Bullying is not on the rise and it does not lead to suicide

Every other month or so a story about a child bullied until he or she commits suicide rises into our national consciousness.

This month it’s Rebecca Sedwick from Lakeland, Fla.

Before that it was Gabrielle Molina of Queens. And before that it Asher Brown.

All suicides are tragic and complicated. And teen suicides are particularly devastating because as adults we recognize all that lost potential.

Yet, in perpetuating these stories, which are often little more than emotional linkbait, journalists are complicit in a gross oversimplification of a complicated phenomenon. In short, we’re getting the facts wrong.

The common narrative goes like this: Mean kids, usually the most popular and powerful, single out and relentlessly bully a socially weaker classmate in a systemic and calculated way, which then drives the victim into a darkness where he or she sees no alternative other than committing suicide.

And yet experts – those who study suicide, teen behavior and the dynamics of cyber interactions of teens – all say that the facts are rarely that simple. And by repeating this inaccurate story over and over, journalists are harming the public’s ability to understand the dynamics of both bullying and suicide.

People commit suicide because of mental illness. It is a treatable problem and preventable outcome. Bullying is defined as an ongoing pattern of intimidation by a child or teenager over others who have less power.

Yet when journalists (and law enforcement, talking heads and politicians) imply that teenage suicides are directly caused by bullying, we reinforce a false narrative that has no scientific support. In doing so, we miss opportunities to educate the public about the things we could be doing to reduce both bullying and suicide.

There is no scientific evidence that bullying causes suicide. None at all. Lots of teenagers get bullied (between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 teenagers report being bullied in real life, fewer report being bullied online). Very few commit suicide. Among the people who commit suicide, researchers have no good data on how many of them have been bullied.

It is journalistically irresponsible to claim that bullying leads to suicide. Even in specific cases where a teenager or child was bullied and subsequently commits suicide, it’s not accurate to imply the bullying was the direct and sole cause behind the suicide.

Reporters are often reacting to other misinformed authorities.  For example, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd explained to reporters that he arrested two girls (one 12, the other 14) in Sedwick’s death, after seeing a callous social media post from one of the girls, “We can’t leave her out there, who else is she going to torment? Who else is she going to harass? Who is the next person she verbally and mentally abuses and attacks?” While it’s a great quote, it implies that this girl has the ability, through random meanness, to inspire others to commit suicide.

“Everything we know about unsafe reporting is being done here – describing the method(s), the simplistic explanation (bullying = suicide), the narrative that bullies are the villains and the girl that died, the victim,” Wylie Tene, the public relations manager for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, wrote in an email to me. “She (the victim) is almost portrayed as a hero. Her smiling pictures are now juxtaposed with the two girls’ mug shots. Her parents are portrayed as doing everything right, and the other girls parents did everything wrong and are part of the problem. This may be all true, and it also may be more complicated.”

Sheriff Judd has a record of grandstanding for the media. Yet, journalists are running with his narrative, despite the fact that experts on bullying and on suicide are suggesting that there has to be more to the story.

What’s a journalist to do? Challenge the sheriff. Add more information to place his quotes in the appropriate context.

“Clearly allowing police to make statements about whether a bullying incident was the cause of the suicide is contrary to suicide reporting recommendations. He has no training to make this judgment,” said Dan Romer,  director of the Adolescent Communication Institute at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “It would have been good if those quotes had been put into context if they felt the need to include them.  At this point, the stories are a lot of hearsay.  So, it’s a shame that the girls are being identified.  But this sheriff is clearly on the warpath about this and he can get all the media attention he wants.”

Remember the story of Phoebe Prince, a young Irish immigrant attending South Hadley High School near Boston? After she committed suicide in 2009, several of her classmates were charged with a variety of crimes. Slate writer Emily Bazelon went back and documented exactly what happened to Prince in the months leading up to her death.

Bazelon described how several of the students were active or complicit in acts of meanness, including veiled references to Prince on Facebook and yelling at Prince from a car. But those acts hardly amounted to the relentless campaign that authorities described when they announced the investigation and charges. Instead, Bazelon’s story reveals a girl who was already experiencing mental illness when she arrived at South Hadley and stepped into an intricate and nuanced social reality that includes bad behavior as well as acts of compassion, sometimes by the same kids.

Bazelon has offered a cautionary approach to Sedwig’s story as well.

When faced with a story about bullying, especially one that involves teenage suicide, reporters can find resources designed to encourage reporting that informs and educates the public. StopBullying.gov recently published media guidelines designed to help journalists include research and resources in their stories that will add important context and avoid common pitfalls. (In 2012, I facilitated several meetings with a group of researchers and experts who advised the government on the creation of these guidelines.)

There are also helpful resources for journalists covering suicide.

