In recent years, the media has broadcast an increasing number of stories that link bullying and suicide. However, researchers are still looking to establish a concrete connection between these two behavioral phenomenons. The world’s suicide rates are on the rise. Meanwhile, bullying is declining around the world. The stark contrast between these statistics has helped birth a meaningful conversation.
Bullying affects children, teens, and adults. The impact of bullying resonates with both the victims, witnesses, and perpetrators. According to the U.S Centers for Disease Control (CDC), youth who report bullying others and those that have been the victims of bullying are at the highest risk for suicide-related behaviors. Nevertheless, researchers continue to collect evidence in an attempt to find a connection between these two destructive behavioral phenomenons. In the meantime, public health officials strive to develop plans and policies to help prevent these sorts of behaviors.
What Is Bullying?
Are you wondering what constitutes bullying? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Education, bullying falls into the following three categories:
- Unwanted aggressive behavior
- Observed or perceived power imbalances
- Repetition or high likelihood of repetition of bullying behaviors
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), nearly 21% percent of students report being bullied during the school year. These bullying behaviors may be verbal, physical, or gestural.
While technology is an integral piece of modern society, it also serves as a platform for bullying. Cyberbullying is defined as online or electronic-based bullying. Cyberbully takes place through text messages, apps, social media pages, online forums, logs, etc. It may consist of negative, harmful, or false information that is spread through virtual spaces. Due to the permanent and public nature of the internet, cyberbully is a unique concern of mental health officials.
According to the latest statistics, one out of three adolescents has been the victim of cyberbullying. To make matters worse, over 50% of teenage cyberbullying victims do not share their experiences and concerns with their parents.
Cyberbullying presents a set of unique challenges for society. Online instances of bullying are often permanent, anonymous, and wide-spread. There are typically more victims in cases of cyberbullying. Moreover, online bullies and their victims usually have a bigger audience.
According to one recent study, young victims of cyberbullying are twice as likely to self-harm or attempt suicide. Here are just a few things we can do to stop this dangerous cycle:
- Pass policies that protect school-aged children from cyberbullying
- Screen bully-victims and bullies for suicidal thoughts and tendencies
- Monitor children’s online activities
- Teach responsible online citizenship
- Develop school-based anti-bullying policies
As of 2018, 48 states have passed laws that govern cyberbullying and online harassment. However, these laws cannot be the only safeguards that protect our children.
What Makes Individuals More Vulnerable To Bullying?
There are several pre-existing conditions that make children, teens, and adults more susceptible to bullying. These include but are not limited to:
- Learning disabilities
- Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Depression and other mental health issues
- Socially awckwardness
- LGBTQ people
- Suicidal behaviors
- Substance abuse
Parents, educators, and mental health professionals must work to safeguard the nation’s most vulnerable populations. One way we can help them is by learning to recognize and respond to the telltale signs of bullying.
Victims and perpetrators of bullying are at risk for developing the following:
- Psychosomatic symptoms
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse problems
Suicide and Depression
In recent years, researchers have found an alarming but unsurprising correlation between bullying, cyberbullying, and depression. Accordingly, victims of in-person and cyberbullying are both four times more likely to experience depression. What’s more, these individuals are five times more likely to self-injure or attempt suicide.
What Is Suicide?
Sadly, suicide is one of the nation’s leading causes of death. Suicide is a complex issue that relates to thoughts and attempts of self-inflicted injuries and, ultimately, self-inflicted death. Many people think about or plan for suicide long before they attempt to take their own lives. Suicide is down into three categories, including:
Suicide: Self-inflected injuries that are intended to result in death
Suicide attempts: Nonfatal self-inflicted injuries that are intended to result in death
Suicide ideation: Thoughts and plans of suicide
Sadly, youth suicide rates on the rise in the United States. While suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for Americans of all ages, it is the second leading cause of death for American individuals between the ages of 15 and 24.
Are Suicide and Bullying Connected?
