Childhood bullying and mental illness in young adulthood

By Jasmin Wertz for the the Mental Elf Blog

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This Finnish study examined different types of bullying involvement in children (bullying others, being victimised by bullying, and a combination of both) and whether they had any bearing on children’s risk of being diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder during young adulthood. Thus, it did not only consider the outcomes for children exposed to bullying, but also for children who bullied others.

The findings suggest that victims of bullying experience psychiatric problems as they grow older, regardless of whether they already experience problems when young. A potential threat to this conclusion based on this specific study is that the authors did not take many other factors into account that could explain this association. One influence that affects both children’s risk of being exposed to bullying and of developing psychiatric problems later in life is exposure to childhood adversity, such as poverty, family conflict and maltreatment. Taking these into account would have lead to firmer conclusions as to whether bullying has a specific influence over and above these factors. However, other studies have analysed these influences and obtained similar findings, supporting the conclusions drawn from this study (Takizawa, 2014).

Children who bullied others, and those who bullied others but were also being bullied, were also at increased risk for adult mental health problems. However, their higher risk appeared to be less a result of their involvement in bullying, and more a continuation of the mental health problems that they experienced alongside their bullying involvement.

This means that bullying behaviour in children may be a good indicator of concurrent mental health issues, which is an important finding because it suggests that raising awareness about bullying will not only help victims, but also be useful to identify mental health problems in bullies.

Read the full commentary via the Mental Elf

View the research article abstract here

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