Adolescents who experience cyberbullying are more likely to think about suicide, a new study shows.
Researchers found a link between being bullied online, through texts or on social media, and thoughts of suicide that go above and beyond the link between suicidal thoughts and traditional offline bullying.
"At a time when young adolescents are spending more time online than ever before, this study underscores the negative impact that bullying in the virtual space can have on its targets," said senior study author Dr. Ran Barzilay, an assistant professor at the Lifespan Brain Institute of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
"Given these results, it may be prudent for primary care providers to screen for cyberbullying routinely in the same way that they might screen for other suicide risk factors like depression. Educators and parents should also be aware of the substantial stress bullying in the cyberworld places on young adolescents," Barzilay noted in a hospital news release.
The researchers analyzed data collected between July 2018 and January 2021 from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study (ABCD study), which contains information from 10,000 U.S. children between the ages of 10 and 13, including data from a cyberbullying questionnaire.
Adolescents were asked if they had ever been the target or perpetrator of cyberbullying, which the questionnaire defined as "purposefully trying to harm another person or be mean to them online, in texts or group texts, or on social media [such as Instagram or Snapchat]."
The participants were also surveyed separately about traditional offline bullying, with categories that included overt aggression, such as threatening or hitting; relational aggression, such as not inviting or leaving someone out; and reputational aggression, such as spreading rumors or gossiping.
About 7.6% of the young adolescents responded that they had experienced suicidal thoughts, 8.9% reported being targets of cyberbullying, and 0.9% reported cyberbullying others. While being a target of cyberbullying was associated with suicidal thoughts, being a perpetrator of cyberbullying did not appear to be.
That was different, the authors said, from with traditional bullying, where being a perpetrator is also linked with suicidal thinking.
Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 24 in 2018 in the United States, and rates have been steadily rising, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Our findings suggest being a target of cyberbullying is an independent risk factor for youth suicidality," Barzilay said. "For policymakers wishing to optimize youth suicide prevention efforts, this study should further encourage interventions for those who are being bullied online."
The findings were published June 27 in JAMA Network Open.
Stopbullying.gov has more on bullying and prevention.
SOURCE: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, news release, June 27, 2022