Cyberbullying Rarely Sole Factor In Teen Suicides

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

New research reported at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition shows that cyberbullying is rarely the sole factor in teen suicides.

The team searched for reports of youth suicides where cyberbullying was a reported factor, logging information about demographics and the event itself through online news media and social networks.

They also used descriptive statistics to assess the rate of pre-existing mental illness, the occurrence of other forms of bullying, and the characteristics of the electronic media associated with each suicide case.

The team identified 41 suicide cases from the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia, including 24 female and 17 male from the ages 13 to 18.

They found 24 percent of teens were the victims of homophobic bullying, including the 12 percent of teens identified as homosexual and another 12 percent of teens identified as heterosexual.

Suicides most frequently occurred in September and January, but the authors warned these higher rates may have occurred by chance.

The incidence of suicide cases increased over time, with 56 percent occurring from 2003 to 2010, compared to 44 percent from January 2011 through April 2012.

They found that 78 percent of adolescents who committed suicide were bullied at school and online, and only 17 percent were targeted online only.

A mood disorder was reported in 32 percent of the teens, and depression symptoms in an additional 15 percent.

“Cyberbullying is a factor in some suicides, but almost always there are other factors such as mental illness or face-to-face bullying,” study author John C. LeBlanc said in a press release. “Cyberbullying usually occurs in the context of regular bullying.”

Cyberbullying occurred through social media sites like Facebook and Formspring, both specifically mentioned in 21 cases. Text or video messaging was noted in 14 cases.

“Certain social media, by virtue of allowing anonymity, may encourage cyberbullying,” Dr. LeBlanc said in the release. “It is difficult to prove a cause and effect relationship, but I believe there is little justification for anonymity.”

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