While there are myriad mistakes that journalists make on these two issues, here are some of the most common ones:

  • Perpetuating falsehoods through hyperbole or by confusing anecdotes with facts, such as stating that cyber-bullying is on the rise or is an epidemic.
  • Implying that suicide is caused by a single factor, like a romantic breakup, a bad test score or being bullied.
  • Suggesting, or allowing others to suggest, that bullying is criminal behavior.
  • Allowing sources to reach beyond their anecdotal experience. Parents, teachers and school administrators are rarely qualified to describe research or trends.
  • Equating all teenage aggression as bullying, when in fact there is a specific definition that involves sustained behavior and a power imbalance.
  • Describing an act of suicide in vivid detail so that it creates a contagion effect among vulnerable populations.
  • Glorifying a suicide victim in saintly or heroic terms, which could also contribute to the spread of suicides.
  • Forgetting to link to local and national resources about suicide and bullying, including warning signs and strategies for intervention.

One reason these stories gain such traction is they are easy to sensationalize and they tap into a common narrative that children today are spinning out of control as a result of technology and popular culture. “It’s every parent’s worst nightmare,” the news stories and opinion pieces tell us.

By contrast, this Christian Science Monitor story seeks out experts and arms readers with research, facts and resources.

Reporters looking for more motivation to steer clear of the popular, yet erroneous narrative need only look at the way this story echoes through history. Whether it’s the proliferation of cars, rock n’ roll music on the radio, video games, cell phones, or social media, we find ways to demonize technology’s impact on the young people who embrace it with such enthusiasm. Over time, we look back and marvel at our own hysteria.

Bullying and suicide are serious problems. Journalists owe the public more than they are delivering. We owe the public the science and research. We owe the public the knowable facts. We owe the public the nuanced context of individual cases.

Anything less contributes to a misinformed society, which robs communities of the ability to bring about meaningful change.

“The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century” is now available. The book is a compilation of essays and case studies edited by Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel, with a foreword by Bob Steele, for use in newsrooms, classrooms and other settings dedicated to a marketplace of ideas that serves democracy. You can find more information about the book here.

Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an error in the name of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • BATCH organic soaps

    Bullies, people that were bullied one time in their childhood, and people never bullied love to simplify everything into mental illness, there’s a screw loose. It’s like cancer is genetic, couldn’t be the water, soda, hairspray, pesticides, antibiotics, vehicle emissions, etc.

    Bullying is real, it’s dangerous, and it needs to be addressed, and people that know about it should be heard. If I don’t know about something first hand it’s better to keep my babbling to myself.

  • BATCH organic soaps

    Kelly,

    If you have not been bullied on a regular basis for a sustained amount of time, at least a year then you should refrain from opening your mouth and typing words that form sentences that are uninformed, useless, and perpetuate the dismissal of bullying being a direct link to child and teen suicides; and the bullying causing mental fatigue which prolonged can lead to mental illness.

    Newborns, toddlers, children, teens and young adults need protection from sustained intimidation, bullying and the like, in the same way they need protection from drug and alcohol abuse. The younger a human is exposed to either, the chance of not developing a mental illness and/or drug addiction the slimmer the chance of a recovery. The synapses are connecting in the brain in our youth, so when a child begins smoking or drinking those connections to those substances make a permanent bond within the function of the developing brain which almost guarantees a lifetime of substance abuse. The same goes for high stress and mental fatigue, if experienced at a young age and sustained over a sizable duration, that child is guaranteed to have a lifetime of mental illness or more specifically mental challenges, and essentially a lifelong battle with mental fatigue; which can lead to suicide.

    If you take a grown woman or man that did not experience bullying, abnormal stress, anxiety, and mental fatigue in their childhood, and giving them a reasonably stable home. If they experience bullying as an adult for the first time, they have a strong foundation to handle the attack, and deal with it intellectually and responsibly. A good comparison is taking a grown adult that was not exposed to drugs and alcohol in their youth, they are 10x less likely to develop an addiction. Switch out the drugs for soda and McDonald’s as the main diet in their youth, what will they be eating in their adulthood? and how will their health be?

    So try to wrap that around your uninformed brain for a sustained amount of time before you comment on this subject further. I’ll say it again, it’s people like you that perpetuate the dismissal of bullying being a serious issue, and more and more lives will be devastated with tragedy as a result. I for one will go to my grave, as will many others to end this ignorance and lack of child supervision. © John Noah Pertew

    -John Noah Pertew -this statement has © copyrights.
    -johnnoahpertew@gmail.com

  • paul fredine

    while i will admit that suicide is a complicated issue and bullying may not be a sole determining factor, i found parts of this article extremely insulting, falling back on the “blame the victim” trend becoming evident across the country. “she was raped”, no, she was asking for it. “he was assaulted”, no, he brought it on himself. bullying may not be the sole factor in a suicide, but it can be the determining factor on why it was done at this particular time in some young persons life. people are bullied because for some reason they are perceived as differnt, and , therefore, vulnerable and perhaps those differences and vulnerabilities are the result of some underlying, unknown mental condition that may need to be diagnosed and addressed, but to almost infer that, even had they not been bullied, chances are they might have committed suicide anyway? that is simply irresponsible.

