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What is the global association of suicidal behaviours and bullying in adolescents?

Researchers found that the association between suicidal behaviours and bullying in youths depended on gender and regional variation.

What is the connection between suicidal behaviours and bullying? How prevalent are suicidal behaviours and bullying across the world? What are their global health risks? These are the questions behind a study published in The Lancet.

With the goal of improving prevention programs worldwide, the study analyzed suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, suicide planning, and bullying data from 220,310 youths aged 12-15 across 83 countries. All the countries were within World Health Organization (WHO) regions; namely, Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, Europe, Southeast Asia, the Western Pacific, and the Americas.

The researchers distributed Global School-based Student Health (GSHS) surveys to students in these regions. The survey asked questions about the frequency of being bullied and questions related to suicidal behaviours. Additionally, as suicidal behaviours can be the result of socioeconomic, psychological, and sociocultural factors, the survey also measured the following variables: age, gender, grade, cigarette smoking, alcohol use, number of close friends, loneliness, anxiety, parental support, and socioeconomic status.

After analyzing the data, the researchers noticed that the prevalence of suicidal behaviours and bullying varied across genders and regions. Bullied boys had a higher likelihood of a suicide attempt than bullied girls. In terms of regional variation, Africa had the highest risk of suicidal behaviours and being bullied. The Western Pacific had the strongest association between suicide plan, suicide attempt, and bullying. For suicidal ideation and bullying, Southeast Asia had the most noticeable association. Overall, the global prevalence of suicidal ideation was 16.5%, suicide planning was 16.5%, suicide attempt was 16.4%, and being bullied was 35.3%.

With this variation in suicidal behaviours and bullying data, the researchers noted that prevention programs should take into account country and gender. It may increase the efficacy of the prevention programs, leading to lower suicidal behaviours and bullying rates.

While the study may help inform global health decisions, it did not determine causation. Future studies that could identify a causal link between the two might greatly improve prevention strategies.

It is also important to note that the study only included two European countries—Macedonia and Tajikistan—and neglected two major North American countries, Canada and the United States. It is possible that these countries may demonstrate even more gender and regional variation, thereby changing the global prevalence rates.

The results of the study suggest a need for better prevention strategies. It may also be important for these strategies to take into account gender and country to create more effective programs.


Written by Shayna Goldenberg


Reference: Tang, J., Yu, Y., Wilcox, H., Kang, C., Wang, K., Wang, C., Wu, Y. and Chen, R. (2020). Global risks of suicidal behaviours and being bullied and their association in adolescents: School-based health survey in 83 countries. EClinicalMedicine, p.100253.


Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay



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