Girls are bullied more often than boys and are more likely to consider, plan, or attempt suicide, according to a new study published in the journal Nursing Research.

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

The research team looked at data from the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) nationally representative Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 2011-2015 and found that more females are negatively impacted by bullying.

Pontes says that, in general, girls are more often bullied than boys, and girls are also more likely to consider, plan, or attempt suicide compared with boys, regardless of being bullied or not — although boys are more likely to die by suicide.

In this study, the researchers looked at significant associations and not direct causal links. Using two methods of statistical analysis, the researchers showed the probability of a link between bullying and depressive symptoms and suicide risk and then compared the results of the two methods.

When they applied the more commonly used multiplicative interactions method, their results matched the findings of some other studies, which showed no difference between males and females being bullied at school and having depressive symptoms or suicide risk behaviors.

However, when they applied the International Journal of Epidemiology-recommended methodology of additive interactions, they found the effects of bullying to be significantly higher in females than males on every measure of psychological distress or suicidal thoughts and actions.

“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,” Pontes said.

The researchers acknowledge the limitations of the study, such as the nature of its retrospective design and the inability to change or alter the design of the CDC study.

Pontes hopes the new findings will help draw attention to how researchers conduct analyses of data and how crucial it is to carefully consider which methods are the best fit or to use both methods and compare them.

Bullying among boys tends to be physical. Pontes says that many schools are cracking down on physical bullying which people can see, and this is probably preventing and stopping the type of bullying more common among males.

Among females, however, the bullying is less visible. It is often relational bullying, such as excluding someone from activities and social circles or spreading rumors about them. The actions are not overt, Pontes said, so they could go on for a long time without anyone else knowing.

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

Pontes believes that preventing bullying should begin at a young age. She says parents should start teaching preschool children that bullying is unacceptable. “There are parents who see it as a rite of passage,” said Pontes. “They say, ‘Everyone gets bullied. You have to buck up. Stand up for yourself.’”

She says pediatricians and nurse practitioners should discuss the harmful effects of bullying with parents so that they can intervene early and reduce the victimization that causes young people to consider suicide.

Source: Rutgers University