Bullying & Suicide
Strong Is the Link Between Bullying and Suicide,
The headlines have been filled with stories about teens that were bullied and took their own lives. Clearly, there is a link between bullying and suicide. But is it as simple as bullying causes kids to commit suicide?
Most mental health experts would argue that claiming bullying is the only cause of suicide is much too simplistic. Bullying aggravates depression and increases suicide risk and the seriousness of the issue shouldnt be minimized.
But, failing to look at the other contributing factors related to suicide is a mistake. Suicide is complex issue that also is impacted by depression, feelings of hopelessness, lack of self-esteem, family-life issues and more.
Still, because bullying can be a catalyst for suicide, its significance should not be overlooked. When kids who are already at risk for suicide due to depression or other mental health issues are bullied, the results can be disastrous. Even relatively well-adjusted kids that are bullied can become depressed and contemplate suicide. So the possibility of suicide must be considered when a child is bullied.
What do the statistics say?
What can parents do?
Know the signs of bullying. One of the best ways to spot bullying in your children's lives is watch their moods. If they are suddenly anxious, stressed or indicating that they hate school, take notice. Also pay attention if they say that there's a lot of drama at school or that they have no friends. Other signs of bullying include complaining of headaches and stomachaches, skipping school, losing possessions and slipping grades.
Know the signs of depression. Symptoms like dropping grades, losing interest in favorite activities, withdrawing socially and sleeping more or less than normal are all signs that a person may be depressed. Unexplained excessive crying also indicates that depression may be a problem. Being excessively angry also can be a sign of depression.
Know the signs of suicide. People who are contemplating suicide may become moody, appear hopeless and experience changes in personality. Sometimes suicidal people will cut off contact with other people and lose interest in activities. Or, they may start to clean out things, throwing or giving away once treasured items.
They also might visit old friends and make the rounds to family members. If you notice any signs of suicidal thoughts, you need to question what is going on. Dont delay in taking action.
Help your child overcome bullying. One of the best ways to help your child overcome bullying is to make sure your child is comfortable talking with you. You also should make a commitment to help them resolve the issue. Follow up with the school until the issue is addressed.
Have your child assessed and treated for depression. Anytime you suspect that your child is depressed or considering suicide, it is best to have him assessed by his doctor or a mental health professional. Getting treatment for depression is the best option for recovery.
Don't ignore threats of
suicide. Although not every child will threaten suicide
before actually doing it, some do. So take notice anytime
someone mentions taking his or her own life. Even if the
person threatening suicide has no intention of following
through, this is a very real cry for help and should never
be ignored. Allow your child the opportunity to talk with a
Suicide is a tragic event that impacts a multitude of people, especially family and friends left to pick up the pieces. Researchers estimate that a suicide happens every 13 minutes in this country alone. And although bullying does not cause suicide, the stress of bullying and persistent victimization can increase a persons risk for suicide.
Will Eliminating Bullying Prevent Suicide?
Most people assume that if you eliminate bullying in a persons life, they will no longer be at risk for suicide.
But most mental health professionals argue that this approach is much too simplistic.
In fact, suicide is a complex issue that is impacted by more than just bullying. A persons mental health, self-esteem and family-life issues also play a role. And failing to recognize the other contributing factors related to suicide is a serious mistake that puts bullied teens at risk.
If someone is experiencing chronic, ongoing bullying, friends and family should also be watching for signs of depression as well as the warning signs for suicide. Bullying definitely exacerbates these issues. But typically, bullying is not the only cause of suicide. Consequently, it is important to address the bullying as well as the other issues that are present.
What Motivates Teens to Attempt Suicide?
Many teens that attempt suicide may be feeling hopeless, abandoned, alone and rejected. They also may be feeling guilty or like they are a burden to others.
Outsiders often misunderstand suicide and consider the act selfish. But in reality, people who attempt suicide often think they are doing their friends and family a favor by taking their life.