  • Days of Broken Arrows

    I’m not getting how social media can be lumped in with rock’n'roll, video games, or cell phones as an example of societal hysteria. One of these things is not like the others! The last of these is a complete game-changer when it comes to how humans have begun to interact with each other. And it has dramatically affected kids because thanks to social media bullying is now 24/7: you can’t escape it.

    This is so markedly different than the emergence of Little Richard, Space Invaders, or the original no-frills cell phones, it’s a wonder any editor let this sentence slip through. Had this writer or her editors been on the receiving end of an all-out online harassment campaign, I bet they wouldn’t be comparing that to old Chuck Berry 45s.

  • John Williams

    Yep–just the kind of comment I’d expect from somebody who buys into the “anti-bullying” snake oil…

  • https://www.facebook.com/etseq97 etseq

    Somebody needs to take his meds…

  • John Williams

    My source is my knowledge of just how far out they’ve gone to define “bullying”–such as not inviting someone to the same lunch table is “bullying” because you’re “excluding” someone. That’s absurd in the extreme to anyone who has knowledge of the real world and how it functions. You’re dealing with the wrong side of the issue because you’ve found some suckers who are willing to send you money for a made-up problem. The problem is not with bullying–it has and will exist FOREVER. The problem is not learning how to deal with bullying–but that would require a real effort and not a bunch of sloganeering and rah-rah “I’m OK-you’re OK” pop psychology. You’re far more dangerous than people like me because you’ve got a lot of people bamboozled into thinking you can really solve a problem when approaching from the side you do is no solution, but a temporary bandage. And it’s you who will move on to another crusade the minute you see this one losing steam. Not me. Because I don’t deal in theories and studies and all the other crap dreamed up to create a problem so you can fix it. I deal in reality–and that means teaching people to deal with ALL situations in the real world–not trying to change the real world into some Utopian idiocracy.

  • Christine Pfister McComas

    What a dangerous and misleading article title! Your article is not much better.
    As the mother of a teen lost to a bullying related suicide I feel obliged to point out a couple of gross inaccuracies. It is hard to believe that a journalistic expert could make such errors. You mention that “People commit suicide because of mental illness. It is a treatable problem and preventable outcome.” Really? My child WAS in treatment, and like any parents, we tried everything, including all the recommendations of so-called
    ‘bullying experts’ to get help for her situation, screen shots, informing the schools, the police, the courts, states attnys, to no avail, in that they offered no support or understanding to the victim. You mention ‘scientific evidence’… WHY is that science not being done?? We can not wait for ‘science’ to catch up with culture. Our children are digitally interconnected with their peers in ways that makes the bullying/misuse of social media pervasive and invasive, and truly damaging, especially in the cases that involve sexual assaults. It may well cause or exacerbate mental illnesses like depression or anxiety, especially as social media allows hatred and gossip to fly exponentially at the speed of electronic media. More study must be done, but in the meantime, we need these discussions to raise awareness and quite literally save lives.

    You also mention as a ‘mistake’ those who “suggest, or allowing others to suggest, that bullying is criminal behavior” You are just plain wrong and uninformed here. Sometimes bullying does rise to the level of criminal behavior. On Oct. 1, 2013 ‘GRACE’S LAW’ against cyberbullying went into effect in Maryland and is named after our 15-year old daughter Grace McComas. My husband and I and two of our adult daughters testified on behalf of this law, which is desperately needed. It passed unanimously through both legislative houses; no small feat in the current political climate. It is modeled after the language of the federal violence against women act, and should offer protections and deterrents against malicious and repeated bullying behaviors.

    As a result of our situation our county executive has also taken the initiative to fund a community-wide anti-bullying effort to raise awareness and change our collective response to this issue, including a reporting app and social media campaign.
    To learn more about Grace, including our testimony (under the ‘notes’ section) visit and ‘like’ https://www.facebook.com/GraceMcComasMemorial

  • Malty17

    Nope. You can be as disrespectful and intolerant as you want to be.

    …. and hypocritical.

  • scottrose

    Can you imagine that the non-expert journalist who wrote the crap post above is advising others on how to report on this topic?

  • scottrose

    Bullying and Suicide

    There is a strong link between bullying and suicide, as suggested by recent bullying-related suicides in the US and other countries. Parents, teachers, and students learn the dangers of bullying and help students who may be at risk of committing suicide.

    In recent years, a series of bullying-related suicides in the US and across the globe have drawn attention to the connection between bullying and suicide. Though too many adults still see bullying as “just part of being a kid,” it is a serious problem that leads to many negative effects for victims, including suicide. Many people may not realize that there is also a link between being a bully and committing suicide.

    The statistics on bullying and suicide are alarming:

    Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it.

    Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University

    A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying

    10 to 14 year old girls may be at even higher risk for suicide, according to the study above

    According to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying

    Bully-related suicide can be connected to any type of bullying, including physical bullying, emotional bullying, cyberbullying, and sexting, or circulating suggestive or nude photos or messages about a person.

    Some schools or regions have more serious problems with bullying and suicide related to bullying. This may be due to an excessive problem with bullying at the school. It could also be related to the tendency of students who are exposed to suicide to consider suicide themselves.

