UK researchers find link between risk of psychosis and childhood bullying

Childhood bullying shouldn’t be seen as a “harmless rite of passage,” says University of Warwick professor Dieter Wolke, but rather an event that can have significant consequences on mental health. Wolke and his colleagues from Warwick and the University of Bristol used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPC) to assess the impact of being bullied, being a bully and experiencing both (the bully-victim).

The ALSPC includes a group of nearly 5000 children born in the early 1990s in the United Kingdom who have been followed since birth.

After controlling for factors such as family situations or pre-existing behavioral issues, the researchers found that children who were chronic victims or bullies in primary school were up to four and a half times more likely to have reported a psychotic experience by 18 years of age.

Children who were only bullied for a short time were also at an increased risk.

In a press release from the University of Warwick, Wolke said:

“The results show that interventions against bullying should start early, in primary school, to prevent long term serious effects on children’s mental health. This clearly isn’t something that can wait until secondary school to be resolved; the damage may already have been done.”

The study, “Bullying in elementary school and psychotic experiences at 18 years: a longitudinal, population-based cohort study,” appeared online ahead of print this month in the journal Psychological Medicine.