Research has well established a link between bullying and weapons carrying, and between bullying and poor mental health. We connect these bodies of literature, using data from a large nationally representative study of U.S. high school students to examine how weapons carrying mediates the association between bullying and mental health outcomes.
Data were 2007-2017 cycles of the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), a biennial, nationally representative survey of health risk behaviors among US high school students. Our analytic sample included 2,569 (2.9% of larger sample; N=88,189) who reported any kind of bullying in the past 12 months and had complete information on whether or not they carried a weapon. We dichotomized four bullying outcomes (past 12 months: school, electronic, got into physical fight, and threatened at school with a weapon) and one weapon carrying variable (past 12 months) – from here, we created one new carried a weapon after being bullied (CWB) (no/yes; e.g. did not carry a weapon post-bullying vs. did carry a weapon post-bullying) for each bullying type. Mental health outcomes included (all dichotomized, past 2 weeks, no/yes): felt sad or hopeless, seriously considered suicide, had a plan for suicide and attempted suicide. We used binary logistic regression adjusted for YRBS sampling methods and weighting to examine the influence of CWB on mental health outcomes (Stata 15.0). Data are publically available and de-identified; therefore, they are classified as exempt by the first author's institution.
About half the sample was male (53.1%), one-quarter were in each high school grade, about half were White (46.4%) and one-fifth were sexual minority. Students most frequently carried a weapon if they had been threatened at school with a weapon (25.6%) or if they had been in a physical fight (21.5%). About half as many youth carried a weapon after they had been bullied at school (7.2%) or electronically bullied (8.1%). Carrying a weapon after being school bullied (OR=0.59, p<.001) or threatened with a weapon (OR=0.67, p<.01) was associated with lower odds of feeling sad or hopeless. Students were less likely to consider suicide if they carried a weapon after being threatened with a weapon (OR=0.59, p<.01). Weapons carrying after electronic bullying (OR=0.74, p<.05) or after being threatened with a weapon was associated with lower odds having a plan for suicide. However, carrying a weapon after all types of bullying (electronic: OR=2.91, p<.001; school: OR=3.23, p<.001; being threatened with a weapon: OR=2.16, p<.01; getting into a fight: OR=2.42, p<.01) doubled the odds of attempting suicide.
Weapons carrying has a complex relationship with mental health after bullying. Clinicians’ assessing weapons carrying in response to bullying as a part of history taking during routine adolescent health care visits may supplement understanding of the impact of bullying on mental health.
© 2018 Published by Elsevier Inc.