Anxiety caused by childhood bullying declines over time

London: Do you suffer from anxiety and depression as a result of being bullied as a child? Take heart, these mental health disorders may not continue but decrease over time, suggests a study.

The study found that the detrimental effects of bullying decreased over time, which shows the potential for resilience in children exposed to bullying.

“While our findings show that being bullied leads to detrimental mental health outcomes, they also offer a message of hope by highlighting the potential for resilience,” said author Jean-Baptiste Pingault at the University College London (Psychology and Language Sciences).

“Bullying certainly causes suffering, but the impact on mental health decreases over time, so children are able to recover in the medium term.”

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, involved 11,108 participants from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS).

By surveying twins, researchers were able to look at the associations between bullying and mental health outcomes and then account for the confounding effects of their genes.

Both children and their parents filled out a questionnaire: at age 11 and 14 they were asked about peer victimisation and at 11 and 16 they were asked about mental health difficulties.

The effect sizes were stronger before controlling for shared environmental factors and genetics, confirming that bullying itself is only partly to blame for the poor mental health outcomes experienced by bullied children.

The researchers found that once confounding factors were removed, there remained a causal contribution of exposure to bullying to concurrent anxiety, depression, hyperactivity and impulsivity, inattention and conduct problems.

Two years later, the impact on anxiety persisted. Five years later, there was no longer an effect on any of those outcomes, but 16-year-olds who had been bullied at age 11 remained more likely to have paranoid thoughts or cognitive disorganisation.