Link between bullying and later mental health problems


Children who are bullied by their peers suffer worse mental health problems in later life than youngsters who have been maltreated by adults.

A new study led by the University of Warwick found that children who experienced bullying were nearly five times more likely to experience anxiety and twice as likely to suffer depression or self-harm than those who were maltreated.

There is already an established link between maltreatment by adults and the mental health consequences for children, but researchers wanted to examine whether long-term mental health issues experienced by bullying victims were related to having been maltreated by adults as well.

The team, led by Professor Dieter Wolke from Warwick’s Department of Psychology and Medical School, looked at more than 5,000 children in the UK and the US who were taking part in two major longitudinal pieces of research.

In the UK they examined data from more than 4,000 children involved in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, studying reports of maltreatment between the ages of eight weeks and eight years, bullying at eight, 10 and 13, and mental health outcomes at 18. Maltreatment was defined in the report as “physical or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity”.

The researchers also analysed the data of nearly 1,300 children in the US, looking at maltreatment between the ages of nine and 16 and mental health from 19 to 25-years-old.

“The mental health outcomes we were looking for included anxiety, depression or suicidal tendencies,” explained Prof Wolke, whose team’s research has been published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry. 

“Our results showed that those who were bullied were more likely to suffer from mental health problems than those who were maltreated. Being both bullied and maltreated also increased the risk of overall mental health problems, anxiety and depression in both groups.

“Being bullied is not a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It has serious long-term consequences. It is important for schools, health services and other agencies to work together to reduce bullying and the adverse effects related to it.”



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