Teen Suicide and Bullying
Examining the Link Between Bullying and Suicide (and What to Do if Someone You Know is in Danger)
Bullying is a significant and complex problem in our society. We used to worry about in-person bullying — physical injuries, theft, and even vandalism. Today, in addition to bullying we also must be concerned about cyberbullying, which can be just as harmful. In 2013 the Urban Institute’s study on bullying revealed that “17% [of] students reported being victims of cyberbullying, 41% reported being victims of physical bullying, and 45% reported being victims of psychological bullying.”
In 2014 JAMA Pediatrics reported that “cyberbullying was strongly related [to] suicidal ideation in comparison with traditional bullying.” Most kids spend a lot of time online, talking to friends, but also gossiping at times. Because they see the Internet as anonymous, kids feel as though they can pretend to be someone else online (known as catfishing), and bully people in this way. This can be immensely harmful to others, as well as themselves, and can have devastating consequences.
Who, Where, Why?
Like other forms of bullying, cyberbullying can occur anywhere, by anyone. All that’s required is a device with Internet access, which is incredibly common anymore.
People from all different backgrounds are bullied. Some groups are unfortunately more likely to be bullied, such as LGBTQ youth, young people with disabilities, and individuals who tend to isolate themselves from others. Basically anyone who is different from the accepted norm in their respective community or peer group is at a higher risk of being bullied.
A bully can pick on anyone about anything. They can target those they deem to be too “weird” or different from themselves, or even someone they’re secretly jealous of. Children and young adults have been bullied for myriad reasons, from weight, to wearing the “wrong” clothing, to merely being outside a clique. Some of the warning signs that may indicate that someone is being bullied include:
- Unexplained physical injuries
- Items missing that the victim states are “lost”
- Feeling or faking illnesses, often headaches or stomach problems
- Different eating habits, whether overeating or undereating
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of interest in school and having trouble with schoolwork
- Not wanting to be in social situations or a loss of friends
- Low self-esteem and hopelessness
- Hurting themselves, speaking of suicide, and leaving home without notice
The Link Between Bullying and Suicide
Children who are bullied may be at an increased risk of suicide. However, most bullying victims do not think about suicide. Bullying itself is seldom the single cause of suicide; it’s typically a combination of issues, illnesses, or situations in the individual’s history combined with bullying that leads to suicidal thoughts. Some issues of concern include mental illness, traumas, and bad home situations. In addition, there are different groups who may have an increased risk of suicide including:
- American Indian and Alaskan Native
- Asian American
- Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth
- Kids [who] are not supported by parents, peers, and schools
How to Help With Bullying
There are many ways to help someone you know if they’re being bullied, including:
- Really listen to the individual, show that you care by paying attention.
- Let the child know that being targeted by bullies is not their fault.
- Realize that bullied children might have trouble talking about it with you. You may want to have them talk with a psychologist, psychiatrist or even a counselor at their school.
- Give them some good advice as to what to do. You may want to partake in role-playing in this situation.
- Work together with the victim, the victim’s parent(s), school, or an organization to come up with a fair solution. The child being bullied should not have to have their schedules or routines changed; they are not at fault.
How to Help With Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is new to our society and is becoming more and more common. Some children have taken their lives as a result. There are some ways you can help your child or friend prevent cyberbullying, such as cutting off communication with the bully, blocking the bully on social media sites (so they do not have any access to your postings or phone number), or complaining anonymously to the social media sites where cyberbullying is taking place — they have strict rules and will keep evidence of bullying interactions.
If you’re a parent, ways to help your child include supporting them mentally and emotionally and not forcing them to end online communications with others. When a child is the victim, being banned from participating on social media may be perceived as punishment. It’s not their fault, though, that they are being victimized. Consider speaking with the other child’s parent(s) or even the police (if the situation is serious enough). Bullying is a serious problem and can lead to many terrible events, including violence and suicide. Remember that there is always someone out there to listen and support you.