Is cyber bullying associated with teen suicidality? Comprehensive psych. July. 2014


Life time prevalence of suicidal ideas  and attempts among teens is 12% and 4% respectively. Suicide is a leading cause of death among teens. Majority of teens  (in many countries)  have access to internet and vast majority use social network sites. Electronic bullying/ cyber bullying  is now coming up as a risk factor for teen suicide. Early research from US suggest that compared to traditional bullying, there is a stronger association between cyberbullying victimization with depression  and suicidality.

Bullying is the “aggressive behavior intended to cause harm or distress. The behavior may be physical or verbal”. intentionality, repetitiveness, and power imbalance are the key features.

How common is cyber bullying? What is its relationship to sadness, suicidal ideas and attempts?

Erick Messias, Kristi Kindrick and Juan Castro report the results of their study addressing the  relationship between school bullying, cyberbullying, and both forms of bullying victimization, to depression and suicide in a nationally representative sample of high school students. The data is collected as part of US Youth Risk Behaviour Survey. Students were asked about bullying ( school or cyber ) in the last 12 months. Participants also provided information on sadness, suicidal ideas and attempts. 17,672 students participated in this.


Girls are more likely to be report being bullied (31 % vs. 23%), in particularly to be cyberbullied (22 % vs. 11%). Overall bullying decreases from age 14 (33%) to age 18 and older (21%), this decrease is due mostly to a decrease in exclusive school bullying (from 17 % to 7 %) while exclusive cyberbullying increased from 6 % in 14 year-olds to 7 % among 18 year-olds.

Girls were significantly more likely to reports 2-week sadness (36% vs. 21%), suicidal ideation (19% vs. 12%), suicide plan (15% vs. 11%) and attempts ( 10% vs 6%).

Data show that cyberbullying is of higher risk than school bullying. Those who faced both had highest risk. the dose–response pattern is like this— no bullying < school bullying < cyberbullying

Limitations:  cross- sectional analysis  cannot show the sequence of events leading to the association noticed.Prospective studies are required to answer the question about which came first.

Conclusions:  Bullying, both school bullying and cyberbullying, is prevalent (27 %).  Those reporting either form of bullying are at higher risk for suicidal ideas and attempts. Cyberbullying do not decrease with age.  Cyberbullying can be of higher risk.

Summary of the article:

School bullyingcyberbullying, or both: correlates of teen suicidality in the 2011 CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Messias E, Kindrick K, Castro J. Compr Psychiatry. 2014 Jul;55(5):1063-8.

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