General News Research — 12 July 2013
Bullying and its effect on mental health

Bullyng is an independent risk factor for mental illness in adolescents.

The announcement by Education Minister Peter Garrett last month that all schools would be forced to adopt an anti-bullying policy from next year has the potential to profoundly affect the future mental health of Australian adolescents.

A study presented at the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ annual conference in Sydney in May showed adolescents who were bullied were at high risk of experiencing mental illness.

The study, a systematic review, showed that across 60 studies, adolescents who were bullied were more than twice as likely to experience clinical anxiety, more than three times as likely to experience depression and almost four times more likely to commit suicide, compared with adolescents who had not been bullied.

Study author Dr James Scott, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Queensland’s Centre for Clinical Research, says bullying is an independent risk factor for mental illness.

“A lot of previous studies haven’t adjusted for other risk factors,” he said.

“One of the questions often asked is that ‘is it anxious kids who get bullied and therefore they get depression?’ [But] maybe they would have got depression anyway.”

Dr Scott says bullying is endemic in some schools and international evidence shows it can be reduced.

“When you look at risk factors of mental illness, the big ones have been poverty, child abuse and genetics,” he says.

“You can’t modify any of those easily. If you want to look at risk factors that can be modified, bullying is one that can easily be modified on a population level.”

He says bullying represents a good target because it’s common and it can be easily measured.

“One in 10 adolescents will be exposed to bullying some time in the previous three months,” he says. “And its not an oblique risk. So when you bring all those things together, you have an ideal target for reducing mental illness.”

He says if a child says they are being bullied, part of the role of a GP is to make sure it’s not normalised.

“It’s important parents don’t get the message that this is life and they will need to suck it up.”

He says bullying can be stopped by strong leadership in schools.

“In my clinical practice, I see some schools who are very proactive in providing an environment where bullying is not tolerated. In other schools that’s certainly not the case and there’s a lot more peer problems.”

As first appeared on Medical Observer. Source: Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 2013; 47(S1):68u

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