11/11/2014 12:22 EST | Updated 01/11/2015 05:59 EST

What is the Link Between Bullying, Cyberbullying and Suicide?

Image Source via Getty Images

Bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide have become hot topics in recent years, dominating headlines and driving trends on popular social networks.

In 2014, PREVNet, Canada's authority on bullying, released a statistic indicating that 78 per cent of Canadians believe that not enough is being done to stop bullying in their communities.

While media coverage can help raise awareness about important issues that affect young people of all ages, it can also leave us with more questions than answers.

In recent years, some parents might have found themselves wondering:

"What is the link between bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide?"

"Is bullying worse than when I was a kid?"

"What can I do to keep my kid safe?"

For many parents, it's easy to slide into worry-mode, especially when we are talking about such difficult topics as bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide, which can cause strong reactions in adults.

But it's important for parents to be mindful of how they are reacting to stories they are hearing in the media or within the community.

It's also important to remember that reporters and other members of the media, including producers, bloggers, and editors, are not in a position to assess anyone's mental health, or make a diagnosis.

A reporter's job is to tell a story, which is often delivered under tight deadlines, limited word counts, and competing priorities. While the facts they present may be true, reporters can also present them in a way that puts emotional impact, audience interest, or entertainment first.

When news reports focus on bullying as a single, direct cause of suicide, it can create a false impression that suicide is a natural response to bullying.

While it is important for adults to take youth issues seriously, it is also important to pay attention to sources, and to ask the right questions: is a news story raising awareness or exploiting an issue?

Media coverage can do a lot to bring sensitive topics into the public eye, helping to generate discussion and understanding of them in the process.

But not all news stories are created equal. Some may also be positioned to grab attention, increase web traffic, and compete for viewers or listeners, which is why it is important to rely on trusted resources to gain a deeper understanding of issues affecting young people today.

Connections between suicide, bullying and cyberbullying have often been discussed in the news in recent years, but they can be presented in an oversimplified way.

Suicide is complex, and not all media reporting provides an accurate perspective of the factors that can contribute to a young person's suicide.

Not all young people who are bullied will experience suicidal thoughts, nor will they attempt to take their own life.

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published The Relationship Between Bullying and Suicide: What We Know and What it Means for Schools.

"We know that bullying behavior and suicide-related behaviour are closely related," the CDC writes. "This means youth who report any involvement with bullying behavior are more likely to report high levels of suicide-related behavior than youth who do not report any involvement with bullying behavior."

The publication continues: "We don't know if bullying directly causes suicide-related behavior. We know that most youth who are involved in bullying do not engage in suicide-related behavior... Bullying, along with other risk factors, increases the chance that a young person will engage in suicide-related behaviors."

Not all media reporting provides an accurate perspective of the factors that could contribute to a young person's suicide. Making a simplistic link between bullying and suicide can also have dangerous potential to create copycat behaviour among young people.

What makes one person more able to cope in any given situation than another? That's a question that has to be taken into account when suicide is linked to bullying or cyberbullying.

It's also important to remember that while bullying is pervasive among young people, many kids find ways to cope with it on their own. Nearly nine per cent of counselling sessions at Kids Help Phone relate to bullying, but mental health remains the top issue at 29 per cent.

We know that many young people likely have their own support networks and do not need to reach out to us. The young people who are reaching out are the ones who do need additional support.

And in some cases, the kids who reach out are the ones who are bullying others, and want to learn how to stop.

There are incorrect or inaccurate statistics and information out there about the links between suicide, bullying, and cyberbullying. We need to talk about these things, but we also need to make sure we are talking about them correctly.

News stories can affect change, but not through incorrect, incomplete or inaccurate statistics and information.


Photo gallery How To Talk About Bullying See Gallery