The Intersection of Bullying and Youth Suicide
By Dru Ahlborg, Co-Founder and Executive Director of BRRC
September is Suicide Prevention Month. It is a month that is dedicated to starting the conversation about suicide, providing support and directing help to those who need it. It is about all of us making efforts to prevent suicides and save lives. It is month to learn that help is always available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 988 and can be accessed by phone or text at any time. If someone is in immediate danger, call 911.
There is a link between bullying and suicide. It is a topic that is challenging to discuss and too important not to. Stories about bullied teens taking their lives permeates the news we read and breaks the hearts of countless family members and friends. It is important to contemplate the complexity that drives bullying targets from depression and hopelessness to ideation and action.
Bullying targets are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-targets according to a Yale University study.
Suicide on its own is a complex issue affecting our youth at alarming rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report nationally “youth and young adults ages 10-24 years account for 15% of all suicides. The suicide rate for this group is 11.0 suicides per 100,000 and is the 2nd leading cause of death for this age group. Additionally, national suicide rates for this age group increased 52.2% between 2001-2021.” The numbers closer to home are even bleaker. According to the Colorado Children’s Campaign, “In 2020, Colorado’s teen suicide rate remained at a historically high level: a rate of 21.6 suicides per 100,000 teens ages 15-19, representing 83 young people who tragically lost their lives by suicide.”
Many times, but not always there are other factors that play a part in teen suicide. Such pre-existing conditions can be mental and behavioral disorders, childhood trauma or severe nutritional deficiencies. Also, bullying can be a catalyst for suicide. Bullying targets often experience feelings of powerlessness, anxiety and depression. They may experience PTSD. We know bullying can have a long-lasting negative impact on both the bullying target and the child who engages in bullying acts. It is important to take bullying seriously and to take measures to stop it as quickly as possible.
Nearly one-quarter of 10th graders who reported being bullied also reported having made a suicide attempt in the last 12 months according to a Washington State Healthy Youth Survey.
Look for signs of bullying:
Parents, caregivers and trusted adults should keep an eye out for sudden changes in children’s moods. Signs that a child might be a target for bullying can include a child appearing more anxious or sad. The adolescent may indicate that they have fewer or no friends or begin having unexplained headaches and stomach aches. A child requesting to not ride the bus or quitting activities may be a sign that they are being bullied.
Look for signs of depression:
At BRRC, we always question the parents we serve about the mental health of their child. We know that bullying can lead to depression and hopelessness and it is very important that it is addressed. Some common signs of depression can include a drop in grades, withdrawing, sleeping more, unexplained crying and excessive anger.
Look for the signs of suicide:
People who are contemplating suicide may become moody and appear hopeless. They may experience changes in their personality. Many times suicidal people will stop contact with others and lose interest in day-to-day activities. Pay attention if they start to clean out their personal items or give away treasured things.
We strongly suggest that parents who suspect their child is contemplating suicide seek help. It is okay to talk to our children about suicide and ask them if they have a plan. There are wonderful services for mental health both immediately and long-term. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available for caregivers as well: 1-800-273-8255.
Among 15 to 24-year-olds, suicide is one of the leading causes of death according to Suicide Awareness Voices for Education. Additionally, 16% of students consider suicide; 13% create a plan, and 8% have made a serious attempt.
It is important to deal with the bullying your child is going through. Looking the other way or ignoring it can be incredibly detrimental. The process of working through the bullying and stopping it can be long, challenging and tedious. We recommend always placing the needs of the bullying target first and make sure they are safe. Consider obtaining mental health services if your child is depressed, anxious or suicidal. We recommend never ignoring the threat of suicide as it is always a cry for help.
At BRRC, we are here to help when your child is being bullied and the school isn’t doing the right thing, or anything about it. We are here to help empower you to hold the school responsible to stop the bullying. We are here to assist you in supporting your child.
We stop bullying today to begin recovery tomorrow.