Long-Term Mental Health Impact of Childhood Bullying

As I hear regularly from my patients, virtually all of them, who were larger during childhood have experienced weight-based bullying – sadly, weight-based bullying remains among the top causes of bullying among kids today.

Now, a paper by Marie-Claude Geoffroy and coleagues, in a paper published in CMAJ, provide data on a longitudinal assessment of the impact of childhood bullying (peer victimisation) on mental health outcomes in midadolescense.

The researchers examined data from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development, a prospective cohort of children born in 1997/98 who were followed until age 15 years. Data was available for 1363 participants with self-reported victimization from ages 6 to 13 years and their mental health status at 15 years.

Overall, there were three 3 trajectories of peer victimization – most kids fell into the groups with little (27%) or moderate (60%). However, about 15% of kids fell into a third group, who apparently had been chronically exposed to the most severe and long-lasting levels of victimization.

While there seemed to be little (if any) mental health impact in the mild and moderate group, kids in the severely bullied group were 2.6 times likelier to experience debilitating depression, 3.3. times more likely to experience generalised anxiety, and 3.5 times more likely to be suicidal, than individuals in mildly victimized individuals.

Thus, as the authors conclude,

“Childhood peer victimization begins at a young age and can lead to mental illness in adolescence. Interventions to prevent severe peer victimisation should begin before children start school.”

While the paper does not specifically single out the motives for bullying, given the prevalence of weight/size-based bullying, these findings are probably quite relevant for those of us involved in pediatric obesity management.

Edmonton, AB