They also feel like they are out of options and the thought of continuing feels unbearable. Remember, talking about death or attempting suicide is a cry for help and should never be ignored.
What Are the Warning Signs for Suicide?
Although not everyone who attempts suicide displays warning signs, many do. So it is a good idea to become familiar with these red flags. Here is a list of warning signs that could indicate a person is at risk for suicide:
What Can You Do to Help?
If your friend exhibits any of the signs listed above, do not delay in telling a trusted adult. Your friend needs to be treated by a mental health professional so that she can begin to feel better. You also can encourage your friend to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or TEXT 'Help' to 741741
Remember, you should always take threats of suicide, signs of depression and conversations about dying seriously. Do not assume your friend is just trying to get attention. If she says or does something that doesnt seem right, be sure to tell someone right away. You are not betraying her. Instead, you could be saving her life.
& Suicide Statistics
In recent years, a series of bullying-related suicides in the US and across the globe have drawn attention to the connection between bullying and suicide. Though too many adults still see bullying as just part of being a kid, it is a serious problem that leads to many negative effects for victims, including suicide. Many people may not realize that there is also a link between being a bully and committing suicide.
The statistics on bullying and suicide are alarming:
Bully-related suicide can be connected to any type of bullying, including physical bullying, emotional bullying, cyberbullying, and sexting, or circulating suggestive or nude photos or messages about a person.
Some schools or regions have more serious problems with bullying and suicide related to bullying. This may be due to an excessive problem with bullying at the school. It could also be related to the tendency of students who are exposed to suicide to consider suicide themselves.
Some of the warning signs of suicide can include:
If a person is displaying these symptoms, talk to them about your concerns and get them help right away, such as from a counselor, doctor, or at the emergency room.
In some cases, it may not be obvious that a teen is thinking about suicide, such as when the suicide seems to be triggered by a particularly bad episode of bullying. In several cases where bullying victims killed themselves, bullies had told the teen that he or she should kill him or herself or that the world would be better without them. Others who hear these types of statements should be quick to stop them and explain to the victim that the bully is wrong.
Other ways to help people who may be considering suicide include:
People who are thinking about suicide should talk to someone right away or go to an emergency room. They can also call a free suicide phone line, such as 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text "SOS" to the 24/7 free crisis text line at 741741.
Friends and relatives of suicide victims also need to find someone to talk to as they grieve, especially if they are suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts themselves.
and Suicide - Psychiatric Times
Most of the studies that have examined the association between bullying and suicidality have been cross-sectional. Those studies show that bullying behavior in youth is associated with depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. These associations have been found in elementary school, middle school, and high school students. Moreover, victims of bullying consistently exhibit more depressive symptoms than nonvictims; they have high levels of suicidal ideation and are more likely to attempt suicide than nonvictims.
The results pertaining to bullies are less consistent. Some studies show an association with depression, while others do not. The prevalence of suicidal ideation is higher in bullies than in persons not involved in bullying behavior. Studies among middle school and high school students show an increased risk of suicidal behavior among bullies and victims. Both perpetrators and victims are at the highest risk for suicidal ideation and behavior.
Suicide risk by sex
Cross-sectional studies of the differential impact of school bullying by sex on the risk of depression and suicidal ideation have shown significant associations, but the results are not consistent. Some researchers have found stronger associations among girls.
Kim and colleagues1 reported that girls who were involved with school bullying (as either victim or perpetrator) were at significantly greater risk for suicidal ideation. Roland2 found that girls who were bullies had more suicidal thoughts. Van der Wal and colleagues3 found a strong association between being bullied and depression and suicidal ideation in girls, and Luukkonen and colleagues4 found that being bullied and bullying others are both potential risk factors for suicidal behavior in girls.
