Bullying Increases Risk of Psychotic Experiences Years Afterward

December 26, 2013

Children who are exposed to bullying in elementary school are at increased risk of psychotic experiences in late adolescence and early adulthood, according to a study published in the December 17  Psychological Medicine. 

The increased risk applies, researchers found, to everyone involved in the bullying: victims, perpetrators, and children who were both perpetrators and victims. 

In the study, which followed a group of children in the United Kingdom from birth through age 18, bullies and victims of chronic bullying were up to 4.5 times more likely to experience a psychotic episode by the time they were 18, researchers reported. Even children whose bullying experiences were brief showed increased likelihood of psychotic experiences, such as hearing voices, seeing things that are not there, and paranoia. 

“We want to eradicate the myth that bullying at a young age could be viewed as a harmless rite of passage that everyone goes through—it casts a long shadow over a person’s life and can have serious consequences for mental health,” said Dieter Wolke, PhD, a professor at the University of Warwick. 

The study is the first to examine the long-term relationship of bullying experiences with psychotic experiences into late adolescence and early adulthood. The link over the short term, researchers said, has already been established through previous studies. 

According to Dr. Wolke, the need for early anti-bullying interventions to prevent mental health issues is clear.  

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

—Jolynn Tumolo 

References 

1. Wolke D, Lereya ST, Fisher HL, Lewis G, Zammit S. Bullying in elementary school and psychotic experiences at 18 years: a longitudinal, population-based cohort study. Psychological Medicine. 2013 Dec. 17. [Epub ahead of print]. 

2. Childhood bullying shown to increase likelihood of psychotic experiences in later life [press release]. Coventry, UK: University of Warwick; Dec. 17, 2013.