Victimized children much more likely to think about suicide, study suggests
Published Tuesday, October 23, 2012 8:59AM EDT
Children who are victimized, whether through bullying, sexual assault or physical abuse, are much more likely to think about suicide, a new study has found.
A report in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine looked at data collected via telephone surveys of youth aged 10 to 17 between 2008 and 2010. Respondents were asked whether they had thought about taking their own life at any time during the past month. Then they were asked whether they had been bullied, sexually assaulted or abused in other ways in the past year.
"The risk of suicidal ideation was 2.4 times greater among youth who experienced peer victimization in the past year, 3.4 times greater among those who were sexually assaulted, and 4.4 times greater among those exposed to maltreatment (from a parent or caregiver) relative to children who were not exposed to these types of victimization," the study said.
It also showed that children who experienced "polyvictimization" – exposure to seven or more types of individual victimization in one year – were six times more likely to report suicidal thoughts than children who weren’t victimized.
The data used in the study was collected as part of the U.S. National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence. A total of 1,186 children were surveyed.
The study also showed that children who lived in a home with a step-parent or a parent who wasn't married had an increased risk of suicidal thoughts, too. Those victimized across multiple platforms – at home, in school and in their community, for example – were also at greater risk.
Children who didn't feel safe and protected in their own homes were more likely to think about killing themselves in particular, said CTV's medical expert Dr. Marla Shapiro.
"When you're at home and you don't feel safe in your home, or you're not nurtured in your home, it takes away a teen's resiliency and ability to bounce back in a situation,” she told Canada AM. “And it goes from being episodic to being a chronic condition of their life.
"We often think about depression as a precursor to suicide, but what this says is we need to look at the environment kids are in; we need to look at the fact they need to be safe in their home, in their schools, and in their communities – and those are the three areas where kids will potentially be exposed to harm."
The results pointed to the need for victimization assessments among "all youth who are believed to be at risk of suicidal ideation," the study concluded.
The findings come less than two weeks after the death of Amanda Todd, a B.C. teen who committed suicide after years of bullying and online abuse, whose heartbreaking story came to light through a video posted to YouTube a month before her death.
In Canada, suicide is the third leading cause of death in children ages 10 to 14, and the second leading cause of death in children ages 15 to 19.