The Issues

Learn About Teen Bullying and Suicide

On this page, you’ll learn more about teen bullying and teen suicide. This is not a scientific, medical, or legal document, so please confirm all facts yourself. (Find an error? Please let us know!) If you are contemplating suicide, please call one of these toll-free numbers for help:

The Trevor Helpline          National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Bullying: What We Know & What We Don’t

  • 1/4 to 1/3 of students report having been bullied in school.  This is likely under-reported.
  • If you are being bullied, please visit this page for resources.
  • Bullied youth are more likely to skip school, drop out, and have lower GPAs, so bullying hurts kids in the present and often for the rest of their lives.
  • “Zero Tolerance” policies and expulsion are ineffective against bullying.
  • We don’t know how media coverage affects bullying.
  • We don’t know how to prevent bullying (we know much more about preventing suicide), but we think that the following work best:

Be More Than a Bystander

Youth Suicide: What We Know

  • About 2 million US adolescents attempt suicide annually and nearly 700,000 receive medical attention for their attempt. (source)
  • According to the CDC, it is the second leading cause of death in youth ages 10-34.  This may be under-reported as well, since some deaths are recorded as “accidental.”
  • Most teen suicides are committed by firearms (45%) or suffocation (40%).
  • In grades 9-12, in the twelve months preceding a North American survey, 16% had seriously considered suicide, 13% had made plans to commit suicide, and 8% had attempted suicide. (source)  All of these rates are higher with gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth (learn more).

On Preventing Suicide

Know the risk factors for teen suicide. These include:

  • Mental illness, the #1 risk factor
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Prior suicide attempts
  • Family history of suicide, substance abuse, mental disorder, or abuse
  • Exposure to suicidal behavior in others, including family, peers, and media figures

Know the protective factors against teen suicides:

  • Isolation kills, so giving people a sense of being wanted, of belonging, is the best defense
  • Screening programs to identify at-risk youth, especially those with mental illness or past suicidal ideation or attempts
  • Media and school guidelines to avoid copycat suicides (Media Guidelines)
  • Remove firearms from the home. Preliminary evidence suggests that even guns that are locked away are correlated with higher risks for suicide. (source) Suicides by firearm are also deadlier, reducing the chance of an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

Further Reading: Source 1 | Source 2

Teen Suicide is Preventable

Three Persistent Cultural Myths

  1. “Bullying, like all violence, is on the rise.”  While bullying is a very serious problem, neither bullying nor violence as on whole is on the rise.  Statistics suggest that the frequency of bullying is level or slightly decreasing in frequency; the appearance to the contrary is most likely due to increased press coverage. (source) The same is likely true of violence as a whole.  (source)
  2. “Bullying causes suicide.”  Bullying does not cause suicide.  (source)  If it did, the rates of suicide would be much higher.  However, many of the risk factors for suicide (isolation, mental illness, etc.) can also make kids stand out, which does, in turn put them at higher risk for bullying.  This correlation may be the origin of this faulty causal link.
  3. “Cyber-bullying is this generation’s most widespread form of bullying.”  While the data is still emerging and difficult to measure accurately, cyber-bullying appears to be the least frequent form of bullying, with about half as many students reporting it as other forms of bullying.  LGBT youth, however, seem particularly susceptible to cyber-bullying, with much higher (over three times more) occurrences reported.   (source)

How does this musical address teen suicide and teen bullying?

Through this musical, we seek to encourage a national dialogue about the societal problems that are contributing to teen bullying and suicide. We hope that people will engage with the story and its characters, see this issue from numerous perspectives, and emerge with fresh thoughts about where the problems lie and what might be done to address them. The musical does not seek to provide definitive answers, but to bring important questions to light and to help humanize all of the different facets of this society-wide problem. (Read a synopsis of BULLY.)