Teenagers that are consistently victimized for at least two school years are about five times more at risk of thinking about suicide and six times more at risk of attempting suicide at the age of 15 compared to their non-victimized peers, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP).
The study is the first to show a predictive link between victimization, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempt in mid-adolescence. The researchers took into account a variety of factors, including previous suicidality, childhood mental health problems such as depression, opposition/defiance, and inattention/hyperactivity problems, as well as family adversity.
A team of researchers, led by Dr. Marie-Claude Geoffroy of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, examined the relationship between victimization by peers, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts.
They looked at data from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development, which followed a general population sample of 1168 children born in 1997-98 in Quebec (Canada) until they were 15 years old.
The researchers hypothesized that children victimized by their peers would be at higher risks of suicidal ideation and suicide attempt compared to non-victims.
They found that approximately 20 percent of the study participants reported having been exposed to victimization by their peers. Peer victimization was defined as being the target of one or more of the following acts: calling someone names, spreading rumors, excluding someone from a group on purpose, attacking someone physically or cyberbullying.
The findings show that victims reported higher rates of suicidal ideation at age 13 and 15 (respectively 11.6 percent and 14.7 percent) compared to those who had not been victimized (2.7 percent at 13 and 4.1 percent at 15).
The researchers also discovered higher rates of suicide attempts for the victimized adolescents at ages 13 and 15 (5.4 percent and 6.8 percent) compared to non-victims (1.6 percent at 13 and 1.9 percent at 15). In particular, the data showed that 13-year-old adolescents who had been victimized by their peers are twice as likely to have suicidal ideation two years later and are three times as likely to attempt suicide.
The authors note that although victimization predicts suicidality it does not necessarily cause it, and this prediction does not apply to all individuals. Only a minority of victims will later develop suicidal ideation or attempt suicide. Why these adverse experiences affect only certain individuals remains to be investigated.
The teen years remain a crucial period for suicide prevention. The researchers, therefore, say that effective interventions may require a multidisciplinary effort involving parents, schoolteachers, principals, and mental health professionals.