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Bullying and Suicide Relation

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    Bullying is any type of verbal, physical or psychological abuse upon someone which causes mental distress, social problems or physical pain. How common is it to hear this word from a 10 year old child in the course of a day at school? Bullying is a harmful practice that is pervasive from the elementary up to the university level of schooling (Morrison, 2002). Bullying behaviour is found throughout society, whether it be in at school, home, or even in the workplace (Elovainio, et al. , 2003). Wherever the environment, the effects of such intimidation can lead to physical injury as well as mental and emotional stress (Hay, & Meldrum, 2010).

    Certain personality factors can make people more prone to being victimized by bullying. Being exposed to such abuse, victims can undergo drastic personality changes which according to recent studies, presents them with a greater risk of committing suicide. Bullying victims may suffer from depression, low self-esteem- and even physiological disorders such as heart disease (Elovainio, et al. , 2003). Such a source of stress tends to greatly diminish the value victims place in their selves which can culminate in attempts against their own lives.

    Suicidal ideations stemming from bullying has been an intensely researched and debated topic, but the role of personality as a catalyst in such harmful actions has not been fundamentally addressed. My thesis states that Raymond Cattell’s Five-Factor Model of Personality can be used to predict which personality traits are predisposed to be victimized by bullying behaviour and also demonstrate how people with such personality traits may present a greater risk of suicide. The relation between suicide and bullying is not just an assumption but also a statistical fact.

    Dysfunctional, volatile relationships with family members can play a big role in increasing a bullying victims’ susceptibility to attempt suicide (Herba et al. , 2008). Such volatility can result from hostility and rejection experienced at home and can give rise to victims who are slightly more prone to victimization from bullying than others. Familial psychopathology also has a direct link to increased suicide levels among bullying victims (Herba et al. , 2008). Studies have linked a negative home environment and victimization by bullying to increased suicide ideation (Herba et al. 2008). Outside of the immediate home environment, social acceptance and relations with peers also plays a role in suicidal behaviour; an individual who displays personality traits that promotes social disengagement is more likely to consider suicide than someone who is socially-receptive (Herba et al. , 2008). A recent study in the United Kingdom showed that many gay or lesbian students discriminated for their sexual orientation showed signs of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in latter life stages (Rivers, 2004).

    The detrimental physical and emotional effects of PTSD stemming from bullying behaviour are reasons identified in cases of completed and attempted suicide (Rivers, 2004). Depression is almost always co-morbid in such individuals and can manifest from the effects of rejection shown during bullying (Hay, & Meldrum, 2010). Biologically, people are more predisposed to suffer from depression than others, with studies recently demonstrating a link between genetics and an increased risk of being bully victims (Klomek et al. 2009). In Cattell’s language it would be that someone who scores high on the Neuroticism scale and low on the Extraversion scale as compared to peers would be much more prone to committing suicide. If we put in the social factors of bullying into the picture, such forces can very well lead to cases of clinical depression in victims (Klomek et al. , 2009). People scoring higher on the Neuroticism scale find it hard to control their emotions and manage them.

    When faced with unstable interactions with peers as is the case in bullying, the insecurity such victims express leads to depression, which as demonstrated serves as a channel toward suicide (Velting, 1999). These findings are not to conclude that every depressed victim will attempt suicide but shows that such factors create a causal link between suicide and bullying. The Five Factor model can be used to identify people who are more likely to be bullied and also eventually more likely to attempt suicide as a result of their ordeal (Velting, 1999).

    The overarching aim discussed in this paper is to identify and classify patients into distinct categories. Misinterpretation of patient types can lead to a dysfunctional theory. Individual characteristics like impulsivity, low self esteem and anxiety levels have been shown to contribute to suicidal thoughts (Klomek et al. , 2009). In collectivist cultures where the common expectation is to be especially sensitive to understanding the social norms of the culture and withhold on individualistic tendencies for the good of the group, individuals who do not conform to the norms of the group might be targeted to bullying (Abe, & Henly, 2010).

