Suicidal ideation and school bullying experiences after controlling for depression and delinquency

Dorothy L. Espelage, Melissa K. Holt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: This cross-sectional study examines differences in the frequency of suicidal ideation and suicidal behaviors across a group of verbal bullies, bully-victims, victims, physically aggressive bullies, and students not involved in bullying. Methods: A large sample of middle school students (n = 661; fifth through eighth grades; ages 10-13 years of age) completed a pencil-and-paper survey that included the University of Illinois Bully, Fight, and Victim scales. Students also self-reported how often they had thought of killing themselves or deliberating hurting themselves in past 6 months, and provided information about delinquent behaviors and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Results: We used cluster analysis to create bully-victim subtypes: uninvolved (n = 357), victims (n = 110), verbal bullies (n = 114), bully-victims (n = 29), and physically aggressive bullies (n = 42). Approximately 32%-38% of verbal bullies and victims, 60% of bully-victims, and 43% of physically aggressive bullies reported suicidal ideation, compared with 12% of uninvolved youth. Similarly, 24%-28% of verbal bullies and victims, 44% of bully-victims, and 35% of physically aggressive bullies reported deliberately trying to hurt or kill themselves, compared with 8% of uninvolved youth. Females in the bully-victim subtype reported particularly elevated suicidal ideation and behavior. After controlling for delinquency and depression, differences in suicidal thoughts and behaviors emerged only between uninvolved youth and the victim and bully-victim groups, but these differences were minimal. Conclusions: Findings highlight that at a bivariate level, involvement in bullying in any capacity is linked to increased risk for suicidal ideation and behavior, and echoes previous literature documenting particularly strong mental health implications for bully-victims. Furthermore, this study points to the importance of considering delinquency and depression in conjunction with suicidal ideation and behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S27-S31
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number1 SUPPL
StatePublished - Jul 2013


  • Bullying
  • Peer victimization
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Suicidal ideation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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