Bullying Could Have Greater Effect on Mental Health than Child Abuse

There’s nothing good about child abuse or bullying, but according to a new study, the latter may have more serious mental health consequences than the former.

The new research from U.S. and U.K. scientists is actually the first ever to compare the effects of peer bullying to the effects of physical or sexual abuse in children. According to their findings, children who had been bullied by classmates or other peers but didn’t get abused by family members had a greater chance of suffering from depression and anxiety as adults, as compared to children who were abused by family but didn’t get picked on by their peers.

According to study head Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, about 33 percent of all children experience some form of buillying. He added that bullying victims are easier to stress out than non-victims, and are also less successful at work and less healthy once they reach adulthood.

Wolke and his team had examined data on over 4,000 children from the United Kingdom’s Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) and 1,420 children from the United States’ Great Smoky Mountains Study. For the U.K. data, the researchers tried to see if children were bullied between eight weeks of age and 8.6 years, as based on information on parents. The children then gave their own reports on whether they were bullied at the age of 8, 10, and 13. And for the U.S. data, children and their parents were interviewed yearly when the kids were aged 9 to 16. The researchers then made follow-ups when the children had become young men and women of 18 to 25, and checked if they suffered from depression, anxiety, and suicidal/self-harm tendencies.

For the former set of data, Wolke’s team discovered that bullying-only victims were 1.6 times more likely than maltreatment-only victims to suffer from mental health issues. The disparity was larger in the latter set of data, where those who were only bullied but not maltreated were four times more likely to have depression or other mental health issues than those who were maltreated but not bullied.

Wolke believes that society’s general stand on bullying may be a reason why more bullying victims have emotional and mental issues as adults. “There’re still people out there who think that bullying is a normal rite of passage — you go through and toughen up, etc.,” said Wolke. He stressed that bullying does have consequences for its victims, including low self-esteem and trust issues. “Being socially excluded and being a social outcast is about the worst stress that we can experience, more than other pains,” he added.