    Some of the warning signs of suicide can include:

    Showing signs of depression, like ongoing sadness, withdrawal from others, losing interest in favorite activities, or trouble sleeping or eating

    Talking about or showing an interest in death or dying

    Engaging in dangerous or harmful activities, including reckless behavior, substance abuse, or self injury

    Giving away favorite possessions and saying goodbye to people

    Saying or expressing that they can’t handle things anymore

    Making comments that things would be better without them

    If a person is displaying these symptoms, talk to them about your concerns and get them help right away, such as from a counselor, doctor, or at the emergency room.

    In some cases, it may not be obvious that a teen is thinking about suicide, such as when the suicide seems to be triggered by a particularly bad episode of bullying. In several cases where bullying victims killed themselves, bullies had told the teen that he or she should kill him or herself or that the world would be better without them. Others who hear these types of statements should be quick to stop them and explain to the victim that the bully is wrong.

  • scottrose

    Who is the kkkunt who wrote this kkkrap anyway?

  • scottrose

    You demand respect for your idiotic belief that a virgin had a baby?

  • scottrose

    The reporter had some sort of pre-determined agenda that keeps her from telling truth. Saying flatly that “people commit suicide because of mental illness” is dead wrong. On 9/11, people committed suicide by jumping from the burning buildings. Were the people who committed suicide by jumping from the burning buildings committing suicide because they were mentally ill? No, obviously. How about if we bully the bitch reporter to within an inch of her life and see if she changes her mind? This terrible, misinformed crap about bullying should never have been published.

  • John Williams

    Look Judge–bullying has been going on since life began. To pretend that it’s worse now than it was prior to this ridiculous “anti-bullying” crusade is absurd in the extreme. IF it is contributing to suicides, then why wasn’t it before? Because we’ve now built the expectation that it’s somehow not a natural part of growing up–which it is, and regardless of all the play-nice, politically correct gobbledygook the social busybodies cook up, will continue to be. We are creating a generation of helpless, hopeless, totally dependent, anxiety-ridden mental health patients who are going to spend more time at their therapists’ offices than at work. And yes–THAT IS IRRESPONSIBLE. You do-gooders won’t be there to deal with the helpless once they’re out of your purview. There will be countless ruined lives from this disabling rot and you will go on your merry way thinking you’ve “solved” something that you just managed to hide for a time. You’re fooling yourselves and those who buy into your ridiculous schemes.

  • jacobjg

    Well said. Agreed.

  • http://babelbooth.com/ Pitchforks

    This very succinctly encapsulates how bullying, though distressing to anyone, is not a single cause of suicide. Many children AND adults are bullied but a very tiny proportion kill themselves. In the Facebook case there could have been so many other things going on, even in the home, and Facebook could just have represented the only place where the kid felt she had a connection with people – but again, a certain psychopathology of for example depression or extreme impulsiveness would have to be present in order for even the most extreme circumstances to tip a person over.

  • http://babelbooth.com/ Pitchforks

    Who exactly are “bullies”?? Everyone seems to be looking only towards kids in school or social media settings. Hello!! Where do you think these kids learned their vicious attitudes from?? Look at any blog comments section, including this one and you will see some charming examples of adult bullying. Go to any office environment where ther are 5 or more employees and you will see examples of psuchological “mobbing”, where one person who for some abritrary reason doesn’t quite fit in and becomes the subject of snickers, askance glances and cutting remarks. You tihk people who perpetrate such psychological bullying towards their colleagues don’t go home and engage in mean character assassination with their spouses in front of their kids?? Then they turn on a channel like HLN and are taught how to refine their catty skills by the likes of Nancy Grace and Vinnie Politan – with the kids listening in the background. Adults need to look in the mirror and think about the value messages they are modeling to their kids and the kind of TV trash gossip they are watching as a family.

  • http://babelbooth.com/ Pitchforks

    I made some comments yesterday about the disturbing mass adult tendencies towards which society is going, and which are reinforcing the tendency to bully. See below See also the articles I cite from my blog.

  • Malty17

    I just read a story that a girl committed suicide because her parents wouldn’t allow here to log on to Facebook one evening because she wasn’t getting her school work done. She claimed in her note that that was the cause.

    So, the point of the article is to not over-simplify the cause of suicide. Bullying can have an effect, but isn’t the cause…. just like not being able to be on Facebook isn’t the real cause of the example stated.

  • Malty17

    ‘Humans’ have proven many times over to destroy any that don’t follow their thinking. Yes, this includes those that profess to be Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Atheists (see Stalin, communist China…). I have never heard a call for ‘gay deaths’ from Christians in my 40+ years of living (although there probably are some kooks out there).

    Until we have ‘perfect humans’ there will always be conflict. And we will never have perfect humans or leaders.

  • liz newman

    Does your snarky reply make you feel better?
    I have looked at your history of comments on Disque. It speaks for itself…
    I truly feel sorry for your sons, being raised by the person that posted those past comments.

