Method: Data were collected between August 2013 and January 2014, and participants consisted of 639 African American youths (ages 13-21) from low-income neighborhoods in Chicago’s Southside. Of these, 45.5% were males and 54.2% females, and 74.6% received government assistance. Measures for the study included age, sex, government assistance, bullying victimization, hopelessness, low self-esteem, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Cross-sectional research design and self-reported surveys were used. Analyses included descriptive statistics, correlational analyses, and Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) with Mplus. Controlling for biological sex, age, and government assistance, we hypothesized that (a) bullying victimization is associated with an increase in the risk of suicidal thoughts; and (b) low self-esteem, depression, and hopelessness would mediate the association between the two.
Results: The goodness-of-fit-indices for the path model are CFI=.927, TLI=.905, RMSEA=.058 (90% CI=.051~.065, SRMR=.053). These estimated fit indices indicated an acceptable model fit. For the first hypothesis, bullying victimization was positively associated with low self-esteem (β=.016, p=.000) and depression (β=.239, p=.000). Suicidal thoughts were positively associated with low self-esteem (β=.159, p=.021), depression (β=.344, p=.041), and hopelessness (β=.031, p=.000). Low self-esteem was positively associated with depression (β=.243, p=.000) and hopelessness (β=.296, p=.001). For the second hypothesis, we found that bullying victimization was positively associated with depression, depression was significantly related to hopelessness, and hopelessness contributed to an increase in suicidal thoughts (β=.063, CI=.004~.123).
Conclusions and Implications: As our findings show, victims of bullying are likely to exhibit low self-esteem and depression, and depression can contribute to feelings of hopelessness, thereby increasing suicidal thoughts. Based on our findings, practitioners working with urban adolescents who are victims of bullying need to thoroughly assess their mental health problems, which might increase suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Although anti-bullying programs are widely implemented in school districts, financial constraints are common barriers for schools located in low-resource neighborhoods. Therefore, practitioners working with urban youth need to consider cost-effective programs.