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Childhood bullying can increase mental health problems 3.5 times, study says Health News

The study, published in the journal Nature Mental Health, is believed to be the first to examine links between peer bullying, interpersonal distrust, and later mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, hyperactivity and anger.

For the study, researchers from the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) in the United States and the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom used data from 10,000 children in the United Kingdom.

They found that adolescents who were bullied at age 11 and had increased interpersonal distrust by age 14 were about 3.5 times more likely to experience clinically significant mental health problems at age 17 than those with less distrust.

The findings may help schools and other institutions develop new evidence-based interventions to address the negative mental health effects of bullying, Dr. George Slavich, who directs the UCLA Health Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research.

“There are few public health issues more important than youth mental health right now,” Slavich said.

“To help adolescents reach their full potential, we need to invest in research that identifies risk factors for poor health and translate this knowledge into prevention programs that can improve lifelong health and resilience,” she said.

Previous research has identified links between bullying and mental and behavioral health problems among youth, including its effects on substance abuse, depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.
However, by following youth over time, this study is the first to confirm the suspected pathway of how bullying leads to mistrust and, in turn, mental health problems in adolescence.

Slavich said that when people develop clinically significant mental health problems in adolescence, it can increase their risk of experiencing both mental and physical health problems throughout their lives if left untreated.

In addition to interpersonal mistrust, the team examined whether diet, sleep, or physical activity also linked peer bullying to later mental health problems.

However, only interpersonal mistrust was found to be associated with increased risk of experiencing mental health problems at age 17.
“What these data indicate is that we really need school-based programs that help build a sense of interpersonal trust at the classroom and school level,” Slavich said.

“One way to do that is to develop evidence-based programs that specifically focus on the transition to high school and college and frame that school as an opportunity to build close, long-lasting relationships,” he said.

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