A study in the United Kingdom showed that bullying victimization caused emotional and behavioral problems in adolescents, both of which can lead to self-harming.
Researchers in England and Wales assessed children (n=2,232), aged 5, 7, 10, and 12 years, to determine the correlation between bullying victimization by peers and self-harm. Researchers classified self-harm as behaviors that included cutting and biting arms, pulling out clumps of hair, banging head against walls, and attempted suicides by strangulation.
Factors such as pre-morbid emotional and behavioral problems, low IQ, and family environmental risks were considered for this observational study. The children and their mothers were interviewed by the researchers to ensure objectivity, while twins served as a type of control.
Investigators with the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) defined bullying as when “another child says mean and hurtful things, makes fun, or calls a person mean and hurtful names; completely ignores or excludes someone from their group of friends or leaves them out of things on purpose; hits, kicks, or shoves a person, or locks them in a room; tells lies or spreads rumors about them; or does other hurtful things like these.” Children and their mothers were asked to respond with “never,” “yes, but isolated incidents,” or “frequently” when asked about experiencing these scenarios.
Results indicated that 16.5% of children had been frequently bullied before age 10, as reported by their mothers, and 11.2% of the children reported themselves to have been bullied “a lot” before age 12. In the next step, 2.9% of children (n=62) reported self-harm, and more than half were victims of frequent bullying (56%, n=35).
“Clinicians should be on the lookout for bullied children who are showing signs of emotional or behavioral difficulties, are suspected of also being maltreated at home or whom have a relative who has attempted suicide,” Helen Fisher, Lecturer and MRC Population Health Scientist told Healio.com. “These children are at greatest risk of hurting themselves and need help most urgently.”
The researchers said the study was limited by the small number of children who had engaged in self-harm.
“Although bullying and its adverse consequences are the focus of increasing attention, there has been little formal research that has looked at the link between bullying and self-harm,” said Fisher.