Kids Hurt by Others Also Hurt Themselves

Self harm risks higher for bullied children once they become teens

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) More and more schools and communities are looking for ways to address bullying. Meanwhile, more information is being discovered about bullying's long-term impact.

A recent study found that kids bullied when they were 8 to 10 years old were more likely to try to harm themselves as teenagers.

These researchers said the children's home life also played a part in the kids' risk of self-harm, but the bullying played a significant role as well.

Up to 20 percent of the kids who self-harmed as teens could probably be prevented from hurting themselves if they had not been bullied years earlier, the researchers said.

"Report bullying or self-harming to your therapist."

The study, led by Suzet Tanya Lereya, PhD, of the University of Warwick, Coventry in the United Kingdom, aimed to find out whether kids who were bullied were more likely to try to harm themselves.

The researchers gathered information on who was bullied among 4,810 children between the ages of 7 and 10.

Outright bullying was defined as experience of at least one of five behaviors repeatedly (at least four times within the past six months).

The behaviors included having their personal belongings taken, being threatened or blackmailed, being hit or beaten up, being tricked in a mean way or being called nasty names.

"Relational" bullying was defined as at least one of the following four behaviors happening repeatedly: being excluded on purpose to make a child upset, being pressured to do things the child didn't want to do, having lies or nasty rumors regularly spread about them or having their games spoiled.

When the kids were 16 to 17 years old, they were assessed for whether they had tried to harm themselves.

Overall, 16.5 percent of the 16- and 17-year-olds reported having tried to harm themselves in the past year.

Self-harm could include cutting, burning or swallowing pills, whether a person does or does not have suicidal thoughts.

Among the 792 children who self-harmed, 66 percent had been bullied according to the child, the child's mother or the child's teacher.

The researchers found that kids who had been bullied before their teenage years were at higher risk for self-harming behaviors when they were teens.

Depending on the circumstances and the factors taken into account, kids bullied as elementary students were anywhere from 30 to 80 percent more likely than unbullied kids to self-harm as teens.

The kids who teachers reported as having been bullied over and over again could be up to four times more likely to self-harm than kids who had not been bullied.

The self-harming behavior appeared linked both to the bullying itself and to the depression that bullied children are at higher risk for developing.

When the researchers took into account whether the kids had grown up in a home with domestic violence or had experienced very poor parenting, the link between bullying and self-harm was a little weaker.

That weakened link means that the kids who were bullied and self-harmed were also among the kids who had difficult home lives.

However, even when the effects of a rough home life were considered in the analysis, being bullied still increased a child's likelihood of self-harm later on.

Poor parenting included hostility from the parent toward the child or the parent regularly (daily) hitting or shouting at the child.

The researchers calculated that if the only factor that was changed for the group of self-harming teens was that none of them had been bullied, about 20 percent of them would not have self-harmed.

Put another way, eliminating bullying among a group of kids has the potential to eliminate 20 percent of the self-harming among those kids when they become teenagers.

This study was published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

The research was funded by the UK Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the University of Bristol and the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 31, 2013
Last Updated:
August 14, 2013