Suicide is when people direct violence at themselves with the intent to end their lives, and they die as a result of their actions. Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States.
A suicide attempt is when people harm themselves with the intent to end their lives, but they do not die as a result of their actions. Many more people survive suicide attempts than die, but they often have serious injuries. However, a suicide attempt does not always result in a physical injury.
Suicide prevention: Suicide prevention is commonly used to refer to activities that prevent suicides and behaviors closely associated with suicide (including thinking about or considering taking one’s own life).
Bullying: Bullying is typically defined as the ongoing physical or emotional victimization of a person by another person or group of people. Cyberbullying is an emerging problem in which people use new communication technologies, such as social media and texting, to harass and cause emotional harm to their victims.
Extent of the Problem
Suicide: Suicide is a major problem among young people in the United States.
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people ages 12–18 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2007).
- In a typical 12-month period, nearly 14 percent of American high school students seriously consider suicide; nearly 11 percent make plans about how they would end their lives; and 6.3 percent actually attempt suicide (CDC, 2010).
Bullying: During the 2007–2008 school year, 32 percent of the nation’s students ages 12–18 reported being bullied (Dinkes, Kemp, & Baum, 2009). Of these students:
- 21 percent said they were bullied once or twice a month.
- 10 percent reported being bullied once or twice a week.
- 7 percent indicated they were bullied daily.
- Nearly 9 percent reported being physically injured as a result of bullying.
During that same school year, four percent of students ages 12–18 reported being cyberbullied (Dinkes et al., 2009). Another study found that approximately 13 percent of students in grades 6–10 reported being cyber-bullied
Bullying and Suicide
Both victims and perpetrators of bullying are at a higher risk for suicide than their peers. Children who are both victims and perpetrators of bullying are at the highest risk. All three groups (victims, perpetrators, and perpetrator/victims) are more likely to be depressed than children who are not involved in bullying (Wang, Nanseletal., in press). Depression is a major risk factor for suicide.
Bullying is associated with increases in suicide risk in young people who are victims of bullying as well as increases in depression and other problems associated with suicide.
Victims of cyber-bullying are also at risk for depression. One study found that victims of cyber-bullying had higher levels of depression than victims of face-to-face bullying
A review of the research (Arseneault, Bowes, & Shakoor, 2010) indicated that there are personal characteristics that increase a child’s risk of being bullied. These personal characteristics include the following:
- Internalizing problems (including withdrawal and anxiety/depression)
- Low self-esteem
- Low assertiveness
- Aggressiveness in early childhood (which can lead to rejection by peers and social isolation)
Suicide risk factors
There is no single cause of suicide. Several factors can increase a person’s risk for attempting or dying by suicide. However, having these risk factors does not always mean that suicide will occur.
Among these Risk factors for suicide are:
- Previous suicide attempt(s)
- History of depression or other mental illness
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Family history of suicide or violence
- Physical illness
- Feeling alone
Suicide affects everyone, but some groups are at higher risk than others. There are several factors associated with an increased risk for suicide. Among them is gender, age, religion, marital status, and employmentor nature of profession.
Gender: More males commit suicide than females, whereas more females tend to attempt suicide than males. 1,15
The risk for suicide increases with age: the risk in men peaks at age45 and in women at age 55. Suicide rates among young people,especially in the 15–24 age bracket, are on the increase. Suicide among males aged 25–34 years has increased by almost 30% over the past decade. In the USA suicide is the leading cause of death in the age group 15–24 years old, followed by motor vehicle accidentsand homicide. In South Africa suicide accounts for 1,3% of deaths ofpeople in the age group15–24.9
Marriage acts as a protective factor against suicide. Reported rates of suicide among the various categories revealed that among marriedpeople the suicide rate is 11/100 000. Marriage appears to be reinforced by having children and the marriage has to be stable. Rates of suicide were highest among divorced men (69/100 000) and those who are widowed (40/100 000).
In the past, suicide rates were higher among whites than blacks in the USA. The trend seems to be changing, however, as we now see more suicides among blacks.
Social status predisposes to a greater risk of suicide. Gainful employment generally protects against suicide. Suicide is higher among the unemployed. The suicide rate increases during economic recessions and times of high unemployment, and decreases during times of high employment. Physicians are traditionally at a greater risk of committing suicide than non-physicians and the general population. Physicians who commit suicide are said to have a history of mental illness, in addition to their professional, personal and family difficulties. Specialties with high suicide risk are musicians, dentists, nurses, socialworkers, artists, mathematicians, scientists and police officers. Other sources cite that psychiatrists, ophthalmologists and anaesthetists also have high risk of suicide.
How does suicide affect health?
People who attempt suicide and survive may experience serious injuries, such as broken bones, brain damage, or organ failure. These injuries may have long-term effects on their health. People who survive suicide attempts may also have depression and other mental health problems.
Suicide also affects the health of others and the community. When people die by suicide, their family and friends often experience shock, anger, guilt, and depression. The medical costs and lost wages associated with suicide also take their toll on the community.
Prevention of Suicide
Suicide is a significant public health problem, and there is a lot to learn about how to prevent it. One strategy is to learn about the warning signs of suicide, which can include individuals talking about wanting to hurt themselves, increasing substance use, and having changes in their mood, diet, or sleeping patterns. When these warning signs appear, quickly connecting the person to supportive services is critical. Promoting opportunities and settings that strengthen connections among people, families, and communities is another suicide prevention goal.
Comprehensive school-based prevention programs can help prevent suicidal behavior (May, Sema, Hurt, &DeBruyn, 2005; Kalafat, 2003). Research (Haas et al., 2011; American Association of Suicidology, 1999) and experience suggest that school-based suicide prevention programs should not focus narrowly on student education and life skills training but also include the following:
- Activities to identify young people at risk of suicide (such as gate keeper training and screening)
- Referrals to mental health services
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center recommends the adoption of anti-bullying policies and other activities specifically intended to prevent suicidal behavior among LGBT youth (SPRC, 2008).
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