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Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among American teenagers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 16% of youth consider suicide and 8% make the attempt. Depression is often identified as a factor contributing to suicide ideation and behavior.

Tamar Kodish and co-authors from Philadelphia wondered about the role various forms of bullying play as risk factors for youth suicides. Previous research had lumped various types of bullying together. This study pulled those types apart for a closer look. They also studied the various relations between bullying, depression, and suicide.

Their study involved 5,429 youth ages 14 -24 (average age 16.77 years) with around 56% female, 56% white, and 25% Hispanic. These youths were assessed with a variety of surveys when they came to see their medical care providers. The researchers used a variety measure of depression, suicide ideation, and bullying.

Findings:

Suicide risk, even when controlling for any levels of depression, was significantly associated with all types of bullying: verbal, physical, and cyber. The risk was higher when the victim had been exposed to cumulative bullying, or bullying in multiple forms.

When youth were already struggling with depression, bullying was even more strongly related to suicide risk.

Youth with a history of verbal bullying were 1.5 times more likely to actually attempt suicide. The authors noted that adolescents struggling with their identities may be especially vulnerable to taunting, teasing, ostracism and mocking and may attempt suicide as a result.

4 takeaways from this study:

  • A large body of earlier research shows that foster youth in care tend to be sad and/or depressed because of living in substitute care, and away from their known families.
  • Adults should check out potential depression and bullying frequently and recognize that depressed youth are at even great risk of suicide after being bullied.
  • When we learn that a youth has been verbally bullied, by taunting, making fun of, excluding, or mocking, we need to intervene rapidly.
  • Bullied youth need unconditional support, listening, and care.

To review and order a FREE laminated card on bullying, please send us a message.

Original article citation:  Kodish, T., Herres, J., Shearer, A., Atte, T., Fein, J., & Diamond, G. (2016). Bullying, depression, and suicide risk in a pediatric primary care sample. Crisis, 37(3), 241-246.

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Dr. Chris Downs has devoted much of his professional career to improving services and outcomes for older, at-risk youth. Chris is President of The Downs Group LLC, based in Seattle and has the pleasure of working with many talented professionals in child welfare and allied areas including his company Associates.