Anxiety, Depression Caused By Bullying May Diminish Over Time

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For a British study on bullying researchers gathered information from a survey of identical, and non-identical twins.

Studying twins allowed the investigators to discover associations between bullying and mental health issues, and to account for genetic and shared environmental influences.

The more than 11,000 survey participants answered, with parental help, peer victimization questions at ages 11 and 14, and answered mental health questions at ages 11 and 16.

“Previous studies have shown that bullied children are more likely to suffer mental health issues, but give little evidence of a causal link, as pre-existing vulnerabilities can make children both more likely to be bullied and experience worse mental health outcomes,” said lead researcher Dr. Jean-Baptiste Pingault, University College London. “We used a robust study design to identify causation.”

The data analysis indicated, once environmental and genetic factors were removed, that exposure to bullying contributed to the onset of depression, anxiety, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and/or conduct problems. After two years, the symptoms of anxiety persisted, but after five years all the effects associated with bullying had diminished. However, 16 year olds who were bullied at 11 were more likely to have paranoid thoughts, or a tendency for thought disorganization.

Though this study confirms that bullying contributes to common mental health disorders, it also indicates that people are resilient, and can get better.

“The detrimental effects of bullying show that more needs to be done to help children who are bullied,” said Pingault. “In addition to interventions aimed at stopping bullying from happening, we should also support children who have been bullied by supporting resilience processes on their path to recovery.”

In 2015, about 21 percent of students in the U.S., ages 12 to 18 reported being bullied at school. The acts of bullying included teasing, name calling, being the subject of rumors, being forced to do things, destruction of property, shoving, tripping, and exclusion from activities.

Source: Science Daily; NCES
Photo credit: Johanna Hardell

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