In previous posts, I have written extensively about using physical fitness to develop emotional resilience and the connection between physical and mental health. A recent study on bullying, exercise and suicide risk confirms both these relationships.
20% of students across the United States say they have been bullied on school property. In this study, authors looked at data from 13,583 U.S. adolescents in grades nine through twelve collected by the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (Center for Disease Control). Of those surveyed, 30% said they experienced sadness for two or more weeks in the previous year, 22.2% reported suicidal thoughts, and 8.2% said they attempted suicide. Victims of bullying were twice as likely to report sadness and three times as likely to report suicidal thoughts or attempts.
However, students who exercised at least four days per week showed significantly less sadness, suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts. The benefits of exercise were even greater for bullied students. Bullied students who exercised at least four days per week showed a 23% reduction in both suicidal thoughts and attempts.
The study’s authors recommend further research to identify the mechanism by which exercise can help at-risk teens. I hypothesize that being bullied makes one feel powerless in one’s own body because the bullied victim lacks the physical capability to oppose his tormentor. This feeling of powerlessness may become so frustrating over time that it leads the victim to imagine taking his own life or using a weapon to exact vengeance on the bully and/or other perceived threats.
Yet physical exercise has the potential to restore one’s confidence in her physical capabilities. Through exercise, we become stronger and more enduring, but we also recognize our physical and mental power to overcome adversity. This lesson offers benefits for everyone, whether adolescent, bullied, or otherwise.