Bullying and suicide: Know the warning signs

The recent suicide of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick, allegedly as a result of constant tormenting by two girls, ages 12 and 14, has brought to light the very real and very serious issue of bullying in the lives of today’s children and young adults and its devastating consequences.

The two girls are being charged with aggravated stalking that stemmed from multiple harassing messages allegedly sent to Sedwick by the girls via the internet. Some of the messages include: “Why don’t you go kill yourself?”, and “You should die.”, according to Grady Judd, sheriff of Polk County, Florida, where the events occurred.

While the concept of bullying is nothing new, the use of an online medium in bullying is, and this has made it easier for bullies to communicate with their victims while feeling powerful and safe behind their computer screen. This new type of bullying called cyberbullying, and its presence in several other recent high-profile suicide deaths, has brought bullying under an international spotlight.

It highlights a need to understand bullying and suicide, as well as how to prevent them from happening. Though suicide is not directly caused by bullying, there is a definite link between the two.

For example, risk factors including aggression, anxiety and depression are similar for both. Research shows that 30 percent of middle and high school students reported either being bullied by others or participating in bullying themselves. Recent studies have also discovered that kids that are bullied have a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts, and other research determined that children who are more depressed, withdrawn or aggressive are more likely to be bullied and to commit suicide.

At the Baylor Level 1 Trauma Center on the campus of Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, one important part of injury prevention for the community, and our parents and families, is education about depression, including the warning signs for suicide.

Suicide can be a cause of serious injury and long-term disability for the individual, as well as a significant emotional stressor for those left behind. In the Sedwick case, bullying may lead to someone feeling isolated and hopeless, both of which are known risk factors for suicide.

As a family member, friend, or even for yourself, be aware of the warning signs, including talking about wanting to die and withdrawing or isolating from others.

For more information, visit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

About the author

Dr. Ann Marie Warren
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Dr. Warren is a clinical psychologist at Baylor Dallas' Level 1 Trauma Center. She provides psychological intervention for patients who sustain severe injuries and is the principal investigator for research that focuses on how trauma impacts patients.

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Bullying and suicide: Know the warning signs