanwhile, after consulting with the diving specialists, searchers have decided that they will experiment with multibeam echosounder measurements over the riverbed, which will be taken in the ravine where the car entered the water and give them a clearer picture of the river depth as well as return point measurements.

This is the first time that this technology will have been used in a search here in Iceland, but searchers need to wait for the right weather conditions before they can proceed. Current weather forecasts suggest that it will be possible to take the multibeam measurements in the middle of the coming week, when there will be warmer temperatures and less precipitation.

No Prison Psychiatrist in Five Years

Litla hraun prison Iceland

There hasn’t been a psychiatrist working in Icelandic prisons for more than five years, despite that fact that prisoners are guaranteed mental health services by law, RÚV reports. Three individuals incarcerated in Icelandic prisons have committed suicide in the last two years, a fact that is being linked by some to the increasing disarray of prison mental health services.

Three suicides in two years

An Icelandic man just over the age of 40 committed suicide at Litla-Hraun prison last Tuesday. According to DV, the man was sentenced last January to 12 months in prison after repeatedly driving under the influence of drugs. According to the court judgement, the man had previously violated traffic, but not criminal, law.

Anna Gunnhildur Ólafsdóttir, the managing director of Geðhjálp, the Icelandic Mental Health Alliance, says that mental health services in Icelandic prisons are in shambles. “There are four psychologists that have to care for over 1,000 prison clients, and it goes without saying that this is, of course, all too few and there’s a several-week wait for a psychological appointment. There’s no psychiatrist working at Litla-Hraun and in light of the fact that 50-75% of prisoners serving time have mental illnesses, this is a completely unacceptable situation.”

While Anna Gunnhildur was unable to comment on the particular case of the man who recently committed suicide, she affirmed that treatment for incarcerated individuals who struggle with both mental illness and drug addiction is also lacking.

Shortage of mental health services throughout the country

The Ministry of Justice has commented on the current state of mental health services in Icelandic prisons, saying that the human rights of prisoners in Iceland are not guaranteed in this respect as there is a shortage of mental health services throughout the country overall, not just within prisons.

In a radio interview in December, Páll Winkel, the Director-General of Prison and Probation Administration, said that sometimes, prisoners with mental illnesses do not receive parole because there aren’t any accommodations for them outside of prison. Páll pointed to the cases of two prisoners who had committed the same offense: one, who did not struggle with mental illness, received parole, while the other, who did have psychiatric problems, served his full sentence.

“At any given time, there are two to three people in prison who should by rights be in a mental health institution,” remarked Anna Gunnhildur, but for one reason or another, the hospital has often not been confident in admitting seriously ill prisoners in spite of the completely clear legal basis in that regard.”

Nearly a Third of Young Women in Iceland Have Considered Suicide

Nearly a third of Icelandic girls and a fourth of Icelandic boys aged 16 to 20 have considered suicide, RÚVreports. This finding was among those reported in a long-term study conducted on behalf of the Directorate of Health: “Suicidal Thoughts and Suicide Attempts Among Icelandic Young People: Findings of Upper Secondary Surveys, 2000-2016.”

The percentage of students who have considered suicide has not changed much since the surveys were initiated in 2000. That first year, 27% of girls aged 16-20 and 23% of boys of the same age reported having had suicidal thoughts. In 2016, the same percentage of boys reported affirmatively to this question (23%), as did a slightly higher percentage of girls, or 33%.

In terms of actual suicide attempts, the percentage remained fairly consistent for boys over the sixteen years of surveys—5% in 2000, increasing to 7% in 2016. Among young women, however, there’s been more volatility in this area. In 2000, 9% of women aged 16-20 reported that they’d attempted suicide, which increased to 11% in 2005. Five years later, in 2010, the percentage dropped to 7%, before going up again to 12% in 2016.

Around half of the young women and a third of the young men who participated in the surveys reported that someone close to them had told them about having attempted suicide. These percentages were consistent over the duration of the surveys.

The results of this study showed that upper secondary school students who have known someone who exhibits suicidal behavior are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and show suicidal behavior themselves. Students who had been told by a peer that the person had had suicidal thoughts were, in fact, twice as likely to seriously consider or attempt suicide themselves. Young people who had a close friend attempt suicide were two times as likely to seriously consider suicide and three times as likely to make an attempt on their own lives.

The most serious risk factors for attempting suicide were found to be as follows: having a close friend who had attempted suicide, depression, anger, being a victim of sexual violence, and cannabis use. Students who did not have much support from friends and/or family, or who had for some reason become cut off from their friends were also shown to be more likely to have suicidal thoughts or to attempt to kill themselves.

See the full results of the survey (in Icelandic) here.