Bullying Found to Raise Risk for Adolescent Suicide Attempts Worldwide

Bullying is a major risk factor for adolescent suicide attempts globally; thus, there is an urgent need for mental health professionals to screen adolescents for bullying as a suicide-prevention measure throughout the world, according to a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Self-harm is the third-leading cause of death among adolescents worldwide, resulting in about 67,000 deaths a year, wrote Ai Koyanagi, M.D., Ph.D., of the Research and Development Unit at the Universitat de Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain, and the Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red de Salud Mental in Madrid, Spain, and colleagues.

Researchers examined data from 134,000 adolescents aged 12 to 15 years from 48 mostly lower- to middle-income countries who took the Global School-based Student Health Survey, collecting information on past 30-day bullying victimization and past 12-month suicide attempts and analyzing the association between them.

About 30% of students reported being victims of bullying, and nearly 11% of students reported attempting suicide. There was a wide variation by country in the percentage of students who attempted suicide, ranging from 4% in Indonesia to 61% in Samoa. Countries with higher prevalence of bullying victimization also tended to have higher prevalence of suicide attempts, the researchers wrote. The country with the highest prevalence of bullying, Samoa (74%), also had the most adolescent suicide attempts (61%).

Being bullied for at least one day in the past 30 days was associated with a more than threefold higher risk for suicide attempts overall, and the more days that an individual was bullied was associated with a correspondingly increased risk for suicide attempt. The past-year prevalence of suicide attempts ranged from nearly 6% who were in the “no bullying” group up to 33% of students who were being bullied for “20 to 30 days a month.”

“Efforts to reduce bullying especially at school may be fundamental to prevent or reduce adolescent suicides,” the researchers wrote. “With respect to victims of bullying, it has been suggested that interventions to enhance coping and problem-solving skills for psychological distress associated with bullying, increase social connectedness, improve conditions within the home, and cultivate inclusive and safe environments/spaces in schools may be effective. Mental health practitioners should consider bullying as an important potential risk factor for suicide attempts.”

For more information, see the Psychiatric News article, “Irritability in Childhood May Point to Teens at High Risk for Suicide.”

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