Bullying Associated With Suicidal Thoughts, Attempts by Children, Adolescents

Bottom Line: Bullying is a risk factor for suicidal ideation (thoughts) and suicide attempts by children and adolescents, and cyberbullying appeared more strongly related to suicidal thoughts than traditional bullying.

Author: Mitch van Geel, Ph.D., of Leiden University, the Netherlands, and colleagues.

Background: Prior research suggests that bullying (also known as peer victimization) is an important risk factor for adolescent suicide. Overall, suicide is one of the most frequent causes of adolescent death worldwide, and 5 to 8 percent of adolescents in the United States attempt suicide within a year.

How the Study Was Conducted: The authors reviewed the available medical literature (known as a meta-analysis) and identified 34 studies (n=284,375) that focused on the relationship between bullying and suicidal thoughts and nine studies (n=70,102) that focused on the relationship between bully victimization and suicide attempts.

Results: Bullying was related to both suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts among children and adolescents. Cyberbullying also appeared to be more strongly related to suicidal thoughts than traditional bullying. However, the authors warned caution when interpreting this result because they included only three studies for cyberbullying.

Discussion: “This meta-analysis establishes that peer victimization is a risk factor of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. Efforts should continue to identify and help victims of bullying, as well as to create bullying prevention and intervention programs that work.”

JAMA Pediatr. Published online March 10, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.4143.