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Observing bullying at school can lead to suicidal thoughts, study shows


New research has shown that feelings of helplessness are significantly associated with suicidal thoughts among students who observe bullying at school.

Using data gathered from 1,500 students across schools in England, the researchers explored contextual factors that predict suicidal thoughts among students who observe bullying at school. The results showed that self-reported helplessness among observers was a significant predictor of suicidal thoughts for both boys and girls. 

The research, led by Professor Ian Rivers at Brunel University, also suggests that perceived helplessness impacts significantly upon the ability of school-aged students to intervene when another is being bullied.

Much of the existing research on suicide-related school bullying has focused on the victims and perpetrators as it has generally been assumed that other youth remain largely unaffected by the actions they have witnessed. These new results show that observing bullying has an important part to play in understanding the mental health of the whole school population.

Professor Rivers said: "Whilst it is important to note that suicide ideation among those who observe bullying remains relatively low, these findings emphasise the need for more research to focus on the well-being of those who observe bullying. Further exploring their status within the school hierarchy and addressing some of the issues of perceived helplessness could help to indentify roles that these students can potentially play in anti-bullying interventions."

The paper "Potential suicide ideation and observing bullying at school" will be published in the Journal of Adolescent Health online from 19 June and in print from 21 June.