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A new study reports that the effects of childhood bullying on mental health are greater than those seen following maltreatment by an adult.

There has been a cultural shift toward a greater awareness of childhood bullying and its negative effects on children and adolescents. As a result several campaigns against bullying have been launched in an effort to further increase awareness and reduce the occurrence of bullying. Some of these campaigns include:

– The Pink Wrist Campaign (www.pinkwrist.ca)

– Promoting Relationships & Eliminating Violence Network ‘PREVNet’ (http://www.prevnet.ca/)

A study published this month in The Lancet Psychiatry has reported on the mental health effects of childhood bullying. The study compared the effects of maltreatment by an adult versus bullying by peers on mental health outcomes such as: anxiety, depression, self-harm, or suicide, in later life. The study included patients from two cohorts. From the first cohort, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, ‘ALSPAC’, a total of 4 026 participants were included, while a total of 1 273 participants were included from the second cohort, the Great Smoky Mountain Study, ‘GSMS’.

It was found that 8% of the children in the ALSPAC cohort reported maltreatment by an adult, while 30% reported bullying by peers. Children exposed to both maltreatment and bullying made up 7% of the study population. When assessing the GSMS cohort, the researchers found that 15% of the children were exposed to maltreatment, while 16% were bullied, and 10% were both maltreated and bullied. An interesting finding of the study was that children who were maltreated were also more likely to be bullied, in both study cohorts.

Analyses from the ALSPAC cohort revealed that 19% of the young adults reported mental health problems. Of these, 10% exhibited symptoms of anxiety, 8% were depressed, and 9% reported self-harming within the past year. Assessment of the GSMS cohort showed that 18% of participants in this cohort reported mental health problems. Of these, 12% reported anxiety, 6% reported depression, and 7% reported self-harming within the past year.

The study reported that children from the ALSPAC cohort who were maltreated were not more likely to experience mental health problems, while children from the GSMS cohort who were maltreated were more likely to experience depression. Children who experienced bullying by their peers were more likely to experience all mental health issues compared with children who did not experience bullying or maltreatment. When comparing between children who were bullied and children who were maltreated, the results show that the children who were bullied were more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and self-harm as adults, compared with children who were maltreated.

Overall the results demonstrate that bullying by peers has a greater negative effect on mental health in later life. The negative effects reported from being bullied are greater than those reported following maltreatment by an adult. The researchers therefore suggest that bullying should be considered as a risk factor for mental health issues. They also suggest that greater attention by schools, health services, and other agencies should be placed on reducing bullying and increasing responses to bullying.


Lereya, ST, Copeland, W, Costello, EJ, Wolke, D. “Adult mental health consequences of peer bullying and maltreatment in childhood: two cohorts in two countries” The Lancet Psyhiatry, Published Online: 28 April 2015. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(15)00165-0

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net








Written by Deborah Tallarigo, PhD

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