Thinking of Suicide After Being Bullied

Bullying due to sexual orientation may be widespread and likely to affect mental health

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Bullying in schools has gained a lot of media attention due to the high number of teenage suicides in recent years. Many of these suicide victims were lesbian or gay victims of bullying.

A recent study found that bullying based on assumed homosexuality occurred more often than other types of bullying among middle school and high school students.

Regardless of whether a student was gay or not, those who were bullied because of assumed homosexuality may have a higher risk for developing depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts, the study showed.

According to the researchers, these findings suggest a need for bullying prevention programs before high school.


Talk to your school counselor if you are being bullied.


The study was conducted at the University of Washington School of Public Health and led by Donald Patrick, PhD, MSPH, a professor of health services. The aim was to examine and compare the rates of bullying in schools based on assumed homosexuality versus bullying for other reasons.

The researchers sought to find ways to address the high rates of homosexuality-related bullying through both intervention and prevention.

The team looked at previous studies that showed assumed homosexuality to be one of the largest reasons adolescents are bullied. These previous studies have also shown that being bullied can lead to depression, mental illness, risky physical health behaviors and a generally lower quality of life.

Adolescents who are bullied because of assumed homosexuality aren't always gay or lesbian, but the researchers said that bullying can affect victims' mental health just the same. However, when victims are actually gay or lesbian, they may be dealing with other social factors that lower their quality of life, such as stigmatization or mistreatment by peers.

Data for this study was collected from a survey given out in 2010 to 24,000 students living in Washington state. The students were in grades 8 through 12 at various public schools in the area.

Surveys asked students to answer whether or not they had been bullied in the past 30-day period and, if so, what the reason was. They were also asked to answer questions regarding family life, self-esteem and overall feelings about their quality of life. These questions were followed by questions about potential suicidal thoughts.

The researchers analyzed the data from grades 8, 10 and 12 for both boys and girls.

Among boys, 14 percent, 11 percent and 9 percent of grades 8, 10 and 12 reported having been bullied "one or more times" because of assumed homosexuality.

Among girls, 11 percent, 10 percent and 6 percent of grades 8, 10 and 12 reported being bullied "one or more times" because of assumed homosexuality.

The researchers found that being bullied for assumed homosexuality was linked to a lower overall quality of life, compared to being bullied for other reasons or no bullying at all.

Both boys and girls who were victims of assumed homosexuality-related bullying reported higher levels of depressive symptoms or suicidal thinking when compared to those who were bullied for other reasons.

Within the bullied-for-assumed-homosexuality group, girls reported a lower quality of life and higher levels of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts when compared to boys. However, the girls' quality of life and mental well-being increased with each grade, versus the boys' reports that showed a decrease in quality of life and mental well-being as the grade increased.

After data analysis, the research team found that assumed homosexuality-related bullying had a much greater impact on overall quality of life than other types of bullying. The negative effects on mental health were also found to be much more significant and intense for students falling victim to assumed homosexuality-related bullying.

The findings also showed that girls were more at risk than boys for having a lower quality of life as well as depressive and suicidal thinking when falling victim to bullying because of assumed homosexuality.

Based on all the results and analysis, the research team concluded that assumed homosexuality-related bullying significantly affected teenagers' overall quality of life and should be addressed in schools. The study authors also argued that assumed homosexuality-related bullying should be a major focus in bullying prevention programs.

There were a few limitations to this study that suggest the need for further research. Because the study was based on anonymous surveys, the team could not know if the students exaggerated or did not report experiences. Also, adolescents struggling with sexual identity may already experience a low quality of life because of general worries associated with coming out. Third, the data comes from a select group of students in a certain part of the country. And finally, the response rate of the students was not 100 percent.

This observational study was published online in the May 16 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 26, 2013
Last Updated:
August 7, 2013