On the other hand, Rigby and Slee5 found that the association between being a bully and suicidal ideation applied only to boys. McMahon and colleagues6 recently reported that boys who had been bullied at school were more depressed and had a higher risk of thoughts about harming themselves and self-harming behavior than boys who had not been bullied. Kaltiala-Heino and colleagues7 reported that among girls, severe suicidal ideation was associated with frequently being bullied or being a bully and for boys it was associated with being a bully. No association was found between boys and girls for depressive symptoms.8
Our earlier work tried to explain the differences in the risks of depression and suicidality between girls and boys; we suggested that there is a difference in the threshold for depression and suicide between the sexes.9 Girls who bullied others were at risk for depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts even when the bullying was infrequent. However, only frequent bullying was associated with depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts among boys.
There may be a different sex threshold in victimization as well. Among girls, victimization at any frequency increased the risk of depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. On the other hand, only frequent victimization increased the risk of depression and suicidal ideation in boys, although infrequent victimization was associated with an increased risk of suicide attempts.
What is already known about this topic?
What new information does this article add?
What are the clinical implications?
Only a few longitudinal studies of bullying behavior and later depression or suicidal ideation and behavior have been published. These studies provide evidence that bullying behaviors constitute more than mere correlates of depression and suicidality. A study of Norwegian youth reported that children who were being seriously bullied at age 11 years suffered from bouts of depression as young adults.10 In a study of young adolescents in Australia, victimization in the 8th grade was associated with onset of symptoms of depression the following year.11 However, follow-up work done in Finland on children involved in bullying in the 8th grade showed that when psychiatric symptoms were taken into account, involvement in bullying did not independently increase the likelihood of depressive symptoms at age 15.12
Similar results were seen in a 2-year follow-up of peer victimization among Australian students in their first 2 years of high school. Victimization at study baseline was not predictive of psychiatric health as measured by the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) after baseline health status was taken into account.13
Additional longitudinal studies have predicted psychiatric problems from bullying behavior; however, these do not provide information on the suicidal outcome of bullying behavior.14,15 Kim and colleagues16 studied the impact of bullying on later suicidal/self-injurious behaviors and ideation among a sample of 1655 Korean students from grades 7 and 8. Girls who were perpetrators and boys with later-onset bullying behaviors were at increased risk for suicidal/self-injurious behaviors and ideation 10 months later, even after controlling for other suicide risk factors, such as anxiety and depression.
Contradictory results were seen in studies that examined the association between childhood bullying behavior and later depression, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and completed suicide.17,18 Among a large cohort of Finnish boys born in 1981, bullying behavior at age 8 years was associated with severe depression 10 years later, even when controlling for childhood depression. However, bullying behavior at age 8 years was not associated with suicidal ideation 10 years later when controlling for childhood depression.17
Victims of bullying consistently exhibit more depressive symptoms than nonvictims; they have high levels of suicidal ideation and are more likely to attempt suicide than nonvictims.
The association between bullying behavior at age 8 years and later suicide attempts and completed suicides varied by sex.18 Among boys, bullying behavior at age 8 years was not associated with later suicide attempts and completed suicides, after controlling for both childhood conduct and depression symptoms. Frequent victimization among girls at age 8 years, however, was associated with later suicide attempts and completed suicides, even after controlling for childhood conduct and depression symptoms. These findings indicate that suicidal behavior among boys who frequently bully others may be a function of psychopathology rather than of the bullying behavior per se.
Similarly, recent preliminary results from a US study showed the extent to which students who experience frequent bullying behaviors in high schoolas either victims, perpetrators, or bothwithout concurrent depression or suicidal problems are at risk for later depression and suicidality. To our knowledge, this is the only study that has systematically examined the clinical importance of bullying behavior among high school students for later depression and suicidal ideation and behavior. Findings indicate that high school students who reported only frequent bullying behaviors during high school were not as mentally healthy as those who did not report bullying behaviors, but they did not subsequently become depressed or suicidal. Students who experienced bullying behaviors and depression or suicidality were more impaired 4 years later than those who had reported only depression or suicidality.
