Increased Suicidal Risk Associated with Childhood Bullying

A recent study showed that children who were exposed to the most persistent bullying were associated with 2 to 3 fold increase in risk for suicidal behaviors.

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Last week in clinic, a young patient explained how they were being bullied in school playground by other kids who would harass, point and laugh. It broke my heart to hear this story and others who are silently suffering from these despicable acts.

Bullying is not just for playgrounds anymore, social media has become an active, virtual playground for children to vent their frustrations and project their anger onto others. Though, Cyberbullying may seem harmless and can be a form of entertainment, it can create lasting harm in the person it is inflicted upon.  Ongoing cyberbullying is a threat to both victims and bullies in creating greater risk for anxiety, depression, and other stress-related disorders.

“Cyberbullying” is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.

A recent published study, showed that children who were exposed to the most persistent bullying were associated with 2 to 3 fold increase in risk for suicidal behaviors. Associations of childhood bullying victimization with lifetime suicidal behaviors among new U.S. Army soldiers. – Depress Anxiety. 2017 Apr 3. doi: 10.1002/da.22621.)

As parents, what can you do?

  1. Watch for signs to see if your child is being bullied:
  • being emotionally upset during or after using the Internet or the phone
  • being very secretive or protective of one’s digital life
  • withdrawal from family members, friends, and activities
  • avoiding school or group gatherings
  • slipping grades and “acting out” in anger at home
  • changes in mood, behavior, sleep, or appetite
  • wanting to stop using the computer or cellphone
  • being nervous or jumpy when getting an instant message, text, or email
  • avoiding discussions about computer or cellphone activities

2.  Show compassion and listen to your child. Share stories about your childhood experiences. Tell them you are proud of them for coming forward and that it is not their fault and they are not alone. Encourage them not to engage with the bully but keep a record of all online activities for future evidence. Let your child know that you plan to bring it up to the school i.e head of school, teachers, counselor.

3. Set Limits. You can set online parameters to block the bully, limit tech time for your child and know your child’s online world by ‘friending them’ or following them on social sites. Set them up with counseling so they can receive help for the stress they have encountered.

4. Keep evidence of cyberbullying. Record the dates, times, and descriptions of instances when cyberbullying has occurred. Save and print screenshots, emails, and text messages. Use this evidence to report cyberbullying to web and cell phone service providers. Report cyberbullying to the social media site so they can take action against users abusing the terms of service.

5. Report cyberbullying. When cyberbullying involves threats of violence, child pornography or sending sexually explicit messages or photos, taking a photo or video or someone in a place where he or she would expect privacy, stalking and hate crime it is considered a crime and should be reported to law enforcement.

6. Set a good example yourself.  Model good online habits to help your kids understand the benefits and the dangers of life in the digital world. Once adults become involved, it is considered cyber-harassment or cyberstalking, a crime that can have legal consequences and involve jail time.

7. Make sure your child is not a Bully. Bullying in any form is unacceptable.  Severe, long-term, or frequent cyberbullying can leave both victims and bullies at greater risk for anxiety, depression, and other stress-related disorders. Unfortunately, these kids are at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts, attempts, and completed suicides.

8. Get Help. If you know of anyone who is feeling hopeless or thinking of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in our national network. These centers provide 24-hour crisis counseling and mental health referrals.

The light in me, bows to the light in you~ Namaste

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Dr. Patel was named one of the TOP DOCS in Phoenix Magazine 2009, 2016 and Internist of the Year 2011 by the American College of Physicians Arizona Chapter. She is uniquely trained, board-certified and practices both Pediatrics and Internal Medicine in Fountain Hills, Arizona. She is additionally fellowship trained in Integrative Medicine. 

She has a passion for teaching medicine and acts as a preceptor for both medical residents and providers in training. Dr. Patel has a special interest in Integrative Medicine, Women’s health, Pediatric & Adolescent care, Nutrition and Medical Cosmetics.

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