A new study of Finnish children has found that exposure to bullying as a child was associated with psychiatric disorders in adulthood that required treatment.
For the study, a team of researchers led by Andre Sourander, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Turku in Finland, examined the associations between bullying behavior at age 8 and adult psychiatric outcomes by age 29.
The study used data from 5,034 Finnish children. Assessments of bullying and exposure to bullying were based on information from the children, their parents and teachers. Information on the use of inpatient and outpatient services to treat psychiatric disorders from ages 16 to 29 was obtained from a nationwide hospital register.
About 90 percent of the study participants — 4,540 of 5,034 — did not engage in bullying behavior. Of those, 520 (11.5 percent) had received a psychiatric diagnosis by follow-up.
In comparison, 33 of 166 (19.9 percent) of participants who engaged in frequent bullying, 58 of 251 (23.1 percent) participants frequently exposed to bullying, and 24 of 77 (31.2 percent) participants who both frequently engaged in and were frequently exposed to bullying had psychiatric diagnoses by follow-up, according to the study’s findings.
Study participants were divided into four groups: Those who never or only sometimes bully and are not exposed to bullying; those who frequently bully but are not exposed to bullying; those who were frequently exposed to bullying; and those who frequently bully and are exposed to bullying.
The treatment of any psychiatric disorder was associated with frequent exposure to bullying, as well as with being a bully and being exposed to bullying, according to the researchers.
Exposure to bullying was associated with depression, they add.
A limitation of the study is the lack of understanding about how exposure to bullying — whether as the bully or the victim — may lead to psychiatric disorders.
“Future studies containing more nuanced information about the mediating factors that occur between childhood bullying and adulthood disorders will be needed to shed light on this important question,” the researchers concluded in the study, published in JAMA Psychiatry.
“Policy makers and health care professionals should be aware of the complex nature between bullying and psychiatric outcomes when they implement prevention and treatment interventions.”
Source: JAMA Psychiatry