Bullying and suicide

By now we all know that schoolyard and cyber bullying is a serious subject with serious consequences for those involved. Preventing and stopping bullying continue to be important priorities in our quest to provide physical and emotional safety for our children.

Bullying among children is recognized as a major public health problem and studies indicate between 20 and 30 percent of school aged children are frequently involved in bullying – either as victims or bullies. All of these children are at increased risk for a variety of problems including low self-regard, depression, anxiety and violent behaviours among other things.

A recent review study, published in May in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, has confirmed that bullying in childhood is significantly associated with suicidal ideas and attempts later in life.

Study authors compared and analyzed results from 31 studies examining the association between bullying and suicide. Data from all studies point to a clear association between bullying and suicidality.

Some particularly interesting findings came out of this review study. It was found that not only victims, but bullies themselves are at increased risk of suicide later in life. This risk is particularly present if the childhood bully experienced comorbid psychiatric problems. A recommendation stemming from this finding is for children involved in bullying behaviour to be actively screened for psychiatric problems and suicidal thoughts.

Evidence shows bullying victims exhibit high levels of suicidal ideation and are more likely to have attempted suicide than non-victims. Similarly, those who do the bullying also have higher levels of both ideation and attempts and the individuals who exhibit the highest risks are those involved in both bullying and being bullied.

Studies have inconsistent results when it comes to the different risk for girls versus boys. Some studies claim the increased risk of suicide for bullies is only evident among girls and not boys. Conversely, another study found the same for boys and at least one study found no difference between boys and girls. Clearly, more study in this area will need to be done before it is clear what, if any, the differences are between boys and girls.

Some experts suggest a different threshold for girls and boys when it comes to bullying and suicidal thoughts. It seems even infrequent bullying is associated with increased risk among girls, whereas for boys only frequent bullying led to an increased risk.

Whatever the individual differences between the sexes, it is clear from all studies that both girls and boys experience negative mental health effects from bullying in all forms.

With suicide rates among young people on the rise around the world, it is imperative for all influential adults – parents, teachers, health care providers and the media to do whatever we can to minimize risk factors. Preventing and stopping bullying is an important step as is ensuring mental health issues are not taboo so our kids know when to ask for help and can be assured they will get help when they do.


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