Children involved in bullying are more likely than their peers to consider suicide by the time they are 11, a new study indicates.
These thoughts of self-harm are not limited to victims of bullying, however. The study also revealed that bullies themselves are much more prone to suicidal thoughts or some other form of self-harm.
For the study, investigators analysed bullying among more than 6,000 children ranging in age from four to 10, and the prevalence of suicidal thoughts when the same children were 11 and 12.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Warwick in England and published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, found that children who were bullied over a long period of time were six times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than children who weren't bullied.
Bullying linked to suicidal thoughts on both sides
Bullies also were at increased risk for self-harm and suicidal thoughts - even those who were never victimised themselves, the researchers found. The findings were not as consistent among this group, however, the study authors noted.
Even after taking into account other factors, such as family circumstances or preexisting emotional problems, the researchers were unable to find other reasons for the increased instance of suicidal thoughts among children involved in bullying. Although the study found an association between bullying and suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviour, however, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
"Our study findings suggest that suicide-related behaviour is a serious problem for pre-adolescent youth: 4.8% of this community population reported suicidal thoughts and 4.6% reported suicidal or self-injurious behaviour," study co-author Dieter Wolke, a professor of psychology at Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick, said.
"Health practitioners should be aware of the relationship between bullying and suicide, and should recognise the very real risks that may be evident earlier in development than commonly thought," Wolke said.
Suicide warning signs
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