Bullying as a child has a worse effect on adult mental health than parental abuse, new research shows.
The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry found very severe outcomes for bullied children (Lereya et al., 2015).
Professor Dieter Wolke from Warwick’s Department of Psychology and Warwick Medical School, who led the research, said:
“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.”
While both abuse and bullying are known to cause mental health problems later on, this is the first study to compare them.
Professor Wolke said:
“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.”
The study looked at two groups, one in the US (1,273 participants) and one in the UK (4,026 participants).
In the US group, bullying was assessed between the ages of 9 and 16 and they were followed up at between 19- and 25-years-old.
“…physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, or severe maladaptive parenting (or both) between ages 8 weeks and 8·6 years…”
In the UK study bullying was assessed at 8, 10 and 13.
The children were followed up at 18-years-old.
The results showed that in the UK:
- 8.5% of children reported maltreatment only,
- 29.7% reported bullying only,
- and 7% reported both maltreatment and bullying
In the US:
- 15% reported maltreatment,
- 16.3% reported bullying,
- and 9.8% reported maltreatment and bullying.
The authors explain the results:
“When being bullied was directly compared with maltreatment in childhood, being bullied by peers had more adverse effects on early or young adult overall mental health.[…]
The insufficiency of resources for bullying compared with those for family maltreatment requires attention.
It is important for schools, health services, and other agencies to coordinate their responses to bullying, and research is needed to assess such interagency policies and processes.“
Sad child image from Shutterstock