A lot of media attention has recently been given to the subject of young people ending their lives as a result of being bullied and/or cyberbullied (see also our recent blog on this topic). Profs. Hinduja and Patchin at the Cyberbullying Research Center have just had their paper on Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Suicide accepted for publication in the academic journal Archives of Suicide Research. In advance of publication, the authors have created a useful fact sheet which summarizes the findings. The results are compelling.
Their fact sheet, cyberbullying and suicide, notes that youth who are bullied, or who bully others, are at an elevated risk for suicidal thoughts, attempts, and completed suicides. Hinduja and Patchin use the term cyberbullicide to describe suicide which is indirectly or directly influenced by experiences with online aggression.
Purpose of their study: While a strong relationship exists between traditional bullying and suicide ideation, this study sought to determine if suidical ideation was also linked to experiences with cyberbullying among offenders and targets.
Sample: +/- 2000 randomly-selected middle-school students from one of the most populous school districts in the United States. (No breakdown is provided in the fact sheet as to percentage of boys and girls in the study.)
20% of respondents reported seriously thinking about attempting suicide, with an almost equal number of boys and girls responding (19.7% girls, 20.9% boys).
19% reported attemting suicide (17.9% girls, 20.2% boys). Read that again 19% reported attempting suicide.
The most commonly reported form of cyberbullying offending was: Posted something online about another person to make others laugh 23.1%), while the most frequent form of victimization was: Received an upsetting email from someone you know (18.3%).
Cyberbullying victims were almost twice as likely to have attempted suicide compared to youth who had not experienced cyberbullying.
Implications: Hinduja and Patchin suggest that, based on their results, the following should be considered:
All forms of adolescent peer aggression must be taken seriously both at school and at home.
A suicide prevention and intervention component is essential within comprehensive bullying response programs implemented in schools. They note that while suicide is an extreme response and any presentation relating thereto should be age-appropriate, proper discussion of its stark reality can vividly portray the extent of harm that peer harassment can exact.
NOTE: Hinduja and Patchin make it clear that many of the teenagers who committed suicide after experiencing bullying or cyberbullying had other emotional and social issues going on in their lives it is unlikely that experience with cyberbullying by itself leads to youth suicide. Rather, it tends to exacerbate instability and hopelessness in the minds of adolescents already struggling with stressful life circumstance.
Our Editorial: Reading this timely Fact Sheet and looking at the List of Cyberbullying-related Suicides, really serves to focus our attention that time is of the essence in finding ways to proactively address and reduce peer aggression, especially cyberbullying. The list is already 11 people too long.
If you want a great resource for how to help adolescents handle stress in their lives, we suggest you take a look at Adolescents in the Internet Age, by Strom & Strom (2009).