A new study suggests that children who are bullied at school could be more likely to suffer from mental health issues later in life than those who are abused by adults.
Previous studies has linked physical, sexual and emotional abuse during childhood to psychological problems later in life. According to the new research, bullying can have severe, long-lasting physical and psychological effects.
For the new study, scientists looked for links between being bullied and long term mental health problems. The researchers wanted to know whether mental health problems in children exposed to these experiences are the result of both maltreatment and bullying or just bullying alone.
“We found, somewhat surprisingly, that those who were bullied and maltreated were not at higher risk than those just bullied,” senior study author Dieter Wolke, a psychology professor at the University of Warwick in the U.K.
The data was gathered from two large studies that analyzed mental health in children and then observed them at least until turning 18-years old. One study, from the U.S., was focused on more than 1,200 participants. Another, conducted in the U.K., involved over 4,000.
Both studies meant a series of interviews with parents to discover abuse in younger children, but also reports of bullying incidents by older children.
As young adults, almost 19 percent in the U.K. focus group and more than 18 percent in the U.S. group had been affected by mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.
After eliminating other family factors that could have contributed to psychological issues, the scientists discovered an increased risk of depression among abused children in the United States group, a trend which was not found in United Kingdom group.
In both studies, however, mental health issues were dramatically more likely in kids who were bullied by other children than in kids who were abused.
It’s possible that abuse was not reported by parents whom were asked about their children, the scientists say in the study, which published in The Lancet Psychiatry and explained at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in San Diego. The study also did not account the severity of abuse or the age at which it happened.
Even so, the results show the need for parents, teachers and doctors to pay more attention to bullying.
“It is particularly novel that they found bullying is a greater source of mental health problems than maltreatment,” said Catherine Bradshaw, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence in Baltimore.
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