Bullying Increases Self-Harm Later in Adolescence Years

Bullying Statistics

Children that are victims of bullying are three times more likely to self-harm by the time they reach their adolescence years, according to a new study published in the April 27, 2012 British Medical Journal.

Researchers took a look at more than 1,000 pairs of twins born between 1994-1995 in England and Wales – at five, seven, 10 and 12 years old. The children were interviewed, and so were their mothers, separately, and asked whether each child had been bullied, and if they had ever deliberately harmed themselves.

Data information was available for 2,141 participants and it showed that 237 children were victims of frequent bullying and around 8% self harmed. On the other side, 1,904 children who were not bullied only 2% self harmed. The researchers also noted that girls were more likely to self-harm than boys.

The study also showed that children who experienced difficulties in their family life, such as poverty or a parent with a mental illness, and kids who had been abused were at the greatest risk for self-harm.

Bullying was defined in the study as when another child says mean or hurtful things; completely ignores or excludes the victim; hits, kicks or shoves the victim; tells lies or spreads rumours, does other hurtful things, all on a frequent basis. Self-harm involved cutting or biting arms, pulling out clumps of hair, a child banging its head against walls or attempting suicide by strangulation.

Dr Helen Fisher from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) Centre at the IoP at King’s, and lead author of the research says, “This study found that before 12 years of age a small proportion of children frequently exposed to this form of victimisation already deliberately harmed themselves and in some cases attempted to take their own lives. Although only a small proportion of bullied children in this sample engaged in self harm, this is clearly too many and victims need to be provided with alternative coping strategies from a young age.”

“Bullying by peers is a major problem during the early school years,” they said. “This study adds to the growing literature showing that bullying during the early years of school can have extremely detrimental consequences for some children by the time they reach adolescence.”

“This finding is even more concerning given that studies have suggested that early patterns of self harm can persist through adolescence into adulthood and increase the risk of later psychological problems,” the Dr. Fisher says. “Prevention of non-suicidal self injury in young adolescents should focus on helping bullied children to cope more appropriately with their distress.”

“We hope that parents, teachers and doctors will be able to use this evidence to help identify children at risk of self-harming,” Dr. Fisher adds.

Professor Terrie Moffitt, Dr Louise Arsenault and Professor Avshalom Caspi from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London also contributed to this research.

The E-Risk Study is funded by the Medical Research Council. Additional support was provided by the Economic and Social Research Council, the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the US National Institute of Mental Health, British Academy, Nuffield Foundation and the Jacobs Foundation. Dr Fisher is funded by and MRC Population Health Scientist fellowship.

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