De­pres­sion is of­ten traced to bul­ly­ing

Los Angeles Times - - THE NA­TION - By Karen Ka­plan karen.ka­plan@la­ Twit­ter: @LATkarenka­plan

Bul­ly­ing may be re­spon­si­ble for nearly 30% of cases of de­pres­sion among adults, a new study sug­gests.

By track­ing 2,668 peo­ple from early child­hood through adult­hood, re­searchers found that 13year-olds who were fre­quent tar­gets of bul­lies were three times more likely than their non-vic­tim­ized peers to be de­pressed as adults.

Even when the re­searchers ac­counted for fac­tors such as a teen’s record of be­hav­ioral prob­lems, so­cial class, child abuse and fam­ily his­tory of de­pres­sion, those who were bul­lied at least once a week were more than twice as likely to be de­pressed when they grewup.

“De­pres­sion is a ma­jor pub­lic health prob­lem world­wide, with high so­cial and eco­nomic costs,” the re­searchers wrote in the study, pub­lished in the med­i­cal jour­nal BMJ. “In­ter­ven­tions dur­ing ado­les­cence could help to re­duce the bur­den of de­pres­sion later in life.”

Pre­vi­ous stud­ies that ex­am­ined the link be­tween bul­ly­ing and de­pres­sion have de­ter­mined that the two are re­lated. For in­stance, adults who are de­pressed are more likely to re­call be­ing bul­lied as kids. How­ever, it’s pos­si­ble that adults with­out de­pres­sion were bul­lied aswell but have put the abuse out of their minds.

To get around that prob­lem, a group of re­searchers from four uni­ver­si­ties in Eng­land turned to data from the Avon Lon­gi­tu­di­nal Study of Par­ents and Chil­dren.

Some of the study par­tic­i­pants were re­cruited be­fore they were even born; others joined when they were about 7 years old. The ad­min­is­tra­tors kept track of var­i­ous in­for­ma­tion about the kids and their fam­i­lies, and they asked ques­tions about bul­ly­ing mul­ti­ple times while the chil­dren were be­tween the ages of 8 and13.

For the new study, the re­searchers fo­cused on peer vic­tim­iza­tion at age 13. At the time, the teens were asked about nine types of bul­ly­ing and whether they ex­pe­ri­enced them “fre­quently” (at least once a week), “re­peat­edly” (at least four times al­to­gether), “some­times” (fewer than four times) or not at all.

Name-call­ing was the most com­mon type of bul­ly­ing, with 36% of teens say­ing they had been on the re­ceiv­ing end of this be­hav­ior, in­clud­ing 9% whowere vic­tim­ized fre­quently. Twenty-two per­cent of the teens said bul­lies had taken things from them.

Be­yond that, 16% of the teens said bul­lies had spread lies about them, 11% said they had been hit or beaten up, 10% were shunned by their peers, 9% said they had been black­mailed, 8% said bul­lies tried to get them to do some­thing they didn’t want to do, 8% said they had been tricked, and 5% said bul­lies had spoiled a ga­meto up­set them.

Most of this bul­ly­ing was never re­ported to teach­ers, and the 13-year-olds didn’t tell their fam­i­lies about onethird of the time.

Not only did the re­searchers con­firm that vic­tims of bul­ly­ing were at greater risk for de­pres­sion as adults, they also found a dose-re­sponse re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two. In other words, the more bul­ly­ing that a 13-year-old had to en­dure, the greater the odds that he or she would be de­pressed years later.

Among teens who said they weren’t bul­lied at all, 5% went onto suf­fer de­pres­sion. But among the teens who were fre­quent vic­tims, 15% were de­pressed as adults.

What’s more, 10% of the fre­quently bul­lied teens had been de­pressed for more than two years, com­pared with 4% of their coun­ter­parts who weren’t bul­lied.

The re­sults sup­port the idea that bul­ly­ing dur­ing child­hood leads to de­pres­sion in adult­hood, but they don’t prove that one causes the other.

Nail­ing down cau­sa­tion would re­quire an ex­per­i­ment that ran­domly as­signed some peo­ple to be bul­lied and others to be left alone. But the re­sults im­ply that “ap­prox­i­mately 29% of the bur­den or de­pres­sion at age 18 years could be at­trib­uted to peer vic­tim­iza­tion,” the study authors wrote.

“These find­ings lead us to con­clude that peer vic­tim­iza­tion dur­ing ado­les­cence may con­trib­ute sig­nif­i­cantly to the over­all pub­lic health bur­den of clin­i­cal de­pres­sion,” they said.

In an ed­i­to­rial that ac­com­pa­nied the study, Univer­sity of Cam­bridge bul­ly­ing pre­ven­tion ex­pert Maria Ttofi wrote that the study re­sults should prompt school au­thor­i­ties and health of­fi­cials to think se­ri­ously about ways to stop bul­ly­ing by teens. If they do, they will reap the ben­e­fits for years.

“Ef­fec­tive an­tibul­ly­ing pro­grams can be seen as a form of­pub­lic health pro­mo­tion,” she wrote.

‘These find­ings lead us to con­clude that peer vic­tim­iza­tion dur­ing ado­les­cence may con­trib­ute sig­nif­i­cantly to the over­all pub­lic health bur­den of clin­i­cal de­pres­sion.’

— From study in jour­nal BMJ

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