Bullying increases child's risk of psychoses, study finds
11 May 2009
Children who suffered physical or emotional bullying were twice as likely to develop psychotic symptoms - such as hallucinations, delusions or paranoia - in their early adolescence, a study from the University of Warwick has found.
Moreover, children who experienced sustained bullying over several years were found to be up to four times more likely to develop the symptoms.
"Our research shows that being victimised can have serious effects on altering perception of the world, such as hallucinations, delusions or bizarre thoughts where the person's insight into why this is happening is reduced," said Professor Dieter Wolke, Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Warwick, who led the study.
"This indicates that adverse social relationships with peers is a potent risk factor for developing psychotic symptoms in adolescence and may increase the risk of developing psychosis in adulthood."
The study looked at 6437 children who took part in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a project core-funded by the Trust that has followed more than 14 000 children and their parents for 15 years.
Each of the children undertook yearly interviews, as well as psychological and physical tests. Their parents and teachers also filled in questionnaires about the child's development. At the age of 13, the children were interviewed about their experiences of psychotic symptoms during the previous six months.
Of the children interviewed between the ages of eight and ten, about 14 per cent had suffered frequent bullying by their peers over several years. Five per cent of children interviewed at age ten were the victims of more severe physical and emotional bullying.
The study revealed that that the more frequent and severe the bullying, the more likely it was that the child suffered psychotic symptoms in their adolescence. The effect was the same whether the bullying took the form of physical or verbal abuse, or simply social exclusion.
"All children have conflicts occasionally, and teasing and play fighting occurs. Children learn from these conflicts of how to deal with this," said Professor Wolke.
"But when we talk about bullying victimisation, it is repeated and systematic - an abuse of power with the intent to hurt. Children who become targets have less coping skills, show a clear reaction and have few friends who can help them."
Image credit: Anthea Sieveking , Wellcome Images
Schreier A et al. Prospective study of peer victimization in childhood and psychotic symptoms in a non-clinical population at 12 years of age. Archives of General Psychiatry 2009;66(5):527-536.