Bullied Kids May Develop Psychoses

May 07, 2009 06:00 PM
by Rachel Balik
A new study suggests that children who are bullied are twice as likely to report psychotic symptoms in preadolescence.

Bullying Does More Than Hurt Feelings

A new study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry indicates that children who are victimized by bullies in school may be two times more likely to develop psychosis. The researchers studied 6,437 children, Reuters reported. Slightly less than half of the children, all aged 12, had been bullied at the age of 8 or 10. Researchers interviewed all the children to determine the presence of “delusions, hallucinations or other psychotic symptoms.” Bullied children reported these symptoms at twice the rate than did children who had not been bullied. Continual bullying, or particularly severe bullying, increased the frequency of psychotic symptoms. The researchers believe that these symptoms in preadolescence would contribute to psychosis in adolescents.

According to Med Page Today, the researchers are aware that the study has certain limitations. The assessment of patients only examined symptoms experienced six months prior to the study. If the symptoms were present before the bullying, then the psychosis could have preceded the bullying. Additionally, it may be that the causation works in reverse: children who are prone to develop psychosis also have the traits that make them targets for victimization. Med Page says that children who are bullied are usually “withdrawn, unassertive, physically weaker, easily emotionally upset, or have poor social understanding.”

Background: Severe Abuse Causes Mental Illness

In 2006 New Zealand clinical psychologist Dr. John Read and Paul Hammersley, a researcher at the University of Manchester, analyzed several studies of schizophrenics and psychiatric patients and concluded that child abuse and sexual abuse could lead to schizophrenia. Their analysis found that two-thirds of schizophrenic patients had experienced abuse as children. Researchers knew that post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to schizophrenia. Since child abuse can result in PTSD, Read and Hammersley wanted to investigate the link between abuse and psychosis.

The researchers also worked with the Hearing Voices Network, which studies patients who hear voices and have hallucinations, Science Daily reported. Experiencing those symptoms is strongly correlated with reports of childhood abuse. They were also symptoms cited in Schreier’s recent study on bullying.
The study was particularly groundbreaking, an article on the University of Manchester Nursing School Web site explains, because the disease was thought to be primarily genetic. If the chief cause of a patient’s schizophrenia is not biological or chemical, therapy may be a more effective treatment than drugs.

Related Topic: Victims of Bullies Share Common Traits

One of the possible explanations for the new data, as noted in MedPage Today, is that children who are bullied may already have certain character traits that make them more likely to be victimized. An October 2008 Canadian study found that there were many shared traits among children who were bullied, including hyper-reactivity and aggression at a young age. As children get older, the aggression turns to shyness.

Reference: Prospective Study of Peer Victimization in Childhood and Psychotic Symptoms in a Nonclinical Population at Age 12 Years

The Archives of General Psychiatry has published an abstract of the 2009 study linking being bullied to experiencing psychotic symptoms.

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