  • M_Becker

    Please, help yourself. Go in a closet, close the door and scream your little head off. Maybe it will make reality go away. Or not.

  • M_Becker

    And Paul, your utter stupidity doesn’t surprise me in the least. And our son’s are very well adjusted and very healthy and happy guys.

  • Paul

    Your arrogance and ignorance astounds me Mr Becker. I hope that neither of your sons ever develop schizophrenia or depression because being able to defend yourself is not the only thing you need to be able to do to avoid mental illness. Do you seriously think that punching a single person in a large group is going to make them desist in the behaviour? If anything, punching someone will provoke an even more intimidating and aggressive response!

    Secondly, to assert that something is not “going to go away” is only perpetuating an attitude, which is that bullying is somehow normal behaviour that should just be tolerated. The way these kids behaved was like a bunch of predatory animals, I’m sure that as humans we can evolve beyond this.

    In my experience (by they way I was not bullied as a kid) the kids that get bullied are usually the loners, the ones that are a bit different. We need to recognise and value this difference instead of acting like a mindless mob.

  • http://babelbooth.com/ Pitchforks

    My article, Leading Lambs to Syllabic Slaughter, which is featured today on the blog All Things Crime, does not focus on a direct causative link between bullying and suicide, rather it addresses adult behaviour that models or reinforces bullying – suicide and killing just being extreme forms of reaction. I agree that bullying alone is not a catalyst for suicide, that it requires a certain psychopathology for a kid to take his or her own life. Bullying might edge a young person a little closer to that existing predisposition, but blaming a suicide directly on bullying is only passing the buck onto the extremer provocateurs in society, rather than looking at our general culture of pervasive lack of empathy and mean-spiritedness that does little to buffer already vulnerable youth from triggers.

    Another myth is that bullying is the fault of social media, and if only children can be restricted in their electronic use bullying will be diminished and suicides prevented. Social media is just a tool for a society that has become addicted to hurling abuse and taunts like elementary school children. Many adults feel that kids of today are overly protected and have become “wusses”, and this may be so, but there will always be some who are especially ill-equipped psychologically to deal with verbal abuse in a public forum. Social media has not increased bullying or suicides, it has simply made it easier to gain access to those who are already vulnerable and who would be bullied in more traditional “schoolyard” ways if social media were not available.

    Interestingly, the younger girl who has been charged with stalking Rebecca Sedwick, implicitly catapulting her to her death, also had suffered from similar experiences of bullying as well as sexual abuse, extremely low self-worth and suicidal ideation. The condemning media hype has failed to address the issue of why Rebecca took the lethal way out and the accused girl, who one might argue has suffered worse life experiences, did not.

    See also my article Joining Hands in a Vicious Circle of Vengeance on the Pitchforks website, which talks about the self-serving nonsense of sheriff Grady Judd.

  • usorthem3

    You mean tolerance like Christians who daily advocate death to all gay people world wide and in the USA? Christians who fight for THEIR right to FORCE their religious belief on EVERYONE as instructed and ifr they don’t comply they die? 2 Chronicles 15 13 The Christian religion has been proven many times over to destroy any that don’t follow it’s teachings is historical FACT. To say it is a faith of peace is itself a lie as many have been killed to advance it.

    “They came with their Bible & their religion, stole our land, crushed our spirit & now tell us we should be thankful to the Lord for being “saved”.” Chief Pontiac Ottawa Native AMERICAN

  • Malty17

    Ah, you didn’t read the article.

    The author stated that it is too simplistic and incorrect to attribute suicide to bullying. I’m sure it doesn’t help, but mislabeling a cause doesn’t fix the problem. I’m against bullying…. and have experienced it in my youth and seen it hurt the feelings of some of my children. I’ve also seen schools go overboard with ‘anti-bullying’ policies.

    Your anti-Christian comment isn’t bullying, but it doesn’t show much tolerance or intelligence either.

  • usorthem3

    The author claims there is no such thing as bullying so how could I be doing that?

  • Malty17

    Wow, are you bullying Christians now?

    (Note: Did you even think about what you were writing before you posted it?)

  • Dave Gibson

    Correlation does not equal causation.

  • David Matza

    Uhh, hold on there.

    Slander is NOT a crime, it is a civil tort matter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kathie.yount Kathie Yount

    What amazes me is that you will leave the troll’s comments about my being a poor parent and refuse to show my critique of YOUR work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kathie.yount Kathie Yount
  • usorthem3

    Translation=Christians need the right to bully every child into believing in God whether they like it or not as we have been instructed to do. 2 Chronicles 15 13

  • liz newman

    Judge X x – I agree

  • John Williams

    Look–suicide has NEVER been a solution to bullying until recently. Doesn’t that make you wonder what changed? It’s not that bullying is more rampant or more violent–that’s ridiculous in the extreme for anyone who attended school in the 60′s, 70′s or even 80′s. What’s changed is this ridiculous expectation we’ve built that bullying is so bad that somebody must really be a screw up for someone to bully them. This misguided effort has been far more destructive than the bullying itself. That’s why “anti-bullying” programs have had exactly zero effect and has, in many cases, facilitated even more bullying by denying kids who are bullied the ability to fight back without consequences.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kathie.yount Kathie Yount

