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Suicide attempts and bullying victimization highest for sexual minority, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Multiracial, and female adolescents; Bullying victimization rising for gay/lesbian adolescents

Washington | November 29, 2022

study(opens in new tab/window) in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP), published by Elsevier, reports that sexual minority, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Multiracial, and female adolescents face the greatest risk of both bullying and suicide attempts. These disparities were stable from 2015 to 2019, except for bullying victimization increasing among gay and lesbian adolescents.

Examining 44,066 adolescents from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), this research – led by Noah T. Kreski and Katherine M. Keyes of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health – addressed bullying victimization (reflecting any experience of in-person bullying or cyberbullying in the past year) and suicide attempts (also within the past year) across sex, race/ethnicity, and sexual identity.

Bullying disparities were particularly severe by sex and sexual identity. Female adolescents had nearly double the odds of being bullied compared to male adolescents (OR = 1.83, 95% CI: 1.71, 1.96), Adolescents who reported their sexual identity bisexual, gay, lesbian, or “not sure” had similarly increased odds of being bullied compared to heterosexual peers (e.g., OR for bisexual adolescents = 2.49, 95% CI: 2.22, 2.80). These disparities carried over to other bullying outcomes (being bullied offline only, online only, or both). American Indian/Alaskan Native and non-Hispanic Multiracial were the racial/ethnic groups with the highest rates of being bullied.

These patterns mirror the disparities in suicide attempts, which were most common for female (OR = 1.96, 95% CI: 1.71, 2.25), American Indian/Alaskan Native (OR = 2.62 vs White adolescents, 95% CI: 1.60, 4.30), non-Hispanic Multiracial (OR =2.00, 95% CI: 1.62, 2.47), and sexual minority adolescents (e.g., OR for bisexual adolescents = 5.56, 95% CI: 4.80, 6.45). These patterns also apply to suicidal ideation, plans, and injury.

Disparities in bullying and suicide attempts were checked for shifts over time, with the only significant change being increasing bullying victimization for gay/lesbian adolescents. Bullying victimization among gay and lesbian adolescents went from 31.6% to 44.5% between 2015 and 2019. Further efforts should be made to support this group, as well as bisexual adolescents who had the highest overall rate of being bullied (42.2%) and having a past year suicide attempt (26.5%).

“These patterns reflect the ongoing marginalization of vulnerable young people” says study author Noah T. Kreski (They/Them). “Whether it’s due to sexism, racism, or homophobia, bullying persists as a mechanism by which groups are targeted and harmed. Schools, and other spaces for adolescents, need a strong, systematic approach to anti-bullying that directly addresses forms of bias. These spaces also need systems equipped to support the mental health of adolescents when problems arise. Holding bullies accountable for their actions, covering social justice curricula, and ensuring that adolescents feel empowered to come forth when facing bullying or suicidality are just a few steps to actively support young people as they face these difficult experiences.”

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Notes for editors

The article is "National Trends and Disparities in Bullying and Suicidal Behavior Across Demographic Subgroups of US Adolescents” Noah T. Kreski, MPH , Qixuan Chen, PhD , Mark Olfson, MD, MPH, Magdalena Cerda, DrPH, Silvia S. Martins, MD, PhD , Pia M. Mauro, PhD , Deborah S. Hasin, PhD ,

Katherine M. Keyes, PhD  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2022.04.011(opens in new tab/window). It currently appears on the JAACAP Articles In Press(opens in new tab/window) page and will appear in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, volume 61, issue 12 (December 2022), published by Elsevier.

Copies of this paper are available to credentialed journalists upon request; please contact the JAACAP Editorial Office at [email protected](opens in new tab/window) or +1 202 587 9674. Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Noah T. Kreski, MPH; e-mail: [email protected](opens in new tab/window); pronouns: They/Them

About JAACAP

Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry(opens in new tab/window) (JAACAP) is the official publication of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. JAACAP is the leading journal focusing exclusively on today's psychiatric research and treatment of the child and adolescent. Published twelve times per year, each issue is committed to its mission of advancing the science of pediatric mental health and promoting the care of youth and their families.

The Journal's purpose is to advance research, clinical practice, and theory in child and adolescent psychiatry. It is interested in manuscripts from diverse viewpoints, including genetic, epidemiological, neurobiological, cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, social, cultural, and economic. Studies of diagnostic reliability and validity, psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacological treatment efficacy, and mental health services effectiveness are encouraged. The Journal also seeks to promote the well-being of children and families by publishing scholarly papers on such subjects as health policy, legislation, advocacy, culture and society, and service provision as they pertain to the mental health of children and families.

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JAACAP Editorial Office

+1 202 587 9674

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