Bullying has worse effects on mental health than maltreatment

Bullying affects children more than maltreatment as they grow up, according to a new study.

Children who are bullied by their peers suffer worse as they reach adulthood than those who were maltreated by adults. Studies already proved a link between maltreatment by adults and mental health consequences for children, but Professor Dieter Wolke and his team from the University of Warwick wanted to examine the effects of bullying on mental health – and whether there was any relation between bullying and maltreatment.

Professor Wolke said: “The mental health outcomes we were looking for included anxiety, depression or suicidal tendencies. Our results showed those who were bullied were more likely to suffer from mental health problems than those who were maltreated. Being both bullied and maltreated also increased the risk of overall mental health problems, anxiety and depression in both groups.”

They looked at data from 4,026 participants in the UK ALSPAC study (the Avon Longtitudinal Study of Parents and Children, since you ask) and 1,273 participants from the US Great Smoky Mountain Study.

For ALSPAC Wolke’s team examined reports of maltreatment between the ages of 8 weeks and 8.6 years, bullying at ages 8, 10 and 13, and mental health outcomes at 18. Data from the Great Smoky Mountain Study had reports of maltreatment and bullying between the ages of 9 and 16, and mental health outcomes from 19-25 years old.

In the ALSPAC study, 8.5% of children reported maltreatment only, 29.7% reported bullying only and 7% reported both maltreatment and bullying. In the Great Smoky Mountain Study, 15% reported maltreatment, 16.3% reported bullying and 9.8% reported maltreatment and bullying.

Professor Wolke added: “Being bullied is not a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up; it has serious long-term consequences. It is important for schools, health services and other agencies to work together to reduce bullying and the adverse effects related to it.”