It seems as if bullying behavior in high school in the absence of other risks does not predict later suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, or depression. However, bullying behaviors in conjunction with depression or suicidality in high school portend a worse outcome than either depression or suicidality alone.
Recent empirical studies and cases reported in the media have demonstrated an association between cyberbullying/cyber victimization with psychopathology and suicide.19,20 Findings from a cross-sectional study indicate that experience with cyber victimization is associated with an increase in depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts.9 Among girls, being bullied via the Internet or e-mailinfrequently or frequentlywas significantly associated with depression and suicidal ideation. However, only frequent victimization was associated with suicide attempts. Among boys, frequent cyber victimization was associated with depression and both frequent and infrequent levels of victimization were associated with suicidal ideation.
Hinduja and Patchin21 found that youths who experienced cyberbullying, as either perpetrators or victims, had more suicidal thoughts and were more likely to attempt suicide than those who had not experienced such forms of peer aggression. They note that traditional bullying and cyberbullying seem to be related to suicidal ideation in similar ways. Further longitudinal studies are necessary to examine the association between cyberbullying and suicidality.
Detection and intervention
Childhood bullying behavior can be assessed through self-reports as well as through reports from peers, parents, and/or teachers. Although one study found poor agreement between cross-informant reports (from parents, teachers, and children), these reports still carry the most weight in predicting late adolescent psychiatric outcomes.22 Teachers reported higher levels of frequent bullying than others, whereas children reported the highest percentage of victimization. However, frequent bullying reports from all 3 informant groups predicted later psychiatric disorders. The investigators concluded that the education system and school health care service in mid-childhood are of great importance for the early detection of bullying and prevention of later adverse outcomes.
The main target of effective prevention of youth suicides is the reduction of suicide risk factors.23 Bullying and peer victimization are serious risk factors for later suicidality, especially when there is comorbid psychopathology. Clinicians who deal with children and adolescents as well as those who are designing educational and public health prevention programs for schools should understand the relationship between bullying/cyberbullying behavior and suicide.
Children who are frequently involved in bullying behavior should be actively screened for psychiatric problems. School-based screening can be implemented by means of parent and teacher symptom checklists. Children and adolescents need information and psychoeducation about healthy online behavior. In addition, parents should aim to supervise their childrens online behavior. However, since this may be difficult or unrealistic for some parents, there is a need for new strategies for cyberbullying prevention and intervention.
Increasing awareness about bullying and cyberbullying and efforts to prevent them are important, but it is crucial that accurate messages be distributed in these efforts. Awareness messaging should refrain from overemphasizing the link between cyberbullying and suicide (eg, showing videos of youths who have killed themselves after being bullied). While well-intentioned, these efforts may inadvertently present rewards for the suicide act. In any prevention effort, it is important that students understand that there is always hope to stop the situation and they should be taught the skills to end the bullying/cyberbullying. When adaptive coping skills and hope for change are not presented, students may feel powerless and hopeless, which increases their risk of suicide.
The prevention literature currently focuses on bullying or suicide. We are not aware of programs that focus on the prevention of both bullying and suicidality. However, some programs may be able to tackle both bullying and suicidality. For example, the Sources of Strength suicide prevention program involves peer leaders to enhance protective factors associated with suicide risk in school populations.24 Although the program does not focus on bullying or cyberbullying, its goal is to enhance connectedness between youths and trusted adults and to change school norms. The program trains youth opinion leaders from diverse social cliques, including at-risk adolescents, to change the norms and behaviors of their peers by conducting well-defined messaging activities with adult mentoring. Wyman and colleagues24 recently reported that training of peer leaders with the Sources of Strength curriculum led to changes in norms across the full population of high school students after 3 months of school-wide messaging.
Whether by traditional means or via cyberspace, bullying and peer victimization puts adolescents at increased risk for suicide, especially when comorbid psychopathology is present. Longitudinal studies have just started to be published, and this research field needs to be further developed. In the meantime, findings from cross-sectional studies suggest differential risk profiles by sex as well as by the frequency and severity of the bullying. Female bullies are at increased risk for suicide, even when their bullying is infrequent. Males appear to be at increased risk for suicidal ideation, but only when they are bullied frequently.
