Exercise Can Reduce Suicidal Thoughts in Bullied Teens


It might sound obvious that those teens who are bullied in school tend to experience symptoms of mental illness. However, what may surprise you is that the bully also tends to have symptoms of psychological illness. In fact, research on bullying among adolescents show that both victims and their bullies experience emotional and/or psychological disorders.


For instance, one study found that the victims of bullying are prone to higher rates of agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. Meanwhile, both bullies and victims of bullying are prone to panic disorder, agoraphobia, suicidal thoughts and behavior as well as major depressive disorder.


However, a recent study done at the University of Vermont reveals that exercise among bullied teens can help reduce their risks of mental illness. The study took data from the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey which surveyed 13,583 high school students. The researchers analyzed the data and found that when bullied students were  physically active for four or more days per week there was a 23% reduction in suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.


Sadly, across the country, nearly 20 percent of high school students report being bullied on school property. Typically, those who are bullied have an increased likelihood for poor academic performance, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, sadness and substance abuse. However, exercise might be a means to prevent these circumstances. In fact, recently, the American Psychiatric Association publicly recognized that exercise can be a means to prevent depression. However, this particular study made the link between physical activity and a reduction in suicidal thoughts and attempts by bullied students.


It’s interesting to note that many schools around the country have cut back on physical education (P.E.) classes, recess, and athletic programs. According to the Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 44% of schools have cut significant time out of programs that promote physical health. Reports indicate that since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, schools are focused more on reading and mathematics.


This might be an indication for parents to encourage their teens to exercise, especially if they may be at risk for a mental illness. And, the University of Vermont study (mentioned above) points to the necessity of exercise for teens who are vulnerable to suicide and depression. Furthermore, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department recommends at least 60 minutes of exercise for teens. This is considered to be an evidence-based guideline for keeping teens healthy. However, sadly, in one survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control, half of America’s teens reported that they had no physical education classes in an average week.


If exercise can provide such dramatically healthy results – emotionally, psychologically, and physically- why are schools letting go of physical education classes? As a parent, it might be incredibly useful for your teen to exercise regularly, especially if he or she has been a victim of bullying. Your encouragement to exercise regularly might help prevent mental illness in the future.