Study Finds Adolescent Girls Are More Likely Than Boys to Be Bullied and Attempt Suicide

According to a new study from scholars at the Camden campus of Rutgers University, adolescent girls are more likely than boys to be bullied and are more likely to consider, plan, or attempt suicide.

“Bullying is significantly associated with depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, suicide planning, and suicide attempts,” said Nancy Pontes, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing in Camden. “We wanted to look at this link between bullying victimization, depressive symptoms, and suicidality by gender.”

For their study, the research team analyzed data from the Center for Disease Control’s nationally representative Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 2011 to 2015. The team used two methods of statistical analysis to examine the significant association between bullying and depressive systems and suicide risk, and then compared the results of the two methodologies.

The first method the researchers used was a multiplicative interactions method, which has been commonly used by other scholars studying this issue. The results showed no difference between boys and girls being bullied at school and having depressive systems or suicide risk behaviors. However, when the researchers used the International Journal of Epidemiology-recommended methodology of additive interactions, they found the effects of bullying are significantly higher in girls than boys on every measure of psychological distress or suicidal behaviors.

“To our knowledge, our paper is the first in nursing to compare these two methodologies, and to challenge the status quo of analysis in our field,” said Dr. Pontes.

According to Dr. Pontes, many schools have been cracking down on physical bullying, which is more common among male adolescents. When it comes to girls, the bullying they experience is more often relational bullying, such as excluding someone from activities and social circles, or spreading rumors about them. These actions are often not easily visible to teachers, parents, and other adults, meaning they can sometimes go on for a long periods of time without anyone else becoming aware of the bullying.

“Our school interventions should understand the differences in bullying and how we might better address females who are bullied,” said Dr. Pontes.

In addition to school interventions, Dr. Pontes believes that pediatricians and nurses need to talk to parents about the harmful effects of bullying. From there, parents will be better equipped to provide that information to their children at a young age, and therefore reduce the risk of adolescent suicide.

Dr. Pontes is a graduate of Pensacola Christian College in Florida, where she majored in nursing. She holds a master’s degree in family nursing from the University of Florida and a Ph.D. in nursing from Columbia University.

The full study, “Additive Interactions between Gender and Bullying Victimization on Depressive Symptoms and Suicidality: Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2011-2015,” was published in the journal Nursing Research. It may be accessed here.

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