Bullying and peer victimization lead to suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, but this association varies by sex and may be mediated by depression or conduct problems. Future research should continue to identify specific causal paths between bullying and suicide. Population-based longitudinal studies that include severe suicide attempts and suicide deaths are needed to support these findings.
1. Kim YS, Koh YJ, Leventhal B. School bullying and suicidal risk in Korean middle school students. Pediatrics. 2005;115:357-363.
2. Roland E. Bullying, depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts. Educ Res. 2002;44:55-67.
3. van der Wal MF, de Wit CA, Hirasing RA. Psychosocial health among young victims and offenders of direct and indirect bullying. Pediatrics. 2003;111(6 pt 1):1312-1317.
4. Luukkonen AH, Räsänen P, Hakko H, Riala K; STUDY-70 Workgroup. Bullying behavior is related to suicide attempts but not to self-mutilation among psychiatric inpatient adolescents. Psychopathology. 2009;42:131-138.
5. Rigby K, Slee P. Suicidal ideation among adolescent school children, involvement in bully-victim problems, and perceived social support. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 1999;29:119-130.
6. McMahon EM, Reulbach U, Keeley H, et al. Bullying victimisation, self harm and associated factors in Irish adolescent boys. Soc Sci Med. 2010;71:1300-1307.
7. Kaltiala-Heino R, Rimpelä M, Marttunen M, et al. Bullying, depression, and suicidal ideation in Finnish adolescents: school survey. BMJ. 1999;319:348-351.
8. Kaltiala-Heino R, Rimpelä M, Rantanen P, Rimpelä A. Bullying at schoolan indicator of adolescents at risk for mental disorders. J Adolesc. 2000;23:661-674.
9. Brunstein Klomek A, Marrocco F, Kleinman M, et al. Bullying, depression, and suicidality in adolescents. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2007;46:40-49.
10. Olweus D. Victimization by peers: antecedents and long term outcomes. In: Rubin KH, Asendorf JB, eds. Social Withdrawal, Inhibition and Shyness in Children. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum; 1992:315-341.
11. Bond L, Carlin JB, Thomas L, et al. Does bullying cause emotional problems? A prospective study of young teenagers. BMJ. 2001;323:480-484.
12. Kumpulainen K, Räsänen E. Children involved in bullying at elementary school age: their psychiatric symptoms and deviance in adolescence: an epidemiological sample. Child Abuse Negl. 2000;24:1567-1577.
13. Rigby K. Peer victimisation at school and the health of secondary school students. Br J Educ Psychol. 1999;69(pt 1):95-104.
14. Kumpulainen K, Räsänen E, Henttonen I. Children involved in bullying: psychological disturbance and the persistence of the involvement. Child Abuse Negl. 1999;23:1253-1262.
15. Sourander A, Ronning J, Brunstein-Klomek A, et al. Childhood bullying behavior and later psychiatric hospital and psychopharmacologic treatment: findings from the Finnish 1981 birth cohort study. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009;66:1005-1012.
16. Kim YS, Leventhal BL, Koh YJ, Boyce WT. Bullying increased suicide risk: prospective study of Korean adolescents. Arch Suicide Res. 2009;13:15-30.
17. Klomek AB, Sourander A, Kumpulainen K, et al. Childhood bullying as a risk for later depression and suicidal ideation among Finnish males. J Affect Disord. 2008;109:47-55.
18. Klomek AB, Sourander A, Niemelä S, et al. Childhood bullying behaviors as a risk for suicide attempts and completed suicides: a population-based birth cohort study. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2009;48:254-261.
19. Klomek AB, Marrocco F, Kleinman M, et al. Peer victimization, depression, and suicidality in adolescents. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2008;38:166-180.
