Further Evidence of Bullying's Destructive Impact
> 2/22/2008 11:33:36 AM

Children victimized by bullies are at risk for serious psychiatric problems and often experience anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide. While bullying may have a large impact on the mental health of these children, its precise role has remained cloudy. Researchers have surmised that some factors, such as genetics or the child's home environment, could increase a child's chances both of becoming a victim and developing mental disorders. In a recent study involving over 1,000 pairs of English and Welsh twins, researchers from King's College in London addressed these explanations for the correlation between bullying and mental health problems. Their findings provide further evidence of the harm bullying causes to children's mental health.

The researchers collected information from the twins' mothers and teachers when they were 7 and again when they were 10, identifying those who experienced bullying. The study defined bullying as behavior that occurred often, was difficult to stop, and could include actions such as saying hurtful things, purposefully ignoring or excluding someone, physically hurting someone, and spreading rumors. 28% of the children had been bullied between the ages of 7 and 9. In 180 twin pairs, both twins had been bullied, while in 253 twin pairs, only one twin had been bullied.

In examining the effect of bullying on mental health, the researchers focused specifically on symptoms of internalizing problems. These symptoms, which can include worrying, crying frequently, and feeling guilty, occur when negative feelings are turned inward. They indicate that a child is at risk for psychiatric conditions, especially mood and anxiety disorders. In a previous study, the researchers noted an association between bullying and internalizing problems.

Overall, pairs of twins who had been bullied displayed more internalizing symptoms at age 10 than pairs of twins who had not been bullied. These results were also true of twin pairs in which one twin had been a victim of bullying and the other had not. The researchers further investigated the association between bullying and mental health by narrowing their analysis to include only data from the identical twins within the study. Once again, twins who had been bullied experienced more internalizing symptoms than their non-bullied identical siblings. Because these twins share their genetic makeup and home environment, these results indicate that in this sample, bullying affected mental health independent of these factors. The results remained statistically significant when the researchers controlled for internalizing symptoms that the children had displayed at age 7.

This study adds more evidence to the theory that bullying has a damaging affect on mental health and can contribute to internalizing symptoms. However, the researchers stress that other circumstances, such as a poor family situation, can still be just as detrimental to a child's well-being. In many cases, bullying may be only one factor among many influencing a child's mental health. We must recognize the large impact that bullying has on children and work to not only prevent bullying, but to also help victims of bullying cope with their experiences.

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