A study has found that young people who are bullied by their peers are five times more likely to become anxious than if they were neglected or abused at home.
A paper published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry believes that bullying needs to be taken more seriously, as it found young people who were bullied were five times more likely to experience anxiety and twice as likely to talk of suffering depression and self-harm than those who were maltreated at home, reports the Guardian.
“Until now, governments have focused their efforts and resources on family maltreatment rather than bullying,” said Professor Dieter Wolke, who led the study. “Since one in three children worldwide report being bullied, and it is clear that bullied children have similar or worse mental health problems later in life to those who are maltreated, more needs to be done to address this imbalance. Moreover, it is vital that schools, health services and other agencies work together to tackle bullying.”
4,026 children aged from eight weeks to eight years old from the UK took part in the study, and their mothers where asked at regular intervals whether their child had been physically or sexually abused. The children themselves were asked if they had been bullied at the ages of eight, ten and thirteen.
“Separate institutions, researchers and advocacy groups lobby and often compete on behalf of victims of child molestation, rape, exposure to domestic violence, corporal punishment, physical abuse and bullying,” the study says. “Attention is also hampered by the description of abusive behaviours such as peer violence (including that among siblings) as being part of a ‘normal childhood’ and by viewing efforts to address such abuse as a sign of overwrought protectionism.”
Comparing children who are bullied to children who are maltreated may not help the rivalry between the child protection lobbies, they say, but the findings are not that strong. They could be explained, for instance, by bullying taking place at a later age than maltreatment and closer to the time of the mental health assessment.
Dr Jennifer Wild, associate professor of experimental psychology, University of Oxford, said the researchers did not investigate why bullying caused mental health problems. But, she said: “The findings are important because they highlight the devastating consequences of bullying and the need for zero tolerance programmes. Governmental efforts have focused almost exclusively on public policy to address family maltreatment; much less attention and resources has been paid to bullying. Since bullying is frequent and found in all social groups, and current evidence supports that bullied children have similar or worse long-term mental health outcomes than maltreatment, this imbalance requires attention.”
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