Parenting Teens: Bullying & Suicide

We have read a great deal (too much, in fact) about tortured teens who have tragically killed themselves. A new study presented on Saturday Oct.20th at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ national conference in New Orleans found some important results. Please keep in mind that the researchers looked carefully at 41 suicides in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Twenty-four percent of the victims were male and female teenagers from the ages of 13 to 18.

Let me tell you a bit about the teens who were bullied. Twenty-four percent were the victims of homophobic bullying even though only twenty percent of that group identified as homosexual. Almost eighty percent of the teens were bullied at school AND online. It was much less likely for the teens to be bullied online only. Seventeen percent were bullied online only without the additional terror associated with  being bullied in school in a face-to-face fashion. And, the researchers found that among this total group of teen suicide victims who had been bullied approximately one -third had been diagnosed with a mood disorder and fifteen percent had been diagnosed with symptoms of depression during their young lives.

The study author Dr. John LeBlanc concluded by suggesting that while cyberbullying is a factor in some suicides there are always other overlooked factors involved such as mental illness and/or face to face bullying. I conclude that it is difficult to infer cause and effect from this study because it is not clear to me what came first the depression or the bullying and that, directionality, my friends, is critical information.

We need additional studies that look at kids’ lives over time so that we can track the timing of bullying and depression. I have a very hard time believing that bullying was not the cause of depression or at least did not exacerbate depression for many of the teens. When I think of my seventh grade torturer I feel a temporary mood dip for several minutes.

Here is some more food for thought and let’s continue to put our heads together to protect our kids from one of the most evil forms of social violence which is bullying.