If you're worried about the effects bullying may have on your child, the results of a recent study suggest they could be even worse than you suspect. Children who are persistently bullied are more likely to develop psychotic symptoms in early adolescence, according to a report in the May issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. The effects were even stronger if children are between ages eight and 10 at the time of the bullying.

According to background information in the report, some psychosis-like symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions are commonly experienced in childhood and adulthood. Children with these symptoms are more likely to develop psychosis in adulthood, and recent studies have shown a link between traumatic events such as abuse in childhood and psychosis in adults.

Andrea Schreier, a clinical psychologist at Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick in England, and her colleagues studied 6,437 children who were 12 years old to determine if bullying, or peer victimization, is associated with psychotic symptoms. Parents completed regular questionnaires about their children's health and development since birth, and the children were physically and psychologically assessed yearly from age seven.

At each visit, trained interviewers rated the children on whether they had experienced psychotic symptoms - hallucinations, delusions or thought disorders - during the previous six months. Children, parents and teachers reported on whether the child had experienced bullying, defined as negative actions by one or more other students with the intention to hurt.

Over 46 percent of the children were categorized as victims of bullying and 53.8 percent were not victims at either ages eight or 10. At follow-up, nearly 14 percent had broad psychosis-like symptoms (one or more symptoms suspected or definitely present), 11.5 percent had intermediate symptoms (one or more of the symptoms was suspected or present at times other than going to sleep, waking from sleep, fever or after substance use) and 5.6 percent had narrow symptoms (one or more symptoms definitely present).

The risk of having psychotic symptoms was about double among children who were victims of bullying at ages eight or 10, regardless of other psychiatric illness, family adversity or the child's IQ. When the victimization was chronic or severe, the odds of psychotic symptoms were four times higher.

This report supports previous studies that investigated the impact of adverse experiences on the development of psychoses. As the researchers conclude, the major implication is that chronic or severe peer victimization or bullying has serious adverse long-term consequences. And it stresses the need for parents and educators to reduce bullying and the effects on the victims in order to help prevent common mental health problems and psychosis.


Journal: Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 66. Issue 5 pp. 527-536

Date: 20009

Study: Prospective Study of Peer Victimization in Childhood and Psychotic Symptoms in a Nonclinical Population at Age 12 Years

Website: http://archpsyc.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/66/5/527

Authors: Andrea Schreier et. al.