The highly problematic term ‘cyberbullycide’

By Anne Collier

Don’t use it, and be skeptical of any so-called authority who does use it. “Cyberbullycide” (or “bullycide”) is not clever, is not accurate, and its use could be harmful. Among other reasons why it isn’t accurate (see this by prevention specialist Patti Agatston), the term suggests that cyberbullying is the sole cause of a suicide, and suicide prevention experts tell us that “suicidal behavior is affected by individual, social and global risk factors, not just one factor such as being bullied,” reports. Why is it so important to understand this? Because we know from the social-norms research that changed perceptions change behavior. When people know suicide is not the result of any one experience or event, they’re less likely to think suicide is any kind of way to deal with it.

Why using it could be harmful

Unprecedented media attention to “bullying incidents that ended in young people killing themselves has … sensationalized any connection between bullying and suicide, especially with the media’s use of terms like ‘suicide epidemic’ and ‘bullycide’,” YouthToday quotes Nicole Cardarelli of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention as saying. “Sensational headlines can make suicide appear to be a common or acceptable response to being bullied, a particularly dangerous suggestion for young people who may be depressed or mentally ill, Cardarelli said, because it “encourages copycat behaviors or ‘clusters’ of suicide attempts.”

Social norming strength & resiliency

“Norming resiliency rather than cruel or destructive behavior with young people,” Dr. Agatston writes. “While the research indicates that there is a relationship between being bullied and experiencing thoughts of suicide, research also suggests that to prevent suicide among youth we need to norm strength-based messages and help-seeking behaviors. I hope we can get more bullying prevention advocates speaking to suicide prevention advocates so that we can all learn to spread messages of resiliency rather than despair around this important issue.” News reporters and bloggers can be part of the solution instead of the problem too: by following the National Institute of Mental Health’s guidelines for reporting on suicide. Here’s’s page with Resources for Youth in Crisis, including the US’s Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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