20. Sourander A, Brunstein Klomek A, Ikonen M, et al. Psychosocial risk factors associated with cyberbullying among adolescents: a population-based study. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010;67:720-728.
21. Hinduja S, Patchin JW. Bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide. Arch Suicide Res. 2010;14:206-221.
22. Rønning JA, Sourander A, Kumpulainen K, et al. Cross-informant agreement about bullying and victimization among eight-year-olds: whose information best predicts psychiatric caseness 10-15 years later? Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2009;44:15-22.
23. Gould MS, Greenberg T, Velting DM, Shaffer D. Youth suicide risk and preventive interventions: a review of the past 10 years. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2003;42:386-405.
24. Wyman PA, Brown CH, LoMurray M, et
al. An outcome evaluation of the Sources of Strength suicide
prevention program delivered by adolescent peer leaders in
high schools. Am J Public Health. 2010;100:1653-1661.
And Suicide: The Dangerous Mistake We Make
Each of these tragedies mobilized a cultural army of anti-bullying advocates, celebrities, the media and policymakers who have said or at least strongly implied that bullying can lead to suicide.
But mental health professionals and those who work in suicide prevention say bullying-related suicides that reach the spotlight are painted far too simplistically. Bullying and suicide can indeed be connected, though the relationship between the two is much more complicated than a tabloid headline might suggest. To imply clear-cut lines of cause and effect, many experts maintain, is misleading and potentially damaging as it ignores key underlying mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.
Bullying is so at the top of our consciousness that were bending over backwards to get it into the story, said Ann Haas, a senior project specialist with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Years and years of research has taught us that the overwhelming number of people who die by suicide had a diagnosable mental disorder at the time of their death.
Haas argues that failing to look at the other contributing factors, from depression to family life to the ending of a relationship, is problematic and even perilous from a suicide prevention standpoint. I am very concerned about the narrative that these stories collectively are writing, which is that suicide is a normal, understandable response to this terrible [bullying] behavior, said Haas. In suicide prevention, we tend to favor the explanation that there are multiple causes.
Lidia Bernik, an associate project director with National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, said that people often seek a simple explanation when something as difficult to understand as suicide occurs. I speak from personal experience, she said. I lost my sister to suicide. Youre left with, Why did this happen?
Bullying can offer an answer, she said: Its almost easier to understand someone was victimized, and then they killed themselves.
Nicole Cardarelli, 27, who works in state advocacy outreach for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, admits that for years after her brother Gregs suicide in 2004, she also blamed bullying. While in high school, Greg began what he thought was a relationship with a girl he met online in a Ford Thunderbird car club. It turned out that two of his friends were behind the fake account. After several months, the boys exposed the prank to Greg. Hours later, he killed himself. His family opted not to press charges but they couldnt help placing blame when Greg had named what the boys did in his suicide note as the reason he could no longer go on living.
If you had asked me after Greg died what I wanted to have happen, I probably would have said I want to kill those boys, said Cardarelli. Its so much harder to look at the person you loved so much and ask, what was going on inside him?
At the time, Cardarelli didnt see the signs that Greg was troubled, she recalled. But in the subsequent years, she has thought about his behavior a few months before he died. He had lost interest in baseball and Boy Scouts two activities hed been involved with for years. He was sleeping more than usual, pulling away from his family and spending a lot of time on his computer. Cardarelli even remembers a conversation where her mother told her she thought there might be something really wrong with Greg.
I believe that he was depressed, she said recently.
Just as that suicide may have been more complicated than Cardarelli initially thought, several high-profile cases have exhibited similar, deeper patterns upon further investigation.
Emily Bazelons 2010 article for Slate exploring the suicide of Phoebe Prince, the teen from Ireland, serves as a powerful example of what can be learned when a suicide is examined more closely. Theres no doubt that Prince endured cruel treatment from a group of classmates, but Bazelon reported that Prince had attempted suicide in the past, that shed gone off antidepressants, and that she frequently cut herself. (In December, Bazelon followed up on the Prince case by reporting that Princes family members had reached a settlement with the town of South Hadley, Mass., for $225,000.)
