When it comes to teen suicides, cyberbullying is rarely the sole leading mechanism of peer torment, states a small study presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ national conference in New Orleans last weekend. According to the research, teens who commit suicide are usually depressed and experience bullying both at school and online.
“Cyberbullying is a factor in some suicides, but almost always there are other factors such as mental illness or face-to-face bullying,” said in a statement study author John C. LeBlanc, MD, MSc, FRCPC, FAAP. “Cyberbullying usually occurs in the context of regular bullying.”
Teen suicide and cyberbullying
For the research, LeBlanc and his team looked at teen suicide reports, pulling data from online sources where cyberbullying was indicated as a factor in a teen’s death. The team then compiled the information to determine demographic details, history of mental illness, co-occurrence of other forms of bullying, and which electronic media was indicated in each suicide event.
Overall, 41 cases of suicide were identified from the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. The majority of cases (24) were females compared to 17 cases in males ages 13 to 18.
The end results of the study found 78 percent of young adults who committed suicide were bullied both at school and online, with 17 percent targeted online only.
Thirty-two percent of teens were found to have a mood disorder, with an additional 15 percent showing symptoms of depression. When it came to bullying itself, 24 percent of teens in the study were the victims of homophobic bullying, which occurred regardless of the individual’s sexual orientation.
Of the social media used to bully, Facebook and Formspring were specifically mentioned in 21 cases, with text or video messaging mentioned in 14 cases.
Another finding indicated suicides occurred most commonly in September and January, though researchers state the increases seen may have been by chance. Suicide case reports were found to increase over time, going from 56 percent between 2003 and 2010 to 44 percent between January 2011 and April 2012 alone.
While LeBlanc’s study shows cyberbullying is not always the sole factor contributing to teen suicide, the National Crime Prevention Council states bulling through electronic media can often seem harsher to victims when compared to face-to-face bullying.
Cyberbullying generally occurs while the teen is at home—where they usually feel safe. It is usually more intense because bullies are braver online than in person, and victims begin to feel they cannot escape their harassers.