August 2008 - Research from Yale School of Medicine published in the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health has identified an apparent link between bullying or being bullied and suicide in young people.
Lead author and assistant professor Young-Shin Kim, M.D. said:
"While there is no definitive evidence that bullying makes kids more likely to kill themselves, now that we see there's a likely association, we can act on it and try to prevent it."
Together with colleague Bennett Leventhal, M.D., Young-Shin Kim analysed 37 studies into bullying and suicide among children and adolescents from 13 countries including United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, South Korea, Japan and South Africa.
Bullying was found to affect between nine and 54 per cent of participants. Almost all studies identified connections between being bullied and suicidal thoughts, with victims between two and nine times more likely to report experiencing this state of mind. Perpetrators were also found to be at increased risk of suicidal behaviors.
Researchers explain that the design of studies reviewed made it impossible to determine conclusively whether bullying leads to suicide. Most failed to take into account the influence of other factors like gender, psychiatric problems or a history of suicide attempts.
Young-Shin Kim argues that bullying should be taken seriously rather than being dismissed as an inevitable part of growing up. In the United States, bullying has been identified as a contributory factor in acts of extreme violence, including the Columbine High School massacre. Her own interest was sparked by a visit to South Korea where the introduction of several new slang terms referring to bullies and their victims was indicative of "an elaborated system of bullying."
Young-Shin Kim is currently studying whether being bullied actually leads to suicide, but cautions that other factors that may increase susceptibility to both bullying and suicide have to be excluded first. She suggests that existing research should encourage adults to pay more attention to bullying and signs of suicidal behavior in young people.
Young-Shin Kim concluded:
"When we see kids who are targets of bullying, we should ask them if they're thinking about hurting themselves. We should evaluate and prevent these things from happening."
July 2008 - Research from Ontario's York University and Queens University published in Child Development found that young people who bully tend to have problems in other relationships, such as with parents and friends. The study concludes that effective prevention and intervention strategies should include those relationships, as well as aggression and morality issues arising from bullying itself.
Researchers studied 871 students (466 girls and 405 boys) over a seven-year period from the ages of 10 to 18. Participants were questioned annually about their involvement in bullying or victimizing, their wider relationships, and other positive and negative behaviors.
The study concluded that a majority of children engage in bullying at some point.
About one-tenth (9.9 per cent) said they engaged in consistently high levels from elementary through high school
13.4 per cent said they had reduced from relatively high levels in elementary school to almost no bullying by the end of high school
35.1 per cent said they bullied peers at moderate levels
41.6 per cent almost never reported bullying.
Researchers found that children who bullied tended to be aggressive, lacked a moral compass and experienced significant conflict in relationships with their parents. Relationships with friends similarly involved a lot of conflict, and they tended to associate with other bullies.
Lead author Debra Pepler, research professor of psychology at York University and senior associate scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children said:
"Interventions must focus on the children who bully, with attention to their aggressive behavior problems, social skills, and social problem-solving skills. A focus on the child alone is not sufficient. Bullying is a relationship problem that requires relationship solutions by focusing on the bullying children's strained relationships with parents and risky relationships with peers. By providing intensive and ongoing support starting in the elementary school years to this small group of youth who persistently bully, it may be possible to promote healthy relationships and prevent their 'career path' of bullying that leads to numerous social-emotional and relationship problems in adolescence and adulthood