In the last several years there has been increased attention from the media regarding bullying and suicide. At times the media and adults have given an impression to youth that there is a direct or causal link between bullying and suicide. There is no research that supports this.
The issues around bullying and suicide are complex. It is important that adults help youth understand that bullying can lead to a person suffering with mental health and/or behavioral changes as a result of being a target of bullying. It is the unaddressed mental health challenges that, when combined with other risk factors, might contribute to suicidal ideation or behavior. Bullying does contribute to the erosion of personal assets and supports. However, making the equation that bullying = suicide is not accurate, is not supported by research and does not help to prevent suicide, which is of primary importance after a death.
Promoting students’ strengths, assets and protective factors- especially social connectedness (developing caring relationships between students and their peers as well as students and staff or other caring adults in their lives)- providing calm, predictable learning environments help to prevent both bullying and suicide. Focusing on the positive actions we can all take to build a healthy community helps to both develop resiliency in students and contributes to their learning and long-term success.
Dr. Phyllis Brashler, from the Minnesota Department of Health, provides this explanation of the relationships between bullying and suicide.
Bullying can contribute to suicidal ideation or behavior, but it is never the only factor. Suicide is extremely complex and not fully understood. We do know that the majority of students who are bullied do not die by suicide, and the more we oversimplify and state that relationship, the more we will normalize it. Because there is no research to support it, we do not want anyone drawing direct-causal connections between these two issues.
It is very tempting to want to use the tragic deaths to advocate for change – it is so emotional and devastating – but we need to resist that urge, for safety’s sake. Vulnerable youth could see all of the advocacy and media attention and may feel that their death could mean more than their life, by contributing to a “cause.” In everything you say and do, think about how a depressed or vulnerable youth might view it or interpret it. Please tread carefully!
We also do a disservice to the mental health issues involved by oversimplifying it. So many young people experience depression or other mental illnesses that go untreated. What we really need is to elevate the awareness and importance of mental health and wellness, of social connectedness, and of respect for others. Promote positive mental health throughout our communities.
The following are resources for schools regarding the prevention of suicide, suicide prevention screening and guidance on bullying, suicide and Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender (LGBT) Students.
Developed through a contract with the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors in collaboration with Education Development Center, Preventing Suicide: A Toolkit for High Schools aims at reducing the risk of suicide among high school students by providing research-based guidelines and resources to assist school personnel and leadership, providers and others to identify teenagers at risk and take appropriate measures to provide help. Drawing on key elements of evidence-based programs, the toolkit offers information on screening tools, warning signs and risk factors of suicide, statistics and parent education materials that are easily adaptable to any high school setting.
These recommendations were developed by the Lessons Learned Working Group (LLWG), a partnership of multiple agencies and key stakeholders in suicide prevention. The LLWG created these recommendations for school-based suicide prevention screening based on a review of research literature; Garrett Lee Smith (GLS) program screening data; and the experiences of GLS grantees. The recommendations stress early involvement of all stakeholders and advise that screening programs should be developed in conjunction with a comprehensive strategic plan that assesses the local context and the available resources to address the problem.
This issue brief examines the relationship between suicide and bullying among children and adolescents, with special attention to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. It also explores strategies for preventing these problems.
The mission of Suicide Awareness/Voices of Education (SA/VE) is to prevent suicide through public awareness and education, reduce stigma and serve as a resource to those touched by suicide. SA/VE provides resources, educational materials training and materials on suicide prevention. Their most recent resource is LEADS For Youth program (Linking Education and Awareness of Depression and Suicide) evidence based program for suicide prevention in schools. Read more about LEADS.
If you or someone you care about is in immediate danger, call 911.
If you are thinking about hurting yourself, or if you are concerned about someone, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), toll-free in the U.S., 24 hours a day or visit the suicide prevention lifeline for more information.