Bullying May Be Worse for Later Mental Health Than Adult Maltreatment

New research suggests a child has more long-term mental health issues after being bullied by a peer than if they were maltreated by an adult.

While there is already an established link between maltreatment by adults and the mental health consequences for children, researchers wanted to learn if bullying was associated with similar mental health issues.

A research team lead by Professor Dieter Wolke from the Warwick Medical School looked at data from 4,026 participants in the UK ALSPAC study (Avon Longtitudinal Study of Parents and Children) and 1,273 participants from the US Great Smoky Mountain Study.

For ALSPAC, researchers looked at reports of maltreatment between the ages of eight weeks and 8.6 years; bullying at ages eight, 10 and 13; and mental health outcomes at age 18. Data from the Great Smoky Mountain Study had reports of maltreatment and bullying between the ages of nine and 16, and mental health outcomes from 19-25 years old.

The research is published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

Said Wolke, “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.”

In the ALSPAC study, 8.5 percent of children reported maltreatment only, 29.7 percent reported bullying only and seven percent reported both maltreatment and bullying. In the Great Smoky Mountain Study, 15 percent reported maltreatment, 16.3 percent reported bullying and 9.8 percent reported maltreatment and bullying.

Wolke added, “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.”

Source: University of Warwick/EurekAlert!