    Encouraging suicide is illegal in almost every U.S. jurisdiction. In most states it is a felony. In some it is considered as manslaughter. The malicious encouragement of suicide at a suicide baiting is particularly brutal since the victim is at his most vulnerable point. Suicide baiting is bullying inflicted at the worst possible time. “Suicide baiting is a hate crime” is posted at http://ipinionsyndicate.com/suicide-baiting-is-a-hate-crime/

  • Hyacinth Smith

    Children are incapable of solving the problem because it’s about power, and each time a bully picks on someone, the bully’s power is enforced.Whoever said words can’t hurt was never the pariah of a group of teen girls. From the clothes I wore to the chest I lacked, I was told daily how ‘ugly’ I was. My parents helped me see I had the power to just walk away from my bullies. And I learned that life does get a lot better.Bullying is cruel not cool bring protection with you at http://safekidzone.com/#!/page_home.

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  • liz newman

    It’s a shame that my later comments are being deleted. I hope the author of this story is at least reading them & giving them some thought.

  • liz newman

    You have a crystal ball? You are ‘pretty sure’?
    You know how long it’s’ gone on’?

    Really?
    You also know the winning Lottery numbers?

  • liz newman

    M.Becker- can you type with both feet in your mouth?

  • http://www.facebook.com/kathie.yount Kathie Yount

    I am simply astounded how you can be “pretty sure” about a person you didn’t even know. We ARE all responsible to each other, Mr. Becker. I don’t know what kind of work you do, but we each have a responsibility to the others with whom we interact every single day. Dylan was a gentle and loving man who would never have taunted another human being in distress. And you?

  • liz newman

    AAAAAAWWWWWGGGGG!!!! Yes! I want to scream! Did you again accuse Ms Yount of not teaching her son to deal with life? Do you understand about how mental illness works? You blame mental illness on how the parent brings up the child?
    Obviously you have not had the misfortune of losing a child to suicide. Children need to be taught how to not bully & protect themselves from bullying.
    You do not know this case. Dylan was an adult.
    May you have more compassion to give your sons a better example of how to deal with people.

  • M_Becker

    No, we are not “all responsible for one another”. We are responsible for ourselves and for those in our charge. We can learn, and teach, lessons on how to avoid bad situations and how to react when faced with bad situations.

    The whole “stop bullying” mantra is an avoidance of personal responsibility that is so very popular these days. Bullies will always be near no matter how much society would like them to not be. The correct way to deal with “the problem” is to understand they’re not going away and to learn – and teach – how to deal with them. It’s called preparation for real life.

    The situation that ended your son’s life is horrible. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the first time he faced bullying. He wasn’t prepared to deal with it at any level and that also is a situation that had gone on for a long time.

  • M_Becker

    Apologies will most certainly not be forthcoming.

    One of the most important parts of parenting is teaching kids to deal with nasty situations. “Bullying” is big deal because too many people choose to refuse point fingers, hire a lawyer, and generally deny that they have any responsibility to deal with bad things.

    I’m sorry for her loss. I’m sorrier that she didn’t teach her son to deal with life as it is as opposed to what she’d like it to be.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kathie.yount Kathie Yount

    We are all responsible for one another in this world. We cannot be with our loved ones at all times. We operate on a certain societal trust because of this. One in four will experience some mental illness during a lifetime. I hope none of your children ever face a crowd yelling jump when they are in crisis. Dylan had to be convinced. His death was entertainment. He died confused and afraid. When I think about what kind of people would prey on someone so despondent, I have trouble understanding that. The biblical dictate–I am my brother’s keeper is what we should be living. Again, both you and Mr. Williams are very arrogant to analyze a situation you know nothing about.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kathie.yount Kathie Yount

    I never intended to leave an unbiased opinion–just one based on personal experience. Perhaps you might learn more about impulse suicide and means restriction. Both studies from Harvard and Houston are an eye-opener. I am mostly offended that YOU continue to spread myths. Best article is Scott Anderson’s “The Urge to End It All.” I think before you judge someone’s personal situation you should learn more before you speak.

  • liz newman

    I think you should read about Dylan Yount’s suicide before you comment about Kathie Yount spreading a myth. And you are being rude.

  • liz newman

    M Becker, Are you telling Kathie Yount, the mother of a son that committed suicide after being baited,taunted & yelled at for 45 minutes on a 6 floor ledge, she did not teach her son how to handle a bully? What about a crowd of 800- 1000 people yelling for him to jump? You are going to tell your sons to go down there & punch them in the nose? What about the 24 San Francisco police officers that stood by & did nothing to stop the crowd? It was caught on film of a few off duty officers saying ,”This happens all the time,he wont do it”. In the back of the crowd someone yells “JUMP!” & the officer laughs!.
    You still think that this is ok? Dylan was not strong enough? Kathie did anything wrong in bringing him up? He stood there for 45 minutes & the best he got from the crowd was ” Go inside,you fool!”

