Study: Mental Health Effects Of Bullying Even Worse Than Effects Of Abuse By Adults
Image by Stop_bullying_Serbia_23.02.2008.jpg: ClaudiusGothicusderivative work: TheCuriousGnome (Stop_bullying_Serbia_23.02.2008.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
According to a new study, those bullied by peers often suffer even worse long-term mental health outcomes than those maltreated by adults early in life.
The effects of both sorts of abuse are well-documented, but this is the first study to examine whether bullying, on its own, results in dire psychological problems later in life on par or worse than maltreatment by adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define “maltreatment” as including “acts of commission” (child abuse) and “acts of omission” (child neglect).
Researchers presenting at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in San Diego examined data from more than 4,000 participants in the UK ALSPAC study (Avon Longtitudinal Study of Parents and Children) and 1,273 participants from the U.S. Great Smoky Mountain Study. The studies collectively provide data on both bullying by peers and maltreatment by adults at intervals occurring early in life (between 8 weeks and 16 years) and mental health outcomes between the ages of 18 and 25.
After adjusting for a variety of other factors, the results showed that children who were bullied, but not maltreated by adults, suffered worse outcomes later on than those maltreated by adults but not bullied.
According to lead study author Dieter Wolke, professor at the University of Warwick Department of Psychology and Warwick Medical School, “The mental health outcomes we were looking for included anxiety, depression or suicidal tendencies. Our results showed 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.”
The incidence of bullying was considerably higher for children reporting in the UK ALSPAC study; 29.7% reported bullying only, 8.5% of children reported maltreatment only, and 7% reported both maltreatment and bullying. In the Great Smoky Mountain Study, the incidence of adult maltreatment and bullying were roughly the same (15% reported maltreatment, 16.3% reported bullying), and 9.8% reported maltreatment and bullying.
The results add more evidence to support the argument that bullying is a serious mental health risk factor for children with reverberations later in life. Research published last year showed that in addition to mental health outcomes, victims of bullying also suffer physical health consequences including increased tissue inflammation.
Quoting Dr. Wolke, “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.”
The study was published in The Lancet Psychiatry.