Bullying and Suicide

I’ve found myself becoming more and more sensitive to bullying in the past couple of months. It grew from just an annoyance that it happens, to a righteous fury, to being completely unable to watch movies/shows that depict bullying because I can’t stand the fact that bullying still exists.

A few months ago I watched the movie Bully which is a documentary released in 2012 about bullying in today’s schools. It covered 3 or 4 different stories of bullying; a young man who was bullied because he had a “fish face”, a young woman bullied because of her orientation and the way she chose to dress outside of her gender-norm, and a young African american woman who was bullied so badly on the bus that she brought a gun in hopes to scare those who taunted her. Throughout these three stories, a fourth story of a family who lost their 11-year-old son to suicide plays.

The movie is great, and if you happen to visit your local redbox or have netflix I highly suggest renting it and watching it. And as much as bullying infuriates me, as much as I want to grab people by their shoulders and shout “You do NOT treat people this way!!”, I will admit that the recent push towards bullying awareness/prevention emphasizes the correlation between bullying and suicide too much. 

Bullying and Suicide are correlated. But that does not mean one CAUSES the other. Someone who is being bullied is more likely to experience depression, anxiety, or some other mental illness, and that mental illness puts them at a higher risk of suicide, but being bullied does not guarantee someone is going to be suicidal. Similarly, there is never one cause for suicide. Suicide is a complicated issue with a variety of risk factors; the number one risk factor being an undiagnosed or untreated mental illness (not bullying!). So it is unfair to say that someone has died by suicide due to bullying. It would be more correct to say someone died by suicide due to a variety of factors, some of which being an untreated mental illness, limited coping abilities, and being bullied at school.

Here are a couple risk factors that puts someone at a higher risk of suicide (per AFSP’s More Than Sad training resource):

  • Living with a mental illness, especially if it is undiagnosed or untreated
  • Impulsivity (common with teenagers)
  • A family history of mental illness or suicide attempts
  • A prior suicide attempt
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • Bullying 
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Trouble with the law
  • Exposure to suicide – in school, in the news, etc.
  • Access to firearms

As you can see, bullying is definitely a factor, but not the only one. Just because your loved one is not being bullied does not mean they are not at risk for suicide.

As always, please keep yourself educated on the signs and symptoms of mental illness and suicide. If you notice any of those symptoms in yourself or in your friend, utilize this website to learn more about how you can seek help for yourself or your loved one. You are not alone, there is treatment available, and treatment works.

Furthermore, if you witness bullying at school, work, in the community, on the internet, or anywhere – do something about it. Bullying is NOT OKAY and no one deserves to be bullied. Report it to a teacher, a supervisor, a site administrator, or someone else with power to stop it. 

Together we CAN make a difference to destroy the stigma associated with mental health, increase awareness of the vast resources available for help, and end bullying.