Bullied children at ‘higher risk’ of mental illness than abuse victims – study

Reuters / Nour Fourat
Children who are bullied by their peers face a higher risk of developing mental health issues later in life than those who have been sexually abused by adults, a new study reveals.

The study, led by Professor Dieter Wolke of Warwick University, shows children who are bullied by other children but don’t experience maltreatment by adults are more likely to suffer from anxiety in the future.

Many studies have examined the link between mental health issues and maltreatment by adults, but the effects of bullying have been largely neglected.

One in three children worldwide report being bullied.

Professor Wolke’s study examines the impacts on mental health of children who are bullied at a young age.

Researchers measured the effects by comparing young adults in the US and the UK who had been maltreated with those who were bullied (or both abused and bullied) during their childhood.

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The study involved 4,206 children from the UK who were part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), and 1,420 US participants who were part of the Great Smoky Mountain Study (GSMS).

The ALSPAC examined reports of maltreatment between ages 8 weeks and 8.6 years, bullying at ages 8, 10 and 13, and mental health outcomes at age 18.

It found that 8.5 percent of children were exposed to maltreatment, 29.7 percent to bullying and 7 percent to both.

The GSMS study observed maltreatment and bullying between the ages of 9 and 16, and the mental health outcomes of 19-25 year olds.

It found 15 percent were maltreated, 16.3 percent were bullied and 9.8 percent were victims of both.

The results suggest children are more likely to experience abuse from peers than parents or adults.

The UK study also shows children who have been bullied are 1.6 times more likely to develop mental health problems than those who experienced maltreatment alone.

However, David Finkelhor and Corinna Jenkins Tucker from the University of New Hampshire argue that a comparison between children who are bullied and those who are maltreated make the findings tenuous.

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Dr Jennifer Wild, Associate Professor of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University, also considers the study ineffectual.

She says the researchers failed to investigate why bullying caused mental health problems.

However, she told the Guardian: “The findings are important because they highlight the devastating consequences of bullying and the need for zero tolerance programs.”

Governmental efforts have focused almost exclusively on public policy to address family maltreatment; much less attention and resources has [sic] been paid to bullying,” she added.

Wild says as bullying is frequent and “found in all social groups,” the link to mental health outcomes “requires more attention.”