The death of Staten Island teen Amanda Cummings, whose family primarily blamed bullying for her death, is proving to be less straight-forward as well. The NYPD has yet to find any evidence of bullying, and she was reportedly devastated over the end of a relationship with an older boy.
Last week, the New Yorker revisited the Clementi case at Rutgers from 2010 and offered a more nuanced view of the tragedy. News stories initially reported that Clementi was outed by his roommate, and that the video of him with another man was posted to the Internet, neither of which is true.
According to the New Yorker, Clementi came out to family members three days before he started at Rutgers he told a friend his mother didnt respond well and he attended a meeting of the schools Bisexual, Gay, and Lesbian Alliance. Documents found on Clementis computer, the piece reported, were titled sorry and Why is everything so painful. He had told a friend, I would consider myself out if only there was someone for me to come out to. His roommates actions were reprehensible, and they may have contributed to Clementis death, but these new details suggest the possibility of a far more complex situation.
Even though suicides often prove to involve multiple factors, most experts are still quick to add that bullying can aggravate depression and increase suicide risk, and its seriousness shouldnt be minimized.
Clayton Cook, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, argues that because mental health issues are often a common thread running through bullying and suicide, schools should not have a narrowly-focused solution.
The idea is that if you adopt a broad spectrum approach to preventing mental health problems, that youre also going to reduce the bullying, said Cook. If you look at the scientific literature, bullying prevention programs havent shown to be effective. Its addressing the symptom and not the cause. Cook suggests teachers adopt a social emotional learning curriculum as they would a reading curriculum. Wed teach kids how to exhibit care and concern for others, how to manage their emotions before they get the best of them, Cook explained.
The good news, according to Cook, is that the prevalence of bullying has likely been overstated. Catherine Bradshaw, deputy director of the Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence at Johns Hopkins, agrees. We dont have data to show that bullying is an epidemic or that its increasing, she said.
The Centers for Disease Controls bullying task force, of which Cook and Bradshaw are members, is working to establish a uniform definition of bullying for research purposes, but results may not be available until this summer. The task force is treating bullying as a public health concern and developing policy-based solutions.
As far as the prevalence of youth suicide goes, the most recent numbers from the CDC show that, among 15 to 19 year-olds, suicides fell marginally from 8.02 per 100,000 in 2000 to 7.79 per 100,00 in 2009. Those numbers have fluctuated in the years between though, and the 10-year low was in 2007.
We dont know about 2009 to 2011, said Madelyn Gould, a professor of clinical epidemiology in psychiatry at Columbia who studies youth suicide and prevention efforts. But probably, the accessibility of the Internet has made it such that there are many more stories about suicide, not necessarily more suicides. Since January of 2010, the words bullying and suicide have appeared together in 592 articles and thats only print newspapers.
I would just hope that these stories also talk about the other risks involved with suicidal behavior, said Gould. If someone is being bullied, they should not jump to the conclusion that one of [their] options is suicide. What they should jump to is, one of the options I have is to get help.
Megan Meier killed herself in 2006 after a cruel MySpace prank orchestrated by an adult neighbor. Her mother, Tina Meier, argues that the pros of linking bullying and suicide still outweigh the cons. I think since Megans story there has been a lot more awareness, she explained. Before, everybody was kind of like, Okay, well kids get bullied and well deal with it. We didnt realize the impact that it truly has.
Young people may not be able to avoid exposure to bullying or suicide, but David Litts, an associate director with the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, said parents should take these tragic stories as an opportunity to talk to their children, especially if already concerned.
You really need to open up the
dialogue in a way that he or she can risk being
honest, said Litts. To look someone in the eye
and say, Yes, I want to kill myself, is a hard
thing to do. So its important that whoever asks the
question asks it in a way that conveys theyre ready to
hear an honest answer.