The internet is a platform ripe for cyberbullying that often leaves adolescents and children with suicidal thoughts and attempts, a new study found.

Adolescent suicidality is a major public health concern. With suicide being the second-leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24 in the U.S., serious steps must be taken to alleviate the issue.

Unfortunately, both social media and the internet play a significant role in all of this, with a recent study funded by the National Institute of Health revealing that 9% of young adolescents (average age 12) are common targets of cyberbullying. Furthermore, adolescents who experience cyberbullying are more than four times more likely to report suicidal thoughts and attempts than those who don’t. In addition, female and Black participants are more likely to get bullied online.

Looking through data from more than 10,000 adolescents, the team behind the research stated that this association diminished but remained significant even when they adjusted for other factors thought to influence suicidal thoughts and attempts. Such factors include racial discrimination, family conflict, parental monitoring and school support issues.

“Social gaming and social media in large part replaced in-person social contact during the pandemic for children and teens,” said Paul Weigle, MD, the associate medical director for ambulatory services, a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist who cares for youth at Natchaug Hospital’s Joshua Center in Mansfield. He’s also the chair of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry’s Media Committee.

“So it’s not surprising that these rates have risen concurrently. We see at the same time an increase in adolescent depression and suicidal ideation. The question is, is there causality from social media use to cyberbullying to thoughts of suicide? Clinically, I frequently see young people in whom online bullying triggers depression and suicidal thoughts,” he added.

Weigle said that parents should not be judgmental when their kids experience cyberbullying. Often, children get afraid of parents taking away their devices if they ever open up about their online experience, so assuring them that it won’t happen again is a first step.

Talking to your child and looking for clues like academic decline, changes in sleep/eating, and withdrawing from social contact will also help, the expert noted.

If you have thoughts of suicide, confidential help is available for free at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 988 or 1-800-273-8255. The line is available 24 hours, every day.