Bullying, Excessive Internet Use Put Teens at Increased Suicide Risk, Study Finds

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among teens, study shows.

ByABC News
June 27, 2016, 3:37 PM

— -- Being bullied or spending an excessive amount of time on the internet could increase the risk of teen suicides, according to a new study released today by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Though the overall suicide rate among teens has decreased since 1990, it was still worryingly high in 2013 -- 1,748 per 100,000 teens between the ages of 15 and 19 -- meaning suicide is the second-leading cause of death for teens, according to the study.

In addition, boys were more likely to die by suicide but girls were nearly twice as likely to attempt suicide, the study found.

And while suicide affects all racial groups, American Indian/Alaska Native males had the highest suicide rate and black females have the lowest rate of suicide, according to the study.

While bullying has always been a concern, the authors of the study were better able to understand how it could be linked to suicide risk.

“Bullying has always been a major issue for adolescents, but there is now greater recognition of the connection between bullying and suicide,” the report’s lead author, Dr. Benjamin Shain, said in a statement today.

Additionally, the researchers found that more than five hours of internet use a day could signal a sign that a teen is struggling. They found a "pathological" level of internet use could indicate higher levels of depression, and the likelihood of completing suicides, though in some cases the internet could help teens feel more accepted.

“The Internet is a key influence, as well. Cyberbullying, for example, is as serious a problem as face-to-face bullying,” Shain, a child psychiatrist with NorthShore University HealthSystem, said in the statement.

Pam Cantor, a former president for the American Association of Suicidology and a retired member in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said parents can look for signs that a teen is at risk for suicide. These signs include eating disorders, sleep problems, apathy, moodiness, hostility, withdrawal and feelings of doom, Cantor said.

However, displaying one or even two of these signs doesn't necessarily mean a teen is suicidal, Cantor explained, but if these symptoms persist for months or a teen has many of these symptoms, parents should seek help.

"A depressed adolescent feels [depression] would never end," she told ABC News today.

If a parent is concerned that a child is suicidal, the parent should stay with the child and call a professional immediately and remove or hide dangerous items such as kitchen knives, guns, medications and car keys from the house, Cantor said. They can also ask a teen directly if he or she is having suicidal thoughts and stay watchful even if the teen denies it, Cantor added, noting that it's key that parents listen if they suspect a teen is depressed or suicidal rather than lecture them.

"Talking makes people feel like they’re doing something, it generally makes them feel better, [but] it can do damage if [teens] really need us to listen," Cantor said. She explained parents should offer a "message of support and not condemn or belittle," a teen's concerns.