Bullied Children at a Greater Risk of Mental Health Issues

Wednesday, 29th April 2015

A recent study has argued that bullying from other children at school is five times more likely to cause issues with anxiety than abuse or neglect in the home.

According to research, children who are bullied by their peers are at a higher risk of mental health issues later in life than those who are mistreated by adults.

The study’s authors believe that now is the time to start taking bullying more seriously. They found that children who get bullied are five times more likely to suffer from anxiety and twice as likely to experience thoughts self-harm and depression as those who are maltreated at home.

The term ‘maltreatment’ in this sense refers to any emotional or physical ill-treatment, neglect, negligent treatment or sexual abuse that results in potential or actual harm to the child’s development, dignity, survival or health. According to Professor Dieter Wolke, the study’s leader, maltreatment has until now been the main focus on concern regarding children’s later mental health.

The research studied children in the UK and America who took part in two important longitudinal research pieces.

The information on maltreatment of children in the UK aged between eight weeks to eight years old was given by mothers who were asked regularly whether their child had been sexually or physically abused and whether their partner had been emotionally or physically cruel. Hostile parenting, hitting and shouting were also recorded under ‘maltreatment’. The children were asked if they had been bullied at the ages of eight, ten and thirteen.

In the group from the US, bullying and maltreatment were assessed through regular child and parent interviews from the ages 9-16. Each child was assessed for depression and anxiety when they were 18 years old and asked if they had any self-harm or suicidal urges.

The research can be found in the Lancet Psychiatry journal and suggests that bullying by other children can cause more long-term damage.

Professor Wolke said that up to now, government resources and efforts have been focused on mistreatment in the family rather than bullying by peers. He went on to say that since one in three children across the world report being bullied, and it is apparent that bullied children have similar if not worse mental health issues later in life to those who are mistreated, there needs to be more done to address the imbalance. He stressed the importance for health services, schools and other agencies working together to deal with bullying.

Associate professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University, Dr Jennifer Wild, said the researchers didn’t investigate why bullying might cause problems with mental health. She said that the findings are important however, because they point out the distressing consequences bullying can have as well as the need for 0 tolerance programmes.

She also said that governmental efforts have almost exclusively been focused on addressing maltreatment in the family, and significantly less resources and attention has been paid to peer bullying. She went on to say that since bullying is found in all social groups and occurs frequently, the imbalance is in need of some attention.