There is no doubt that the media has blown the connection between bullying and suicide out of proportion. However, there is still a relevant correlation between these two behavioral phenomenons. Victims of bullying have a slightly increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide attempts. With that said, suicide perpetrators are at an even higher risk of developing suicide ideation or attempting suicide.
Bullying-related suicide is connected to all types of bullying, including physical bullying and cyberbullying. The connection between bullying and suicide is complex. Nevertheless, we know that individuals with pre-exisiting vulnerabilities are more likely to become victims of bullying. Moreover, bullying is likely to result in adverse feelings, including:
- Decreased self-esteem
- Decreased self-worth
Bullying may lead some people to consider suicide. However, several other risk factors can contribute to a person’s suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Mental illness, substance abuse, family dysfunction, psychosis, and impulsion are far more likely to result in suicidal behaviors. While bullying is undoubtedly harmful, it is rarely the only factor that contributes to suicide. In truth, the relationship between these two phenomenons is often sensationalized and propagated by the media.
How You Can Help
Parents, teachers, and health professionals must learn to recognize the telltale signs of bullying and suicide. If you notice someone you love or care about displaying warning signs of suicide, you should talk with them and work to get them the help they need. Studies show that increased parental involvement is associated with a decreased risk of bullying.
Fortunately, several local and national organizations offer free and confidential help to victims of suicide and bullying. Still, it is important to note that the outcomes of preventative interventions are not always consistent. On average, bullying only decreases by 20% to 23%.
While bullying has changed over the years, it is not a new phenomenon. We must work to prevent bullying before it occurs. Moreover, we must strengthen the resilience and well-being of potential victims.
Warning Signs of Suicide
According to S.A.V.E. (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), these are the most common warning signs of suicide:
- Someone threatening to hurt or kill themself
- Someone talking about wanting to die
- Someone who possesses the means to hurt themself
- Somone who is searching for or researching ways to harm or kill themself
- Someone who participates in online or in-person discussions about suicide or death
Many professional counselors also a mnemonic suicide assessment tool to determine if their clients are at risk. In short, IS PATH WARM is an acronym that stands for:
Ideation: Has the person threatened suicide or communicated a desire to commit suicide?
Substance abuse: Has the person recently started abusing substances or increased their use of drugs or alcohol?
Purposefulness: Does the person lack a reason for living?
Anger: Does the person have anger or rage toward others?
Trapped: Does the person feel trapped?
Hopelessness Does the person have a poor self-image or lack of hope?
Withdrawing: Is the person withdrawing from friends, family, or society?
Anxiety: Is the person experiencing increased anxiety or stress?
Recklessness: Is the person impulsive? Are they participating in dangerous or risky behaviors?
Mood: Is the person experiencing unregulated mood swings?
Common Signs of Bullying
Statistics show that an alarming number of bullying victims do not reach out to adults. Therefore, it is important for parents, caregivers, teachers, and clinicians to learn to recognize the telltale signs of bullying. Here are some of the most common signs of bullying:
- Someone is acting differently than normal
- Anxiety, sadness, depression
- Someone is struggling to complete normal tasks
- Lack of focus or interest in everyday tasks
- Thoughts of helplessness, hopelessness, or suicide ideations
Stop Bullying is a website run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It provides people with facts and resources related to bullying. There are tips for kids, teens, and caregivers.
Tolerance.org is an online database of anti-bullying resources. Visitors can view and share a free anti-bullying documentary, read anti-bullying tips, or discover several anti-bullying organizations.
Committee for Children
The Committee for Children has a bullying prevention program. The site includes an SEL curriculum for classrooms around the nation.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free 24/7 support number for people in need of crisis resources. People can call 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to chat. The service is confidential.
In recent years, the United States has made an effort to stop the spread of bullying behaviors. The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) is a federal law that intends to stop bullying and harassment in public and private learning institutions. Meanwhile, the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) prevents schools from discriminating against students because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. There are also many state-level anti-bullying laws in effect.