Cyberbullying tied to suicidal thoughts among kids, study finds

Healthcare professionals should be asking young people if they are being bullied or harassed online, the authors wrote.

Young people who are victims of cyberbullying are more likely to think about suicide, according to a new study.

The authors said the findings indicate the value of healthcare professionals asking young patients if they are having trouble with cyberbullying. The study was published Monday on Jama Network Open.

Researchers at Reichman University in Israel and the University of Pennsylvania examined more than 10,000 adolescents between the ages of 10 and 13. They found the tie between cyberbullying and suicidal thoughts surpassed other risk factors, including being harassed offline.

“These findings can inform adolescent suicide prevention strategies, and they suggest that clinicians and educational staff working with this population should routinely evaluate for adolescents’ experience with cyberbullying,” the authors wrote.

Suicide among young people is a major health problem, the study noted. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. for those between the ages of 10 and 24.

Much bullying among young people occurs online and is taking place on social media or via text messages, the authors wrote.

The study found 9% of the young people surveyed were victims of cyberbullying. Among the 10,414 young studied, 796 (7.6%) said they had thought about suicide or attempted it.

While experiencing cyberbullying was associated with thoughts of suicide, perpertrating cyberbullying was not, the authors wrote. The researchers noted previous studies have indicated both those experiencing and engaging in acts of cyberbullying were both at high risk of suicidation.

Female and Black youths were the most likely to experience cyberbullying, the researchers said.

Most of those experiencing cyberbullying said they weren’t being bullied or harassed offline, which contracts with previous studies, the authors said. The researchers found that significant because it suggests those experiencing cyberbullying are different from those affected by aggressive behavior offline.

“Screening for cyberbullying experiences may detect youths at risk who are not detected when screening for offline peer aggression experiences,” the authors wrote.

The responses from the youth participating in the study indicate that cyberbullying is “an independent stressor” linked with thoughts of suicide.

The findings carry potentially valuable insights for both healthcare professionals and researchers, the authors wrote.

“For clinicians working directly with adolescents, this work suggests that cyberbullying experiences are associated with suicidality over and above multiple known risk factors; therefore, it may be prudent to ask adolescents about this exposure as part of primary care evaluations,” the authors wrote.

Researchers should conduct additional studies of cyberbullying to examine the link between cyberbullying and suicidal thoughts, they added.

In addition, policymakers who are interested in improving efforts to prevent suicide among young people should look at cyberbullying, the authors wrote. Further study is needed to determine the impact of communicating online, including cyberbullying, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you're struggling or someone you know is struggling, help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Call 800-273-TALK (8255). The hotline is available around the clock.

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