What you need to know about bullying and the risks for suicide

Note from Bryan: October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Each Wednesday this month, the BSA Youth Protection team will share important reminders about what each of us can do to prevent, recognize and report bullying as we work to make Scouting a safe place for all.

This post comes from Jim Wilson, national Youth Protection chairman.

Concerns for risk of harm and suicide

Yes, suicide is a very difficult topic to address. But it is real, and we must be aware of the serious issues and potential outcomes.

We owe it to the youth we serve to understand how to prevent bullying and be prepared to deal with concerns for self-harm proactively and thoughtfully.

Throughout National Bullying Prevention Month, we’ve talked about the ways in which bullying is incompatible with the principles of Scouting. Bullying should be taken seriously, whenever and wherever it occurs.

It can affect everyone — those who are bullied, those who perpetrate the bullying and those who witness it.

StopBullying.gov, one of the BSA’s sources for supporting literature, says “bullying is linked to many negative outcomes, including impacts on mental health, substance abuse and suicide. It is important to talk to kids to determine whether bullying — or something else — is a concern.”

The relationship between bullying and suicide is complex. While media reports often link the two, most youth who are bullied do not have thoughts about suicide or engage in any suicidal behaviors. Although youth and young adults who are bullied are at risk of self-harm, which could lead to suicide, bullying is not the lone cause.

There are a number of issues that can contribute to the risk of suicide, including depression, problems in the home, isolation or rejection, despair, or a history of trauma.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with other violence-prevention researchers, has investigated the relationship between bullying and suicide. Their goal: save lives and prevent further bullying. One of their recently released publications, The Relationship Between Bullying and Suicide: What We Know and What it Means for Schools, provided some great insight into this relationship. That article can be found in this PDF.

The BSA’s Youth Protection website includes several documents to support the prevention of bullying and an understanding of warning signs.

Look at the Bullying Prevention Guide — specifically these sections on page 2: “Warning Signs for Suicidal Behavior” and “Suicide Intervention and Response.”

Warning signs for suicidal behavior

Common signs include:

  • Talking about suicide
  • Getting the means to commit suicide, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
  • Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
  • Being preoccupied with death, dying, or violence
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
  • Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
  • Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing other warning signs listed above

Suicide intervention and response

If a youth mentions suicide, you must take that seriously. You should:

  • Immediately notify parents or guardians.
  • Immediately notify the Scout Executive.
  • Use the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available toll-free at 800-273-8255.
  • If a youth is in danger of committing suicide or has made a suicide attempt, get emergency help.
  • Don’t leave the youth alone.
  • Don’t try to handle the situation without help.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number right away if you believe the youth is at immediate risk. Or, if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room yourself.
  • Try to find out if he or she is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or may have taken an overdose.

Remember, Youth Protection Begins with YOU.

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