Being bullied is particularly damaging to the mental health of girls who receive no social support from adults or their friends, according to a new study.
Furthermore, social support from adults or the person’s friends — or both — appears to lessen the negative consequences of bullying, including anxiety and depression.
Psychologist Dr. Martin Guhn and colleagues from the University of British Columbia conducted the research to see whether the combination of high levels of bullying and low levels of adult as well as peer support have a multiplicative negative effect on children’s well-being.
For the study, 3,026 ten-year-old school children from 72 schools in Vancouver, Canada, completed questionnaires which asked them about their satisfaction with life, their self-esteem, and their levels of anxiety and depression.
The authors compared these ratings to the quality of the students’ relationships with both adults and peers (their friends), and how often they felt victimized or bullied.
The results revealed that girls were more likely to report positive relationships with both adults and peers, higher satisfaction with life, higher self-esteem as well as higher anxiety levels. There were no significant differences between boys’ and girls’ reported levels of bullying and depression.
However, as many as 1 in 7 girls and 1 in 6 boys reported being bullied several times a week, with verbal and social victimization more common than physical bullying. Cyber bullying, on the other hand, appeared to be relatively low.
The researchers also found that positive relationships with adults and peers were strongly linked to life satisfaction and self-esteem, whereas bullying was strongly linked to depressive symptoms and anxiety.
Furthermore, victimization was very strongly linked to low life satisfaction, low self-esteem and more depressive symptoms in girls who also had low levels of social support from adults and peers.
“Our findings have implications for promoting children’s well-being in school and community contexts, supporting interventions that foster relationship-building skills and simultaneously reduce victimization.
“In other words, children need more than the absence of risk factors to experience good mental health and well-being,” said the authors.
The work is published online in Springer’s Journal of Happiness Studies.