The Center for Disease Control (CDC) undertook an investigation into the effects of bullying, in the hopes to find if there is a connection to the increasing teen and adolescent suicide rates.
Upon looking into what is known about suicide, the CDC determined that students exhibit an increased risk when they have multiple stressors coming from personal relationships, family, friends, school or work.
Another finding was that students involved in any bullying behavior (on the giving, receiving, or witnessing spectrum) are more likely to raise the risk associated with characteristics of suicidal teens such as helplessness or hopelessness.
Adolescents and teens that have any involvement in bullying with any additional risk factors for helpless or hopeless feelings have an increased risk of suicidal tendencies. However, there is no clear indication that bullying alone directly causes suicide.
According to the CDC, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose. Bullying can occur in-person or through technology.”
Some of the repercussions of bullying include: depression, anxiety, involvement in interpersonal violence or sexual violence, substance abuse, poor social functioning, and poor school performance, including lower grade point averages, standardized test scores, and poor attendance.
As educators are spending the majority of time throughout the day with students, it is important for preventative bullying and suicide measures be integrated into schools.
Students who feel connected to schools are less likely to engage in suicide related behaviors. Teachers can help by personalizing the instruction, using students names, showing care and concern, and encouraging extracurricular activities. Such connectedness with positive caring adults builds trust and helps lower the risk of students with social and emotional stressors.
Students with differences from others creates a platform for bullying. Often adolescents and teens with disabilities, learning challenges, cultural differences, or sexuality differences stand a high risk of being bullied. School staff needs to take an active role in anti-bullying to help eliminate the risk for these students. Traditional conflict mediation will not stop the power struggle seen in bullying situations. Pushing the administration and students to be a part of an anti-bullying peer inclusion program will help protect students who may appear different than others.
Adolescents and teens with appropriate coping methods are less likely to have suicidal tendencies. Helping students find healthy and peaceful ways to resolve conflicts also lends to a lowered participation in bullying. By helping students accept differences in themselves and others through positive and empowering life skills, teachers help reduce the urge to bully and provide tangible assistance to help students deal with being bullied.
All students involved with bullying need support. Bullies are at a much higher risk for suicidal behaviors than non-bullying students. The bullies that are being bullied at home or school or in other situations have the highest rate of depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide among students. Children who are bullied often have an increased risk for self-harming behaviors and thoughts as well. The biggest difference a teacher can make is to provide support internal and external for all people and their families involved in the bullying event. Often the students acting out are trying to fit in, deal with stress at home or school, deal with abuse, or a myriad of other issues over just being mean. Punishment may provide the consequence for the action, but counseling and support provide the additional measure to ensure prevention for the future. Focusing on the negative, blaming, shaming, and criminalizing the bully leads to blockages from the desired positive changes and prevention of future bullying.
Students that witness bullying can have long-term negative consequences. The feeling of helplessness increases while their feeling of connectedness decreases. Encourage students to speak out to caring staff about things they witness to help improve school climate and prevent violence or abuse in others. By providing positive ways students can make anti-bullying the norm, adolescents and teens become instrumental to the change effected through the lens of anti-bullying. It becomes uncool or unacceptable when witnessed, helping to create a negative stigma associated with being a bully and silently witnessing such acts.