    I hope you taught your sons compassion & common empathy towards others. Google Dylan Yount suicide to read about what happened that day. & why you owe Ms. Yount an apology.

  • ss396

    To state that “[t]here is no scientific evidence that bullying causes suicide” reminds me that there is also no scientific evidence that smoking causes cancer.* The inability to rigorously demonstrate something scientifically says nothing one way or the other about the veracity of the ‘something’. It speaks only to the inadequacies of known science, and also assumes that everything – everything – is reducible to scientific inquiry.

    * The tobacco settlements were won on charges of fraud, misstatement, and false advertising.

  • jacobjg

    Coward.
    See? You ARE a bully. The thing is, I am not intimidatable. You are posting what you think is my real name, which is a real classy thing to do. By doing so, you think that that is going to affect me. You are why the world doesn’t work. You are a violent, thoughtless, rude human being. Sadly, your friends and family know this about you. I’m sure you have some redeeming characteristics. It could also be that you hang out with other Neanderthals like you.
    I would not have seen this post except I was notified of the reply above yours. I won’t see any reply you make to this reply under any circumstances. I actually pity you. I wish you healing.

  • jacobjg

    Clever. No.
    By the way, what was there about my comment that in any way resembled bullying?

  • M_Becker

    And the White House.

  • M_Becker

    Yep, feelings are so much more important that facts.

    Remember that when you get the bill for your free health insurance that your savior and President promised you…

  • M_Becker

    Sorry, but this is likely a combination of mental illness and poor parenting. Had you taught your son to deal with the bully – read punch him in the nose – he might still be alive.

    I’m the father of two sons. They were never bullied twice.

    The disservice is entirely yours. I’m sorry for your loss, no parent should outlive their child, but the responsibility falls to you.

  • A Smith

    Bullying isn’t that complicated: some people are incredible a**holes.

    We need to revisit the trusted advice to punch a bully right in the face, hard. Yes, you might sit out from school for a day, and handwringing school admins might send you to a therapist for a couple of sessions… but the problem will be solved.

  • MichaelZWilliamson

    If these kids can really bully someone into suicide, we need to put them in contact with Congress.

  • MichaelZWilliamson

    So, you think bullying the author will make the message go away?

  • John Williams

    Not to be rude, but I don’t think you’re in the best position to offer an unbiased opinion on the matter. Blaming suicide on bullying is the height of irresponsibility. I know, as a parent, you want some external thing to demonize and blame for your son’s death, but it’s very likely bullying was one of the least important factors. Kids have been bullied far worse for years–and if anything, the expectation that we’re creating that bullying should NEVER happen is as much a cause of depression as the bullying itself. I’m sorry for your loss and pray you find peace–but please don’t continue to spread a myth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kathie.yount Kathie Yount

    Suicide bullying and baiting IS on the rise. Perhaps you might dig deeper into research if you had lost a loved one to suicide baiting/bullying. My son Dylan Yount died — bullied to death — in a suicide baiting in Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco, 2-16-10. We have started a Facebook page to raise awareness, lobby for better first responder training, and criminalize suicide baiting/bullying. https://www.facebook.com/SuicideBaitingCrowdPrevention?ref=ts
    I do not wish to be rude, but you are the one doing the disservice here. If you would spend some time speaking with some of the bereaved you might become better informed. Suicide is epidemic health crisis in this country. We need to invite everyone into the discussion. We welcome all dialogue and insights at Suicide Baiting Prevention.

  • dwpittelli

    The “common mistakes”:

    2) “Implying that suicide is caused by a single factor, like
    a romantic breakup, a bad test score or being bullied.”

    OK, but even if every suicide has multiple causes, that
    doesn’t mean that being bullied wasn’t a “but for” cause in a given case.

    3) “Suggesting, or allowing others to suggest, that bullying
    is criminal behavior.”

    It can be.

    6) “Describing an act of suicide in vivid detail so that it
    creates a contagion effect among vulnerable populations.”

    So a depressed girl may commit suicide because she hears about a suicide on TV, but she won’t commit suicide because all of the members of the clique she wants to join tell her she is worthless and should die? Leaving aside what’s “proven,” how does this pass any sane person’s notion of common sense?

