Social media trolls push teens to the brink of suicide
KZN study also finds strong link between drug use and suicide attempts among bullied teens
Bullying on Facebook and WhatsApp is fuelling widespread suicidal feelings in high-school pupils.
This is one of the findings of a survey of 1,700 Grade 10s – a study which so alarmed the researchers that they said urgent interventions were needed.
Almost one in seven of the pupils who completed a University of KwaZulu-Natal questionnaire said they had attempted suicide in the previous year.
Girls were much more likely than boys to have made a suicide plan or attempted suicide. The factors linked to suicidal thoughts in girls were being physically hurt by someone they were dating and consuming three or more alcoholic drinks in the past month.
For boys, the risk factors were experiencing violence and bullying, including being threatened with a weapon at school and being bullied through Facebook or WhatsApp.“Learners who reported being physically hurt [between one and three times] by someone they were dating reported more than twice the likelihood of making a suicide plan,” lead author Nelisiwe Khuzwayo said in the South African Medical Journal.
Girls and boys who had used cannabis in the three months before completing the questionnaire were more than twice as likely as non-users to have made a suicide attempt that required medical treatment, said Khuzwayo and her medical school colleagues.
The research involved 1,759 pupils at 16 schools in the Pietermaritzburg area, and found that 261 (14.8%) had attempted suicide in the previous 12 months.
Findings were in line with the results of youth risk behaviour surveillance surveys in 2002, 2008 and 2013, in which 19% of pupils said they had considered suicide and 17% had attempted it.
Said Khuzwayo: “We found similar risk factors, such as physical violence and drug abuse, to be associated with suicide plans and suicide attempts. Our study further identified societal violence as an important risk factor.“This constant exposure to violence is a major concern emerging from this study. Bullying through Facebook and WhatsApp is an added complication, being uncontrollable because anyone with a data bundle can access these platforms at any time.”
The researchers called for an urgent review of alcohol policy to regulate drinking among under-18s. They also want routine surveillance in rural schools to monitor suicidal behaviour, and urgent interventions particularly among girls.
“Many learners who attempt suicide are seen by a doctor or nurse. Research is required to explore how these doctors and nurses manage the attempted suicide cases they see, as this offers an opportunity for prevention of further attempts,” they said.