Does bullying of LGBTQ teenagers increase risk of suicide?

May 29, 2020

Bullying and suicide in the pediatric population have shown disturbing upward trends in recent years. A new investigation examines the link between the two among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) children and teenagers.

Bullying and suicide are an increasing problem in child and adolescent populations. The problem becomes even bigger when looking at just lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) children and teenagers. These children are more likely to be bullied and have suicidal thoughts. A research letter in JAMA Pediatrics looks at whether bullying is an antecedent of death by suicide among LGBTQ children and adolescents.1

The investigators used postmortem records from 2003 to 2017 taken from the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS). The NVDRS is created by using information from state health departments that is taken from death certificates, coroner or medical examiner reports, and law enforcement reports. Each record has 2 narratives, one from the coroner or medical examiner and one from law enforcement that can include the description of suicide antecedents from the family, any personal communication such as a diary or social media messages, and any suicide note. Investigators found narratives involving either bullying or LGBTQ status for 9884 children and teenagers aged 10 to 19 years who had died.

There were 334 LGBTQ-classified decedents aged 10 to 19 years and 69 were classified as being bullied, in comparison to 421 decedents out of 9550 who were not LGBTQ classified. Deceased children and teenagers who were LGBTQ had 4.92 times the odds of being bullied in comparison to non-LGBTQ children and teenagers who had died. Younger LGBTQ decedents, children aged 10 to 13 years, showed the greatest risk with 21 of 31 classified as being bullied.

The researchers did highlight that LGBTQ status is not systematically reported in NVDRS and the numbers are likely underestimated. However, they do believe that their findings underscore the need not only for school-based interventions, but for pediatricians to adopt clinical approaches that are sensitive to LGBTQ children and adolescents.

References:

1.    Clark KA, Cochran SD, Maiolatesi AJ, Pachankis JE. Prevalence of bullying among youth classified as LGBTQ who died by suicide as reported in the National Violent Death Reporting System, 2003-2017. JAMA Pediatr. May 26, 2020. Epub ahead of print. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.0940