By Judy Wakefield
---- — Bullying is often seen as a school problem, but the 60-plus population isn’t immune to it either.
Jason Ebacher, an assistant superintendent and director of staff training and development in the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, visited Andover’s senior center last Thursday, June 13, to talk about senior bullying.
His visit came two days before the United Nations-designated World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which is June 15.
Ebacher said bullying among seniors doesn’t typically involve physical contact, but rather takes the form of verbal confrontations — and that can create chaos at senior centers.
Senior centers are generally seen as welcoming, happy places, Ebacher said. But bullies can ruin that atmosphere, he said.
“I’ve seen where that happens,” said Ebacher, who has been called out to senior centers where conflict has resulted in unhealthy situations.
Victims of bullying typically feel rejected and won’t come back to a center, Ebacher said. The result is they withdraw socially and often become depressed.
“So, they stay home and don’t go out,” he said. “And, that’s not good.”
Kathy Urquhart, director of The Center at Punchard (Andover’s senior center), said there have been instances of bullying at her center in the past. She encourages victims to notify her or her staff when it happens so they can speak to the person doing the bullying.
Sometimes, there might be another matter at the root cause of the bullying, she said. And Urquhart’s goal is to find out what that is.
“There could be a medical problem — someone could be off medication — and that contributes to bully behavior,” Urquhart said.
Ebacher also said bystanders play an important role when bullying is involved.
“Research shows that bystanders speaking up are effective about 50 percent of the time,” he said.
The bottom line is verbal aggression and bullying will not be tolerated at the Andover senior center or anywhere else, said those hoping to combat it.
“We just want victims to tell us if they are bullied,” Urquhart said.