Bullying Does Not Cause Suicide

Friday, November 08, 2013


A teen gets bullied online. A teen commits suicide because of this bullying. As these terrible episodes keep occurring, the coverage of them presents a simple case of cause and effect: bullying leads to suicide. Bob speaks to the Poynter Institute’s Kelly McBride, who says this causation is inaccurate, and that contrary to what the media may be portraying, bullying is not on the rise.


Kelly McBride

Hosted by:

Brooke Gladstone

Comments [11]

shaz from south africa

The article is insensitive as the author cannot possibly have gone through being the victim of group bullying for any length of time because then she would KNOW the detrimental affect on physical and emotional well being.The first signs the body is taking strain is stomach ache. Continued stress over time and constant badgering will cause a no self esteem in anyone.It would really do to talk from experience rather than ignore the trauma these victims went through.aaaaaah.My prayers go out to all suffering from abuse and know they r not deranged YET.Due to unnatural bullying without intervention over time suicide becomes the better of the 2 evils.What should be done about the bullies. They should be punished by the same degree they dished it out and one would see how weak they r. They would not last a day and that is the honest truth.

May. 06 2014 04:58 PM

It may be true that there's no direct line between bullying and suicide, but McBride blames that on a public misread of media reports. But wait, does McBride offer a solution? Not really. Why? Because most newspapers do not go into the depth of these issues because of time and readership reading-level restrictions. Most newspapers do not read like scientific journals and thus do not go into the detailed, nuanced reasons that there is a tenuous link between cyber bullying and suicide, and most newspapers are deliberately written on an 8th-grade level in order to increase readership and to be able to cast their broadcast net further. Neither does McBride distinguish the various types of depression which is often the gateway if left untreated, to suicide. Depression is tricky to diagnose by doctors and even less understood by those closet to those who endure it. Moreover, if a person experiences trauma (bullying) while in the midst of an untreated episode, he/she may well commit suicide, the bullying while not the actual cause, was certainly a major player. Unfortunately all McBride has managed to do is make a complicated issue more complicated to those who want easy answers and closure. On the whole I found the piece an excersize in how sometimes intellectual approaches can be terribly insensitive to difficult, emotional topics.

Dec. 14 2013 10:06 PM

This just in.. Apparently perpetual and inescapable abuse doesn't cause severe depression and thoughts of suicide. I'm sorry, but I think you're full of garbage.

Nov. 20 2013 12:36 AM
Mark P from San Francisco, CA


"I found this segment both ill-informed and offensive, since it suggests that those children who die by suicide were going to do so anyway"

I didn't get that impression at all. The segment very clearly stated "suicide is preventable."

Nov. 19 2013 02:49 PM
Jamie from Las Cruces, NM

I found this segment both ill-informed and offensive, since it suggests that those children who die by suicide were going to do so anyway, due to multiple factors that don't get reported on in the press. In other words, people who die by suicide are mentally ill, so it's never the fault of the people whose constant abuse adds to the stress they suffer . . . ? Ironically, your reporting on the Martin-Incognito affair had a more nuanced discussion of bullying than did your interview with this so-called "faculty member." Shame on you for broadcasting this tripe.

Nov. 16 2013 06:36 PM
Charlie Berman from Green Village, NJ

"Bullying" in itself may not be on the rise, but the cowardice of cyber bullying is. What used to be a push or name calling in the schoolyard is now a school wide phenomenon. There is little defense against lies that can be promulgated on-line & shatter fragile egos. I'm speaking mostly of middle & high school, where it is so very important to be accepted & belong. But bullying can & does extend into the adult world - in business & in politics to cite just two example.

What is on the rise is the awareness of the harm that bullying does. Thank heaven for that.

Nov. 14 2013 11:41 AM

While Kelly McBride was right that most kids who are bullied do not commit suicide, almost every teen I knew who did commit suicide (or who tried to) was victimized by bullying. Adults need to focus on getting bullies to stop their behavior, but also on giving better tools to kids who are bullied, to help them disempower the bullies. As a kid who was bullied a lot, one of the only ways I figured out to fight back was to bully harder, and I don't think that was the best thing to do. The best lesson I finally learned once I was out of high school was that there are very few people's opinions who matter and bullies, when you get right down to it, do not matter. KIds who are bullied online need to learn who to block bullies and move on (or report them if necessary) and find folks online with similar interests who do not bully.

Nov. 11 2013 05:56 AM
ceolaf from CT

Not your piece, my favorite NPR program.

1) Bob, there's a basic statistical technique to deal with the fact that bullying is common, and suicide is not. It's called an odds ratio. Yeah, it is much abused in the media, but it's very easy for people to understand. So long as the overall rate is also stressed, odds ratios are quite useful.

2) The fact that bullying is not the singular necessary, sufficient and immediate cause of suicide does not mean that bullying is not a preventable risk factor. No, bullying-prevent would not be enough to stop teenage suicide (don't do it). But it can make a big difference for children.

Remember, suicide is not the only negative consequence of bullying of teenagers and younger children.

3) Dr. Azadeh Osanloo -- with whom I have no connection -- has done great work explaining the difference between bullying and more regular abuse treatment of others. She has a wonderful framework that makes clear which is which, and is a remarkable clear speaker on the topic.

If you need a media angle on it -- and you don't always need one -- she has written about bullying in newspapers and received abusive mail and email in response. When folks try to talk about bullying in the media, there is a contingent of the public who gets quite angry about it. She's been through and spoken publicly about it.

Maybe you can give her a call to get a more thoughtful take on the topic.


Nov. 10 2013 09:20 PM
PHILIP CAREY from 02067

I thought I was listening to a member of the Tea Party explain legitimate rape. Kelly McBride is disturbingly clueless to what happens to victims of prolonged bullying. To argue that bullying does not cause suicide because not all kids that are bullied kill themselves demonstrates a profound ignorance of the subject. I was VERY disappointed in WBUR for airing such poor journalism.

Nov. 10 2013 07:36 PM
Debbie Black from New Hampshire

It appears to me that Kelly McBride has never experienced bullying. If she did, she would know that it does not matter whether bullying has increased or decreased, but that bullying causes life long damage. If the media and parents and children do not carry on this conversation about bullying, it will continue to stay underground. We do not know how many people who have ended their lives, did so because of bullying. Do you think the only people who have died from this, are the people that tell us so? Most would not utter a word as they would not want to be conceived as weak enough to allow the actions of others to have such an affect on the psyche. Adults who die at their own hands, may very well have been bullied. And, if by bringing this topic out into the open, some children copycat others, well that is the price society must pay to stop a barbaric practice of children behaving as in the Lord of the Flies. Let us bring their plight out into the open and consider they sacrificed their lives for others. If we continue to sweep this under the carpet as Kelly suggests we do, we will remain sick. For "you are only as sick as your secrets".

Nov. 10 2013 10:59 AM
Helen from Oregon

It was painful for me to listen to the journalism expert from the Poynter Inst. repeatedly describe suicide using the verb "commit." Does she believe suicide is a sin? Some religions do, but I don't think that is what she meant. Did she mean the person who kills him or herself has committed a crime? That used to be the case in many jurisdictions, but is no longer true. As someone who is on the faculty of a journalism institute, Ms. McBride should know better and should be more precise in her use of language. People kill themselves. They take their own lives. They die by suicide. Unless a journalist is describing a suicide in religions or legal context where such wording might apply, the journalist should not be using the archaic phrase "commit suicide." There is enough stigma and discrimination about depression and suicide without journalists using judgmental and inaccurate language to describe it.

Nov. 09 2013 09:56 PM

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