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Specific Factors Influence Long-Term Effects of Bullying

New research suggests some young adults who were bullied as a child could have a greater risk of ongoing depression due to a mix of genetic and environmental factors. In the study, University of Bristol investigators sought to determine why some people respond differently to risk factors such as bullying, maternal postnatal depression, early childhood anxiety and domestic violence.

Investigators especially targeted factors that influence depression in young adults between the ages of 10 and 24. To do this, they reviewed detailed mood and feelings questionnaires and genetic information from 3,325 teenagers who are part of Bristol’s Children of the 90s study.

Researchers compared risk factors and mood feelings at nine points in time. From this review, they found that childhood bullying was strongly associated with trajectories of depression that rise at an early age.

Children who continued to show high depression into adulthood were also more likely to have genetic liability for depression and a mother with postnatal depression. However, children who were bullied but did not have any genetic liability for depression showed much lower depressive symptoms as they become young adults.

University of Bristol PhD student Alex Kwong explains:

“Although we know that depression can strike first during the teenage years, we didn’t know how risk factors influenced change over time. Thanks to the Children of the 90s study, we were able to examine at multiple time points the relationships between the strongest risk factors such as bullying and maternal depression, as well as factors such as genetic liability.”

Researchers believe the study findings help to identify which children are more at risk of depression long after any childhood bullying has occurred.

“Our study found that young adults who were bullied as children were eight times more likely to experience depression that was limited to childhood. However, some children who were bullied showed greater patterns of depression that continued into adulthood and this group of children also showed genetic liability and family risk.

“However, just because an individual has genetic liability to depression does not mean they are destined to go on and have depression. There are a number of complex pathways that we still don’t fully understand and need to investigate further,” explains Kwong.

“The next steps should continue to look at both genetic and environmental risk factors to help untangle this complex relationship that would eventually help influence prevention and coping strategies for our health and education services.”

Dr Rebecca Pearson, a lecturer in Psychiatric Epidemiology at the University of Bristol explains that the results can help us to identify which groups of children are most likely to suffer ongoing symptoms of depression into adulthood and which children will recover across adolescence.

“For example, the results suggest that children with multiple risk factors (including family history and bullying) should be targeted for early intervention but that when risk factors such as bullying occur in isolation, symptoms of depression may be less likely to persist.”

Karen Black, Chief Executive Officer for Bristol’s Off the Record adds: “At Off The Record we see a diverse mix of young people presenting with a range of needs, often depression and anxiety. Understanding some of the factors that influence this will further help us to shape services and our offer for young people.

I would also hope that studies such as these will help change policy direction and spending so that we start to get upstream of the issues that we know affect mental health including education and family, prevention rather than cure ideally.”

The study, “Genetic and environmental risk factors associated with different trajectories of depression symptoms from adolescence to young adulthood,” appears in JAMA Open Network.

Source: University of Bristol

Specific Factors Influence Long-Term Effects of Bullying

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2019). Specific Factors Influence Long-Term Effects of Bullying. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 5 Jul 2019 (Originally: 5 Jul 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 5 Jul 2019
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