Constant Internet access can provide social support and promote friendship. But it can also mean a never-ending nightmare of bullying. The psychological distress that comes with being a victim of teenage bullying can have lasting effects, even into adulthood. A study found that bullying is associated with emotional distress, as well as suicidal ideation in teenagers. With many kids experiencing bullying, the resulting emotional problems represent a significant public health issue.
The study by researchers at the University of Minnesota used the Minnesota Student Survey, which contained data about social and verbal bullying experienced by students in the 6th, 9th and 12th grades. While the respondents were not asked about physical bullying or cyber bullying, it provided information about both victims and bullies in the context of social and verbal bullying.
The survey results showed that over half of the students were involved in a bullying incident, either as a bully or as the victim, and that there was a strong connection between bullying and suicidal thoughts and attempts.
Findings Could Help In Targeting Teens At High Risk For Suicide
The study authors believe the findings may aid in developing strategies to target teens at high risk for suicide. If teens involved in bullying incidents could be identified, they may receive interventions that help protect against later negative outcomes.
Risk Factors Linked To Suicidal Ideation
Several risk factors associated with suicidal ideation emerged in the results for those involved in bullying: emotional distress, self-injury, running away and a history of childhood trauma.
In addition, there were factors that protected against suicidal ideation, such as a strong relationship with parents. This was identified as the strongest factor preventing suicide thoughts and attempts.
Who And What Can Help Protect Teens From Bullying And Suicidal Ideation?
Other adults provide protection, as well. A caring relationship with a relative or a leader in the religious community, for example, could also provide protection from suicidal ideation. Among those who had a history of being bullied, liking school also acted as a protection against suicidal thoughts and attempts.
The findings provide new opportunities for those who develop strategies to reduce bullying, and for those who seek to prevent suicide attempts. The authors say that interventions focusing on strengthening family relationships, in addition to connecting teens with mental health treatment, may help reduce both bullying and suicide attempts.
The interventions rely on an assumption that teachers and parents can find ways to identify bullies and their victims in order to provide support. Finding the teens that are at the highest risk of experiencing suicidal ideation will allow teachers and school counselors to connect them with resources.
Parents who suspect that their child is involved in bullying should talk with the school counselor, who can provide helpful resources. Signs that bullying may be a problem include unexplained injuries, missing personal property, trouble sleeping, sudden changes in eating habits or complaints of stomachache or headaches.
The authors note that bullying should not be considered a rite of passage, or a normal part of growing up. Teens who are involved in bullying typically suffer significant psychosocial problems requiring intervention.