    A perfect example would be given by a saying in Japan- a statistically collectivist culture, that ‘The nail that sticks out gets hammered down’. Now depending on the person who stands out from the established norm, they can either excel by standing out of the pack in a desired social goal or be shunned and discriminated against due to perceived personal deficiencies. Again in this case, it depends on what the individual personality of the patient is. Certain personalities have been linked to a higher suicide rate or suicide ideation.

    People who score low on the Extroversion scale in the Five Factor Model are usually socially avoidant and have poor social support because of this. These individuals are at a higher risk of committing suicide (Velting, 1999). In addition, people who are high on the neuroticism scale have more severe effects when depressed and tend to have pervasive negative thoughts that they have difficulty resolving. These individuals have also been linked with high suicide ideation (Velting, 1999).

    It has also been hypothesised that people low on openness, if going through a severe period of depression are at greater risk for committing suicide due to the fact that they are reluctant to communicate about their suicide ideation and get help (Duberstein et al. , 2000). It can be deduced that low extroversion is associated with a higher likelihood of attempted suicide, with high neuroticism and low openness controlling how lethal the attempt is (Duberstein et al. , 2000). The problem with making such connections may lie in that different personality traits may lead to suicidal ideation under different circumstances.

    This is one area of personality where further research needs to be done regarding various individual traits that play roles in different points of our lives. Extraverted persons, even in the midst of a crisis might not consider suicide because they enjoy a higher amount of social support as compared to introverted peers (Duberstein et al. , 2000). So even during occasions where they are bullied, extraverted individuals can benefit from existing relationships due to their better social skills.

    Conversely, people low on extraversion may try to take matters in their own hands rather than turning to someone else for help (Duberstein et al. , 2000). In an educational setting, such individuals can be screened for depression during the start of the academic year. Teachers can work to reduce the number of isolated student by taking a more active interest to ensure that such students are included in class activities. This way, pupils low on extraversion are constantly in the midst of peers and get enough attention that keeps their minds healthy, becoming targeted less by bullies.

    A further step can be taken to prevent suicidal behaviour due to bullying involves peer initiated anti-bullying campaigns to whom other students can look up to. Peer groups can be restricted to get students involved in different things so that exclusive groups are not maintained which leads to a lot of bullying cases in schools. Observational learning which involves viewing informative videos or reading of stories can be very beneficial when designed to comfort victims of bullying. When witnessing a fictional account of bullying, subjects can be encouraged to speak about their insights and concerns.

    Once empathy and familiarity occurs with a fictional subject that is being bullied, participants may tend to be more confident when dealing with these situations in real life. It may provide them the belief that, if the subjects I am observing can find ways to resolve such intimidating situations effectively, then why can’t I? The competitive nature of social interactions may be responsible for such a phenomenon in individual personality. Individuals tend to frequently compare themselves to others and may develop cognitive dissonance in being the one that is falling behind in a category that is being evaluated.

    Changing attitudes such as being less submissive toward bullying or rejecting suicide as a valid option to deal with stresses may help at risk individuals reduce dissonance and confront bullying behaviour. However, such a form of therapy may not prove effective for all individuals, as personalities are highly variable. For example, a person low on the conscientiousness scale may not respond to such therapy because they most likely exhibit a greater handicap in relating to peers in this situation.

    As discussed, the effect bullying can have upon an individual may present them with a greater risk of suicide based on their unique personality. Such characteristics may be identified using the Five Factor Model of personality to effectively designate individuals at greater risk of self harm than others. When properly understood and intervention is undertaken to give an individual the skills to cope under such stress, it may decrease an intrinsic risk of self harm.


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    9. Klomek, A. B. , Sourander, A. , Niemela, S. , Kumpulainen, K. , Tamminen, T. , Almqvist, F. , Gould, M. S. , & Piha, J. (2009).
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    13. Suicidal ideation and the five-factor model of personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 27, 943-952.

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