Washington: Children who are bullied are likelier to self-harm in late adolescence, according to a new study. The analysis, led by researchers from the University of Warwick in association with colleagues at the University of Bristol, highlights that being bullied at primary school age can cause enough distress to significantly increase the risk of self-harming in later adolescence.

Almost 5,000 participants in the Children of the 90s study were assessed for exposure to bullying between seven and ten years of age and later asked whether they had engaged in self-harm at sixteen to seventeen years.

Self-harm behaviour may stem from a desire to relieve tension or communicate stress, and in the most extreme cases may represent a suicidal intent in the individual.

The study found that 16.5 percent of 16-17 year olds had self-harmed in the previous year, and 26.9 percent of these did so because they felt as though they 'wanted to die'. Those who were subjected to chronic bullying over a number of years at primary school were nearly five times more likely to self-harm six to seven years later in adolescence.

Professor Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick explained, "It is further evidence for doing away with the myth that bullying at a young age can be viewed as a harmless rite of passage."

The results also showed that girls were, overall, more likely to engage in self-harm and develop depression symptoms. This supports the common belief that girls are roughly twice as likely to experience problems of this nature, particularly where that means turning their distress inwards, that is, to self-harm.

Professor Wolke added, "Many children suffer in silence and never speak out about being bullied. While bullying also increases the risk of depression, many adolescents in our study self-harmed without being depressed - so it is important that when children or adolescents show signs of self-harm or indications of non-specific symptoms (such as recurrent headaches, stomach aches, avoidance to go to school), we consider bullying as a possible cause and provide them with support." The study has been published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.


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