  • ed t

    It’s incredibly hard to ‘study’ bullying and its results because of the complex social nature of it’. You don’t admit it when it happens, you may pretend it does when it doesn’t; you may have problems defining it. I am glad you have read some ‘studies’. Good luck with understanding the issues through that. Speaking from experience and observation, I’d say there is a non-trivial link between bullying and suicides. Certainly I knew one person who committed suicide several years after being isolated from the group. I saw him bullied. Later he died. Naturally no connection provable, and clearly the majority of bullied people do not commit suicide. But honestly, even from the point of view that the bullied spend more time alone than social insiders would suggest a line of thinking…

  • http://www.litigationandtrial.com/ Max Kennerly

    Whatever good points this article makes are ruined by its own oversimplifications. The claim, “There is no scientific evidence that bullying causes suicide. None at all.” is simply wrong. Ample studies show that bullying is a risk factor for suicide:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0890856709619560 (

    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13811110802572098#.UmyJdpQ6X-Y

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0890856709600253 (finding link for girls, but not boys)

    Heck, even observing bullying is tied with suicidal ideation:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1054139X12007161

    Maybe this was just sloppy wording, and McBride meant “there is no scientific evidence that bullying alone causes suicide in mentally healthy adolescents.” Perhaps so, but that’s not what she wrote — what she wrote was an erroneous oversimplification to help drive her preferred narrative, the exact problem she claims to be addressing.

    Similar blanket statements pervade the piece, like calling it a mistake for journalists “suggesting, or allowing others to suggest, that bullying is criminal behavior.” In fact, certain types of “bullying” can trigger potential criminal liability — as McBride’s own article shows by way of the prosecutions referenced! McBride is not a lawyer, and thus, like the Sheriff, “no training to make this judgment.”

    There’s a good point to be made that journalists should default to viewing and describing suicide as a mental illness with a variety of causes, many subtle or indiscernible, but the claim that bullying is wholly irrelevant to suicide and is no cause for concern, well, “contributes to a misinformed society, which robs communities of the ability to bring about meaningful change.”

  • Cheryl Brunet Long

    People have committed suicide because they were bullied so bad, they wanted out. Keep your science facts…find some emotion in all your objectiveness and logic. Not quite sure what youre trying to prove, or why. How…do you research, inside a dead persons head? Hmmmmm??

  • dirediredocks

    hey Jacob Goren, are you over here talking trash as well? popping off with the same three comebacks I’m sure

    LOL, remember when you called me buckwheat? I busted out laughing and said wow this guy is a racist too, LOL! I realize now that you’re just some sad, sad sack of lies and false sense of security. You just got owned and now it seems that you’re running away.
    That’s what we here on earth call cowardice! lol!! Here man, go ahead and change your disqus name to “Jacob the coward Goren”so we can all see your full name and your cowardice right up front.

  • http://abrahamhyatt.com/ Abraham Hyatt

    That’s a great point. I should have pointed out that the abstracts I linked to mention both ideation and behaviour.

    However, my main point is that you did little to substantiate the very provocative headline — good experts but no data, no peer reviewed research, nothing that we would expect with a piece of provocative science journalism. If you’re making a claim that’s this counterintuitive then you have a much higher bar when it comes to explaining why we should ignore so much conflicting information.

    For instance, in February the NY Times wrote about a study that showed there were long-term effects of bullying including a statistically relevant increase in “suicidality (including recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, or a suicide attempt)” in males. That study was published in JAMA Psychiatry. I’m sorry, but you can’t find a more legitimate source than that.

    If research like that is fundamentally flawed, I would *love* to read more about it. That really is an amazing story. However, if the only way you’re addressing it is to ask readers to simply ignore all of the other evidence isn’t, with all due respect, good science journalism.

  • Kelly McBride

    I think the difference here is between suicide ideation and suicide. Like it says in the government website stopbullying.gov, researchers cannot say that bullying causes suicide. Here is the specific translation of that same research: http://www.stopbullying.gov/news/media/avoid/index.html

  • jacobjg

    Garbage. Thinly disguised essay letting bullies off of the hook.

  • http://abrahamhyatt.com/ Abraham Hyatt

    While I agree that we cannot unequivocally say that bullying leads to teen suicide, there’s a not-insignificant amount of research that says there is a link. I’m not arguing we treat this in a “he-said, she-said” manner. But saying that “There is no scientific evidence that bullying causes suicide” isn’t factually accurate.

    I found the following studies in a quick Google Scholar search. This sample is flawed because a: I cherry picked them, and b: I’m including them based on their abstract, not the actual research. But even considering those limitations, I think they, and others like them, should have been addressed in your post.

    Bullying and suicide. A review
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18714552
    “This paper provides a systematic review of the previous 37 studies conducted in children and adolescents from communities. [...] Despite methodological and other differences and limitations, it is increasingly clear that any participation in bullying increases the risk of suicidal ideations and/or behaviors in a broad spectrum of youth.”

    Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Suicide
    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13811118.2010.494133
    “Youth who experienced traditional bullying or cyberbullying, as either an offender or a victim, had more suicidal thoughts and were more likely to attempt suicide than those who had not experienced such forms of peer aggression.”

    Latina Teen Suicide and Bullying
    “Rates for depressive symptoms (49%), suicide ideation (23%), suicide plan (17%), and suicide attempt(s; 13%) are higher than national averages.”
    http://hjb.sagepub.com/content/35/2/159.abstract

    Examining Childhood Bullying and Adolescent Suicide
    http://jsn.sagepub.com/content/28/4/275.abstract
    “Contrary to the idea that childhood bullying is a normal part of growing up or a rite of passage, it is now correlated with adolescent suicidality.”