Bullying, one of the most vexing problems among schoolchildren and teens, is sadly linked to suicide. According to several recent studies of children, victims of bullying are prone to anxiety, which new research shows is a significant risk factor for suicide, as well as suicidal thoughts and behavior. The latest research shows that parents and educators should learn the signs of anxiety in children in order to avert a tragic turn of events.
Long-Lasting Effects of Bullying
A February 2013 study by researchers at the Duke University of Medicine found that bullied children are unlikely to outgrow the effects. Instead, as adults, they are at risk of developing depression, anxiety disorders and suicidal thoughts. The bullying, if not stopped, remains with people, ultimately affecting their long-term functioning.
The researchers, led by William E. Copeland, looked at a community sample of children and adolescents between the ages of 9 and 13 living in western North Carolina. They interviewed the children annually to determine whether they had been the perpetrators or victims of bullying between the ages of 9 and 16. Once the subjects had grown into young adults, Copeland and his associates again interviewed 1,270 of them to determine whether they had developed psychiatric disorders.
The interviews demonstrated that both victims and bullies had increased rates of psychiatric disorders as young adults. Specifically, the victims had a higher prevalence of anxiety disorders: agoraphobia, generalized anxiety, and panic disorder. They were also at increased risk of depression, and the males who suffered bullying as children were more likely to express suicidality; including recurrent thoughts of death, thought of committing suicide, or actual suicide attempts.
Anxiety Trumps Depression as Suicide Factor
In 2011, researchers at Florida International University’s Department of Psychology reviewed research published since 1988 regarding suicide-related behaviors and anxiety in adolescents and children. The researchers, led by RM Hill, found consistent evidence for an association between anxiety and suicide-related behaviors.
An October 2013 study by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers found even more evidence for the anxiety-suicide association. The researchers, led by A. Kanwar, reviewed the evidence from 42 studies, which altogether comprised data from 309,974 patients. Their thorough assessment revealed that patients with anxiety disorders were more likely than those without anxiety to have suicidal thoughts, attempted suicides and completed suicides. Both men and women with anxiety had high levels of suicide risk. Post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder all increased the likelihood of suicidality.
When these researchers pulled out and analyzed studies that included only children, the results were similar: They found an increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide activity in children with anxiety disorders. Much like the Florida researchers, Kanwar and associates found a strong connection between anxiety and suicide risk.
Anxiety Awareness is Critical
The stopbullying.gov website, managed by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, defines bullying as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Bullying behavior includes both verbal and physical aggressive attacks characterized by an imbalance of power.
The signs of anxiety are often subtle and easily overlooked. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry notes that anxious children often seem uptight or tense, but their symptoms might be ignored because they are often quiet and compliant.
Noticeable symptoms that might indicate anxiety include low self-esteem, a lack of self-confidence, and numerous worries about upcoming events. Additionally, anxious children might voice constant worries about friends, school or family, as well as fears of making mistakes.
Recognize Bullying and Watch for Anxiety
Stopping bullying is essential, but parents are not always aware that their child suffers from bullying. Recognizing the bullying is a first step toward ending it. Following the new research, watching for signs of anxiety in children could key parents in to signs of bullying.