Bullying and Suicide: Get the Facts
The death of a young person by suicide is a tragic event that leaves parents wondering how it could have happened—and what could have been done to prevent it. Recently, the high-profile youth suicides of Meghan Meir, age 13, Tyler Clementi, 18, and Matt Epling, age 13, have brought the issue of bullying—from cyberbullying and harassment based on sexual preference to assault and verbal threats, respectively—into the international spotlight.
Largely in response to these tragic events, there has been a national focus on the problem of bullying—including national campaigns, bullying prevention programs, and anti-bullying laws and policies—aimed at getting bullied children the help they need before its too late.
Who's at Risk?
Both bullying and suicide are major public health concerns, with 30 percent of middle and high school students reporting either bullying others or being the targets of bullies (4). Suicide is the third leading cause of death of youth between the ages of 12 and 18, with American high school students saying that, over the course of one year, 14 percent had seriously considered suicide, 11 percent made plans for how they would end their lives, and 6 percent actually attempted to commit suicide (3).
While bullying is considered only one of many factors contributing to suicidal thoughts and tendencies, the link between the two can’t be ignored—and it’s not always the victim that suffers. Kids who are bullied are at a higher risk for having suicidal thoughts and attempts (7). Bullies are also more likely to consider or attempt to take their own lives (7), while children who bully others and are bullied are the most likely to think about and attempt suicide (6).
Research on whether bullying causes suicide, or vice versa, is still unclear. The risk factors for both bullying and suicide—including being socially withdrawn, anxiety, depression and aggression—are the same. Children who are more withdrawn, depressed, aggressive with peers, or are rejected by peers, are more likely to be bullied and are more likely to be suicidal (1).
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