Cyberbullying, Addiction, and Suicide among Youth – Guide 2022

Over 90% of teens in the US believe cyber harassment is a problem.

What’s the Connection and How Can Children Get Help?

While it’s glib and fatalistic to say that bullying is “part of growing up”, it has been a problem in schools for centuries and everyday society even before that. Over time, however, as culture has changed, the means through which this malignant social behavior is applied have gotten more and more sophisticated, and the stakes have gotten much higher for victims and their loved ones. 

Bullying has long been among the chief causes of suicide and other mental health issues for victims; however, cyberbullying and its ability to impact children beyond the in-person school environment has made the problem increasingly urgent and prompted a need for more intuitive intervention from those in a position to help. 

Prevalence of Bullying and Cyberbullying among Teens

Despite widespread interventions on the global, national, and regional scales, bullying and cyberbullying remain consistent public health crises in the United States. Some of the most recent data indicates: 

  • Over 90% of teens in the US believe cyber harassment is a problem.
  • Over 15% of young cyberbullying victims would prefer to keep the issue a secret.
  • Students are almost twice as likely to attempt suicide if they have been cyberbullied.
  • Around 80% of teens say that others cyberbully because they think it is funny.
  • Approximately 37% of bullying victims develop social anxiety.
  • Over59% of US teenagers have experienced bullying or harassment online.
  • Over 14% of children between the ages of 9 and 12 have been cyberbullied.
  • Over 66% of tweens tried to help the victim of cyberbullying.

Additional data illustrates that Individuals who have experienced cyberbullying at some point in their lifetimes have more than doubled from 18% to 37% over the past 15 years. 

Bullying, Mental Health, and Suicide: A Toxic Correlation 

A meta-analysis from the American Academy of Pediatrics indicates that involvement in bullying in any capacity is associated with suicidal ideation and behavior. Future research should address the mental health implications of bullying involvement to prevent suicidal ideation/behavior. 

While rates of suicide among young people are comparatively rare, data indicates that they are on the rise, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that it’s the second-leading cause of death among adolescents in the United States, and bullying is at the top of the list of causes. Cyberbullying suicide statistics from 2017 demonstrate that internet bullying increases suicidal thinking among victims by 14.5%. Suicide attempts increase by 8.7%. The same report shows how significant small changes can be: A 1% drop in online harassment can decrease suicide deaths by 11 per 100,000 population.

Along the way to suicidal ideation, children who are victims of bullying may experience multiple mental health issues, including but not limited to depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance use disorder

How Can I Help My Child Stay Safe and Protected?

While it can be difficult to fully insulate children from any degree of bullying or harassment 24-7, you have more power than you realize to intervene. You also have a tremendous amount of power to help your child process, manage, and contextualize the harassment they experience or see being visited upon their peers. Here are some ways you can help: 

  • Start by Listening – It’s hard for children to even admit they’re being bullied. The fear of retribution and the embarrassment they may be feeling can cause them to keep silent for weeks, months, and even years. Let them know, from the start, that they have nothing to be afraid of or embarrassed about. Continue to stress this throughout your dialogue and let them know the problem lies with the bully, not them. 
  • Know the Signs – The signs of bullying can vary based on age. Younger victims might come home from school extremely hungry because they were too anxious to eat at school or got their lunch/money stolen. Older victims can start lashing out or becoming withdrawn, coming home with black eyes or signs they’ve been fighting. All age groups may exhibit signs of depression and anxiety, try to avoid going to school at all costs, get sick to their stomach at the thought, and lock themselves in their room for prolonged periods. It’s important to realize that bullying looks different for each victim, depending on their circumstances. Stay involved in your child’s life and keep an eye on their behavior. The same goes for guardians and advocates. 
  • Get REALLY Involved – Cyberbullying hides in the shadows. Many victims do everything they can to keep it a secret because they don’t want to cause more trouble. Make sure you’re monitoring their social media and internet use as much as is appropriate. Don’t be afraid to intervene or get involved. 
  • When You See Something, Do Something – When you know your child is being bullied at school, talk to their teachers, parents, administrators, or whoever is appropriate to intervene. Advocating for your child isn’t always easy, but just keep them in mind when you run into any trouble or difficulties being heard or understood. 

If you believe that your child is turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with their bullying trauma or to simply “fit in” so they don’t get singled out or harassed, look for paraphernalia and changes in behavior or appearance that can indicate drug or alcohol use: 

Emotional Signs 

  • Sullen, withdrawn, or depressed mood
  • Less motivation
  • Silence and lack of communication
  • Hostility and anger
  • Lying and secrecy 
  • inability  to focus
  • Sudden loss of inhibitions
  • Hyperactivity and sudden bursts of energy, and elation 

Behavioral Signs 

  • Changed relationships with family members or friends
  • Absenteeism or a loss of interest in school, work, or other activities
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Disappearance for long periods of time
  • Going out often, frequently breaking curfew
  • Secrecy with the use of their phone
  • Making endless excuses
  • Using chewing gum or mints to cover up breath
  • Often uses over-the-counter preparations to reduce eye reddening or nasal irritation
  • Has cash flow problems
  • Has become unusually clumsy: stumbling, lacking coordination, poor balance
  • Has periods of sleeplessness or high energy, followed by long periods of “catch up” sleep

Hygienic and Appearance Signs

  • Smelling of smoke or other unusual smells on breath or clothes
  • Messier than usual appearance
  • Poor hygiene
  • Frequently red or flushed cheeks or face
  • Burns or soot on fingers or lips
  • Track marks on arms or legs (or long sleeves in warm weather to hide marks)

Physical Signs

  • Frequent sickness
  • Exhausted and/or sluggish feeling 
  • Unable to speak intelligibly, slurred speech, or rapid-fire speech
  • Nosebleeds and/or runny nose, not caused by allergies or a cold
  • Sores, spots around the mouth
  • Sudden or dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Skin abrasions/bruises
  • Frequent perspiration
  • Seizures and/or vomiting

Without proper intervention, your child’s reliance on alcohol or drugs to cope with trauma can easily turn into substance use disorder. Many who are struggling with addiction cite childhood trauma as a cause of their initial substance use. 

Bullying and Mental Health Resources 

Preventing bullying and helping kids maintain optimal mental health is everyone’s responsibility. Here are some resources that can help you or a child you believe is being bullied at school or elsewhere:

You can also check out resources in your community and state. If you or someone you care about is contemplating suicide, help is out there. Call 800-273-8255.