Can't Blame it All on the Internet

Suicide involving cyberbullying usually involves other risk factors as well

(RxWiki News) With all the news about cyberbullying and suicide, it may seem cyberspace is more dangerous than the school playground these days. But there's more than meets the eye in the hype.

A recent study analyzed the coverage of teen suicides that had been linked in media reports to cyberbullying.

They found that only rarely was cyberbullying the only factor contributing to a teen's suicide. Mental illness and bullying offline were usually factors as well.

"Watch your teen for suicidal symptoms."

The study, led by John C. LeBlanc, MD, MSc, of the Department of Pediatrics at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, is not yet published and was presented at a conference of pediatricians.

Dr. LeBlanc and colleagues reviewed 41 cases of teenage suicide, which included 24 girls and 17 boys between the ages of 13 and 18 in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

The cases were found through searches in Google, Google News and Factiva databases. The researchers looked for any teen suicide media report that also brought up cyberbullying.

Then the researchers looked more in-depth at each case that they found, looking for evidence of mental illness, other types of bullying aside from online instances and other uses of social media by the individual.

Overall, 78 percent of the teens (32 cases) were bullied at school and online, and only 7 of the teens (17 percent) seemed to be bullied only through cyberspace.

The cyberbullying took place both online and through text- or video-messaging. and Facebook were mentioned in connection with half the suicides (21 cases), and bullying through text- or video messaging occurred in a third of the suicides (14 cases).

The researchers also found that 12 percent of the individuals (5 cases) were identified as homosexuals, and another 12 percent were bullied about being homosexual even if they were heterosexual or their sexuality wasn't known.

Six of the teens (15 percent) had symptoms of depression, and another 13 (one third of all the cases) had a clinical mood disorder.

Just over a third of the teens (15 individuals) were acting normally just before their suicides, according to the reports the researchers found.

The researchers noted that the link between cyberbullying and suicide appeared stronger with females. Even though boys are more likely to commit suicide, they found more suicide cases involving cyberbullying among girls.

They also noted that the highest months for suicide were September and January, both of which had five suicides from their sample.

The researchers said that this trend points to a possible link to the start of school or the winter semester, but their overall sample size was too small to know whether this was significant or just a coincidence in the cases they looked at.

Most importantly, however, they determined that being bullied online was not usually the only factor involved in the suicide.

"Cyberbullying was only rarely the sole type of bullying, and social networking sites were identified as key avenues for cyberbullying," the authors wrote.

The research was presented October 20 at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans. Information regarding funding and disclosures was unavailable. The data is preliminary and has not yet undergone peer-reviewed publication.

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Review Date: 
October 23, 2012