Childhood bullying raises risk of teen self-harm

June 4, 2013

Children who are bullied are almost 5 times more likely to harm themselves when they become adolescents than those who are not bullied, reports a recent study.

 

Children who are bullied are almost 5 times more likely to harm themselves when they become adolescents than those who are not bullied, reports a recent study.

Researchers from the United Kingdom studied almost 5,000 children and adolescents participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children cohort. They found that 1 in every 6 16- to 17-year-olds reported harming himself or herself in the previous year. Being bullied between ages 7 and 10 years increased the odds of self-harm 6 to 7 years later by nearly 5 times. Of those who reported harming themselves, more than one-quarter said they did so because they felt as though they “wanted to die.”

Experts say that self-harm behaviors often grow out of a need to relieve tension or to communicate stress, or that they may represent suicidal intent. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the most common forms of self-harm are cutting and burning. Less common forms are pulling out bodily hairs, punching walls, and ingesting toxic substances or sharp objects.

Experts also say that bullying increases the odds of self-harm by increasing the risk of depression and/or by magnifying an adverse family situation, such as one that is abusive.

The study found that girls are more likely than boys to engage in self-harm behaviors and to develop depressive symptoms.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, about half of all children experience bullying at some time during their school careers, with 10% being bullied on a regular basis.

The researchers went to great lengths to control for previous exposure to an adverse family environment, parental style, and existing childhood mental health problems.