When a bullied child dies by suicide
Posted June 2, 2018
Bullying and suicide, more commonly called "bullycide," is defined as a death by suicide where bullying is the causative factor. Bullycide was coined in 2001 by journalist Neil Marr and Tim Field in the book, Bullycide: Death at Playtime. Bullycide often occurs with children who cannot cope with the chronic abuse of bullying, and seeing no other way to escape it, die by suicide to end the suffering.
Types of Bullying
Bullying can take many forms, and studies have indicated there are four main types.
- Direct–Physical Bullying includes direct contact between a bully and victim. These behaviors are physically involved and can range from assault, fighting, menacing, theft and robbery.
- Direct–Verbal Bullying utilizes name calling, threats, insults, taunting, teasing and other verbal kinds of assaults between a bully and a victim.
- Indirect–Relational Bullying is where the bullying involves a social group - where, in addition to the bully, bystanders spread rumors, ostracize, humiliate and socially exclude the victim.
- Cyberbullying involves the use of social media, emails, texting or other technology to bully, harass or taunt a victim.
Traditional Bullying vs. Cyberbullying
Bullying experiences where chronic aggression and abuse occurs in-person or via social groups is called traditional bullying. While these direct forms of bullying have been steadily decreasing over the course of the last two decades, cyberbullying (bullying that occurs via technology) has emerged as a major concern among parents, teachers, and other professionals working with young people.
Cyberbullying and traditional bullying have many overlapping experiences. All involve aggression, abuse and the use of emotional forms of humiliation to bully a person. With traditional bullying, victims usually know who their abuser is. But with cyberbulling, the bully may be able to hide his or her identity, making the origins of the abuse difficult to discover. This indirect form of bullying can often result in more devastating trauma - and spread to viral levels, leaving a child feeling utterly overwhelmed by abuse. Both forms of bullying have been linked to bullycide.
How Bullying Leads to Suicide
Bullying is a traumatizing experience for the victim, which can result in long-standing emotional and physical scars. For some vulnerable children, it can create an environment so threatening that they fall into significant despair and utter hopelessness. The bullying leads to a "giving up," because the child feels helpless to make the bullying stop.
Giving Up On Syndrome, which was first described in 1965, is a helpful way to understand exactly how a child moves through destabilizing psychological stages before bullycide occurs. I have modified the syndrome here to better describe the dynamics of what bullying does to a child, how the child catalogues the abuse, and, finally, how regression and resignation lead to a surrendering where suicide is the outcome.
Statistics for Bullycide
- The highest risk of bullycide occurs in children ages 10-14.
- For middle school students, 24% are cyberbullied and 45% are bullied on school property.
- Data on high school students indicates 15.5% are cyberbullied and 20.2% are bullied on school property.
- Students who are bullied are 2.2 times more likely to have suicide ideation and 2.6 times more likely to attempt suicide than students not bullied.
- Girls who experience school bullying at ages 8 and up were at significantly greater risk for suicidal ideation than boys.
Tips for Parents
- Make it a family rule to be transparent about technology in your home. This can involve spot checks of your children's phone and computers. Check if social taunting or bullying occurs.
- Create your own social media pages and follow your children so you can monitor their communications with others.
- Check in often, in person, with your children about their school day, camp, sports or work.
- Be a role model and share some of your social experiences that require problem solving. Ask your children for their help about such things. This exercise creates an open dialogue about social problems and helps you assess your child's judgment and experience with social difficulties.
- Make sure you know all of your children's friends and when possible, their parents.
- Check-in with your child's school, teachers and coaches every few months to find out how your child is doing in school or sports. You can do this by email or with a phone call.
- Ask about physical injuries (scrapes, scabs, marks, etc.) you notice on your child.
- Be mindful of lost or destroyed items and inquire further about how it happened.
- Keep track about the money your child has and where it's spent.
- Note the frequency of illness, headaches or stomach aches and ask about them.
- How often does your child miss school? Is there a pattern?
- Does your child avoid a certain class, friend, coach or teacher?
- Are there changes in eating habits?
- Is there difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much?
- Is your child having nightmares?
- Is your child experiencing declining grades?
- Does your child avoid going on the bus? If so, find out why.
- Is there a loss of interest in school, camp, work or with friends?
- What about a sudden loss of a friend group, arguments or a falling out?
- Does your child avoid social situations? If so, where and when is this happening?
- Is your child expressing feelings of helplessness?
- How is your child's nonverbal language? Does he or she look fearful, constricted or hiding in plain sight?
- Do you notice any withdrawal or isolation?
- Are you worried about your child's self esteem?
- Have you noticed more negative talk, like, "I can't deal with school anymore." "I hate camp and wish I never went there." "I wish I was dead." "The world is better off without me."
- Does your child display excessive feelings of shame or guilt?
- Is your child more irritable than usual?
- Is there any alcohol or substance use?
- Have you noticed any excessive risk-taking behaviors?
- Have you noticed any self-harm or cutting?
- Is your child giving items away?
- Is your child no longer thinking about the future?
- Have you noticed a sudden calm or resignation in your child?
How To Get Help
- If your child shared that he or she is being bullied, reach out to your school, camp, etc and seek out bully organizations to learn how to put into action proactive measures.
- If you suspect your child is being bullied, but he or she isn't willing to talk about it, see if you can ask a trusted adult in your child's life, like a teacher, coach - and even other children can be a source of validation. Continue to create an open dialogue with your child, and offer love, support and patience.
- Seek professional mental health care if your child is being bullied and is struggling to deal with it. A therapist can assess your child's coping abilities, offer skill-building techniques to combat bullying and assess at-risk behaviors for bullycide.
- You can also seek the guidance of a mental health professional to teach you ways to help your child deal with chronic bullying. It's not uncommon for parents to be at a loss to manage the emotional and physical pain their child experiences from bullying.
- If you feel your child is depressed, at risk for self-harm or suicide, please go to the nearest hospital emergency room, call 911 to get assistance to the hospital or CALL 1 800-273-TALK
Suicide Prevention Organizations
Adamson, J.D & Schmale, A.H. (1965). Object loss, giving up and the onset of psychiatric disease. Psychosomatic Medicine, 27(6):557-576.
Center for Disease Control, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (2015). Understanding bullying. Retrieved [June 2, 2018] from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/bullying_factsheet.pdf
Gini, G. & Espelage, D. D. (2014) Peer victimization, cyberbullying, and suicide risk in children and adolescents. JAMA Pediatrics, 312:545-546.
Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2018). Cyberbullying fact sheet: Identification, prevention, and response. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved [June 2, 2018], from https://cyberbullying.org/Cyberbullying-Identification-Prevention-Respo…
Kim, Y., & Leventhal, B. (2008). Bullying and suicide: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 20(2):133–154.
Klomek, A.B, et al. (2009). Childhood bullying behaviors as a risk for suicide attempts and completed suicides: A population-based birth cohort study. Journal of the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, 48:254-261.
Marr, N. & Field, T. (2001). Bullycide: Death at Playtime. Oxfordshire, UK: Success Unlimited.
Monks, C. (Ed.). (2011). Cyberbullying. Bullying in Different Contexts. New York: Cambridge University Press.