How Strong Is the Link Between Bullying and Suicide?

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Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Stories about bullied teens taking their own lives are too numerous to ignore. There is a link between bullying and suicide, and an urgency to understand the complexity that drives victims from depression and hopelessness to ideation to action.

Studies have shown that bullying aggravates depression and increases suicide risk for both the victim and the perpetrator. 

Suicide is a complex issue. Often, but not always, there are other factors related to teen suicide such as pre-existing affective disorders, childhood trauma, or severe nutritional deficiencies.

Still, because bullying can be a catalyst for suicide, its significance should not be overlooked. When kids who are at risk for suicide because of 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. An increased risk of suicide must be considered when a child is bullied.

What Do the Statistics Say?

  • Nearly one-quarter of tenth graders who reported being bullied also reported having made a suicide attempt in the past 12 months, according to a Washington State Healthy Youth Survey.
  • Half of the 12th graders who reported being bullied also reported feeling sad and hopeless almost every day for two weeks in a row, according to the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey.
  • Among 15- to 24-year-olds, suicide is one of the leading causes of death, according to Suicide Awareness Voices for Education. Additionally, 16 percent of students consider suicide; 13 percent create a plan, and 8 percent have made a serious attempt.
  • Cyberbullying caused kids to consider suicide more than traditional bullying according to a study in JAMA Pediatrics.

What Can Parents Do?

Know the Signs of Bullying

One of the best ways to spot bullying in your children's lives is by watching 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, unexplained injuries, 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. Suicidal people will sometimes cut off contact with others and lose interest in their normal activities. They may start to clean out their things and may throw or give away once treasured items.

They also might visit old friends and make the rounds to family members. If you notice signs of suicidal thoughts in a loved one, don’t delay in taking action.

If your teen is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

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.

The process of overcoming bullying can be long. There will be good days and bad days, but as a parent, you need to be committed to the process.

You'll need to make sure that your child has access to the resources they need, and you will want to stay in close contact with school personnel. Bullying often escalates over time and often doesn't disappear without consistent intervention.

Have Your Child Assessed and Treated for Depression.

If you suspect that your child is depressed or considering suicide, it is best to have them assessed by a doctor or mental health professional. Getting treatment for depression is the best option for recovery.

Even if you do not think your child is depressed, it can help to talk with a healthcare professional. Bullying can have long-lasting and significant consequences if it goes unresolved.

Don't Ignore Threats of Suicide

Although not every child will threaten suicide before actually doing it, some do. If a loved one mentions taking their own life, take notice. Even if the person threatening suicide has no intention of following through, they are making a real cry for help and should never be ignored.

If you are concerned that your child might be feeling suicidal, make sure that they have the opportunity to talk with a counselor and avoid leaving them alone.

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Article Sources
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  1. Stanley IH, Horowitz LM, Bridge JA, Wharff EA, Pao M, Teach SJ. Bullying and Suicide Risk Among Pediatric Emergency Department Patients. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2016;32(6):347-51. PMID:26417959

  2. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. The Relationship Between Bullying and Suicide. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Published online, April 2014.

  3. Warning Signs for Bullying. Stopbullying.gov. Published online, updated February 2018.