How Strong Is the Link Between Bullying and Suicide?

Girl alone at lunch
Image Source / Getty Images

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. Clearly, 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 prove that bullying aggravates depression and increases suicide risk for both the victim and the perpetrator.  Often, but not always, there are contributing factors related to teen suicide such as pre-existing affective disorders or childhood trauma or severe nutritional deficiencies. Suicide is a complex issue.

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 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. 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. 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 is long. So you need to be committed to the process. There will be good days and bad days. But make sure your child has access to the resources he needs to talk about his feelings and cope with what is happening. Also, be sure 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. Anytime you suspect that your child is depressed or considering suicide, it is best to have him assessed by his 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, you may want to talk to a healthcare professional. Bullying has significant consequences and if it is ongoing can have a lasting impact. 

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 counselor and avoid leaving him alone for long periods of time.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  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.