Recent media publicity around suicides by youth who were bullied by their peers has led many to assume that bullying often leads directly to suicide. Although youth who are involved in bullying are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and attempt suicide than those who are not involved in bullying, research indicates that other risk factors play a larger role in suicidal behavior.
What do we know about suicide and its causes?
Suicide has a devastating impact on youth and young adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention:
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds.
- 15% of high school students seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months and 7% reported making at least one suicide attempt in the previous year.
Suicide is a complex issue. According to the CDC, a combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of suicide.” This can include:
- Family history of suicide or child maltreatment
- History of depression or other mental illness
- Alcohol and substance abuse
- Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
- Local epidemics of suicide
- Easy access to lethal methods
Is bullying related to suicide?
Researchers who have investigated possible links between bullying and suicide among children and youth have found that:
- Children and youth who are involved in bullying are more likely than those who aren’t involved in bullying to be depressed, have high levels of suicidal thoughts, and have attempted suicide.
- Children who bully and who also are bullied by their peers (often referred to as “bully-victims”) are at the greatest risk for suicidal thoughts and behavior.
- Most studies have looked at the correlation between bullying and suicide at only one point in time. Very few have followed children and youth over time. So, although involvement in bullying is related to a greater likelihood of suicidal thoughts and behavior, it is wrong to conclude from these studies that experiences with bullying causes suicidal thoughts and behavior.
- A number of researchers note that there are other risk factors, such as mental health problems, that appear to play a much larger role than bullying in predicting suicidal thoughts and behavior.
These findings show that there are many factors that may increase a youth’s risk of suicide. They caution us not to make unwarranted assumptions about “simple” causes or explanations for suicidal thoughts or behavior when there are many factors at play. More information about links between bullying and suicide and implications of these findings may be found in the Bullying and Suicide section of the Community Action Toolkit.