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'Vicious circle' of bullying poses harm to mental health

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HealthDay News
New research shows that when children are bullied, it affects their mental health, and makes them more likely to bully others -- which starts the cycle again. Photo by FotoRieth/Pixabay
New research shows that when children are bullied, it affects their mental health, and makes them more likely to bully others -- which starts the cycle again. Photo by FotoRieth/Pixabay

Dec. 11 -- Bullied teens are more likely to develop mental health problems, and people with mental health problems are also more likely to become bullies, researchers report.

Even though many studies have shown that being bullied can leave mental scars, "no studies to date" have tested the notion that mental health issues might also help drive bullying, explained study author Marine Azevedo Da Silva. She's a postdoctoral researcher in Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, in New York City.

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For the study, the researchers analyzed data from 13,200 U.S. youth, aged 12 to 17, and found that:

  • 79 percent said they'd never bullied others
  • 11 percent said they'd bullied others over a year ago
  • 10 percent said they'd bullied others in the past year
  • 16 percent said they'd bullied others over a month ago
  • 5 percent said they'd bullied others in the past month

Youth who said they'd been bullies were more likely to have a moderate to high rate of mental health problems than those who said they hadn't bullied others. The study also found that teens with moderate to high rates of mental health problems were more likely to bully others, compared to those without such issues.

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In other words, the link between mental health issues and bullying "is likely to be bidirectional," Azevedo Da Silva said in a school news release.

According to study senior author Dr. Silvia Martins, the findings suggest that efforts to stem bullying "should consider how to take into account and handle negative feelings and mental health problems" of young perpetrators. Martins directs the Substance Abuse Epidemiology Unit at Mailman.

It's estimated that between 18 percent and 31 percent of U.S. youth are involved in bullying, the researchers noted.

The study was published recently in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on bullying.

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